In the eyes of the vast majority of New Yorkers, Gov. David Paterson will emerge as something of a transit savior this week. As the press has noted in detail, he brokered the the deal to save the MTA. He worked out a compromise among Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and the Senate Democrats that guarantees around $2.2 billion a year to the MTA.
It is a plan without bridge tolls and without much in the way of resources for the MTA’s capital needs. It is a plan that includes a payroll tax, a taxi charge and a slew of registration fees. It features a 10-percent fare hike this year and mandated hikes in 2011 and 2013. It also avoids Doomsday, and for that — for the simple act of getting something together months after a March 26 deadline — the politicians will pat themselves on the back.
“This has been very difficult on the commuters of the MTA region,” Paterson said last night. “We can assure them this evening that there will be no surprises, that there will be no further cuts or fears about fare hikes or toll increases. We have resolved that issue this evening.”
If only life were that simple. Anyway, let’s look, courtesy of Gotham Gazette at what we do know. David King writes:
The plan will raise $1.5 billion a year from a payroll tax of 34 cents of every$100 dollars of payroll that will target all employers in the 12 counties that serve the MTA. The state will reimburse school districts for the payroll tax they contribute.
- $500 million will be raised from a 10 percent increase. Politicians had hoped to limit any fare increase to 8 percent.
- 85 million will be raised from a fifty-cent surcharge on taxi rides. The fee was reduced from the originally proposed $1.
- $130 million will be raised from a $25 fee on vehicle registrations in the 12-county MTA region.
- $35 million will be raised from an increase of the fee on car rentals.
- $10.5 million will come from an increase on the fee on driver’s licenses.
And thus, as long as the economy doesn’t continue to nose dive, as long as payrolls stay steady, as long as taxi rides stay constant and driver’s licensing and car registration numbers do not dip, the MTA won’t have to worry about that pesky multi-billion-dollar budget gap.
On the fare front, details are still sketchy. We’ll know more once the MTA releases its official figures later this week. William Neuman and Nicholas Confessiore have some preliminary numbers. The base fare will increase from $2.00 to $2.25 and a 30-day unlimited ride MetroCard will cost around $89, up from $81 but a far cry from Doomsday’s $103 price tag. Fares are also set to rise by 7.5 percent in 2011 and 2013 to match cost-of-living increases..
On the capital funding front, Nueuman and Confessiore offer up a few details. They write, “Under the agreement, about $400 million will be set aside each year from the payroll tax proceeds for capital needs. That will pay the cost of borrowing about $6.5 billion through bonds, enough to get a start on the capital plan.”
The problem of course is that final phrase. It’s “enough to get a start on the capital plan,” and it’s enough to set the MTA back on a course of building through borrowing. I guess we should be thankful the capital plan was given any consideration. Earlier this week, as Streetsblog noted on Monday, Paterson had removed capital funding from the rescue plan after a weekend tirade from Sheldon Silver. Facing pressure from transit advocates and editorials from The Post, The Daily News and The Times, the politicians caved.
While the legislature will probably vote later today to approve this funding package, the work of the transit advocates is just beginning. As this debate has shown, New Yorkers are woefully uneducated on transit issues, and politicians aren’t helping the cause. The MTA needed to avoid this Doomsday, but it also needs the other half of the Ravitch Report — long-term capital investments and system-wide improvements. We can’t rest until that day arrives.