As a current law student with a background in American history and political science, I’m more than a little dismayed about the recent news coming out of Albany.
According to numerous reports, Senate and Assembly leaders no longer really care about the substance of any MTA funding plans. Rather, our elected officials tasked with representing the city’s and state’s interests are going to support any plan as long as it has the requisite number of votes. If that isn’t a total derogation of political responsibility, I don’t really know what is.
“It’s not about merit, it’s just about what gets us there with the votes that we need to get it passed,” Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith said late on Monday.
Smith was not alone in these sentiments. “I can support a bill that has 32 votes in the Senate that we can look at seriously,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, echoing Smith’s committment to, well, anything.
Albany started down the path to this sad state of affairs early on Monday. As the MTA Finance Committee sat through a presentation on the agencie’s ever-increasing deficit, the Senate Transportation Committee reiterated their opposition to the taxi surcharge plan.
In fact, when the dust settled, Albany watchers were prepared to call the latest proposal dead on arrival. With strident opposition from the state’s leaders, it’s unclear if Smith can round up 32 votes to support a plan that he admits is lacking on the merits.
The day ended with a closed-door meeting between Smith and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. This meeting yielded nothing but more bad blood between Democrats and Republicans as the two legislative chambers continue to search for adequate funding measures.
“This should not be about Democrats and Republicans,” said Silver. “There are Republican commuters and there are representatives of Republicans who represent commuters who face the largest increases on the Long Island Rail Road who are not standing up and responding on this plan. They are standing and saying, ‘We are not voting for it because my Republican conference leader does not want me to vote for it.’”
The problem here — fairly obvious to transit experts — is that what will pass is not what will save the MTA from further fiscal problems. For years, the MTA hasn’t received proper state and city support, and these plans the Senate is currently debating are stop-gap measures aimed at closing a budget gap. They aren’t forward-looking plans that would discourage driving in New York City, encourage transit use and provide a steady revenue stream for a fully-funded MTA.
No matter what happens, no matter what plan 32 Senators eventually agree upon, it won’t be good enough, and that is a failure of New York State politics.