Still no deal in Albany on NYC transit bailout
(AP) - Gov. David Paterson and lawmakers remainedat odds Tuesday over how to head off steep fare increases andservice cuts planned for next week by the financially troubledMetropolitan Transportation Authority.
The Legislature has until March 25 to agree on a deal that wouldhead off the MTA's drastic plan to deal with a $1.1 billiondeficit.
But Paterson and the Senate Democrats were so far apart thatthey claimed each other's math was wrong and the governor said hewould reach out to Republican senators desperate to show up theDemocrats, who took the majority just three months ago.
The day began with Senate Democrats floating what they describedas a compromise. The plan would have increased commuter fares 4percent - down from a proposed 8 percent - imposed a modest payrolltax and dropped proposed bridge tolls on the East and Harlemrivers, a sore point for residents and politicians in the Bronx,Queens and Brooklyn. The Senate also called for stronger oversightand an independent audit of the MTA's finances.
Paterson quickly dismissed the proposal. He said errors in theSenate Democrats math would actually lead to fare increases of 17percent, or even 30 percent when capital construction funding isincluded. The Senate wanted to hold off on the capital budget untilthey know what projects would be funded.
"You can't come to the conclusion that you are actuallyreducing the fare increase when those numbers are actually belyingthat reality," Paterson said of the Senate proposal.
Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith said there is time tonegotiate a good plan and insisted it's too early to commit to along-term capital improvement plan until the projects areidentified and discussed months from now.
Democratic Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. of the Bronx said an audit ofthe MTA could uncover billions of dollars in waste andopportunities for revenue to help drive down commuter costs.
"There are gaping holes in their logic," Espada said of theSenate proposal's critics. "I would question their math."
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver later said the Senate proposalwas unacceptable because it doesn't include a long-term capitalimprovement plan or its funding.
"Unfortunately, I think the Senate plans as presented today isa stop-gap measure," Silver said. "Let's not go back to the '70sand allow the infrastructure to deteriorate."
Paterson again called for immediate action on a plan thatincludes recommendations from a commission that reviewed the MTAand compromises sought by Silver.
The commission proposed an across-the-board, 8 percent fare andtoll hike next year, a payroll tax for companies and $5 bridgetolls. The MTA board has threatened a 50-cent increase to $2.50 fora single bus or subway ride and a 23 percent average increase inthe fares for the suburban Long Island Rail Road and Metro-NorthRailroad. The MTA also said substantial volumes of bus and subwayservice would have to be eliminated or curtailed. Silver's proposalincluded $2 tolls on the bridges.
"This is what got Albany in trouble time and time again ... weneed the Legislature in Albany, particularly the Senate, and I'mwilling to work with both leaders of the Senate to find a plan wecan pass to move forward," Paterson said, signaling he would seekthe support of Republicans.
Senate Republicans have opposed the payroll tax proposal andsought funding for upstate and Long Island transit as part of anydeal. The GOP conference has many upstate senators who could votefor an MTA plan and it wouldn't cost many of their constituents.
Kathryn Wilde, CEO of the Partnership for New York City businessgroup, called the Senate Democrats' proposal "a last-minute,slapdash plan .... you could drive a truck through the holes inthat plan."
"We need bipartisan support for this plan and we're looking forthat bipartisan support," she said.
"No one has reached out," said John McArdle, spokesman for theSenate Republicans. He wouldn't comment on how much the GOPsenators might be willing to compromise.
But the Senate isn't known for bipartisan action. Republicansare fuming at Democrats for cutting their staffing and resourcesand stifling their voice, the same claims Democrats made againstRepublicans before the majority changed in the November elections.
The state-created MTA runs New York City's subways and publicbuses, the Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road, the LongIsland Bus system and several bridges and tunnels. It has $27billion in debt.