Streams

Still No Deal in Albany on MTA Bailout

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The behind-the-scenes fight over how to rescue the MTA came out into the open yesterday, when the state Senate unveiled a plan it said would keep fare hikes to a minimum, without any new bridge tolls. But the Governor and the Speaker of the Assembly quickly rejected it. WNYC's Matthew Schuerman has more.

REPORTER: For three months now, the MTA has been lobbying for a comprehensive plan that would fill its $1.2 billion deficit this year, and provide money for its long term capital projects in the future. But three Democrats in the State Senate threatened to sink the plan because it relied on new tolls on the East and Harlem River Bridges. That group eventually grew to seven. Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, unable to convert them or to abandon them, crafted a plan that would buy him more time.

SMITH: We think if we give them enough to do the operational stuff, doesn't cut service, allows them not to cut any jobs, allows them to keep moving forward, we can address that capital need.

REPORTER: The Senate plan would lower the payroll tax that Governor Paterson had proposed for employers in the MTA service region by a 0.34 percent to 0.25 percent. And it would entirely do away with the tolls that the Governor wanted to impose on currently free East and Harlem River bridges.

But Smith's proposal would raise far less money than the Governor's plan. the Senate leader said he would figure out how to fund the MTA's capital needs later this year, after he found out more about what the authority was planning on building.

SMITH: we will raise on the payroll tax $987 million.

REPORTER: Half an hour after Smith finished speaking in Albany, Paterson held his own press conference in New York City. He said the Senate's math was wrong.

PATERSON: They counted getting money for a whole year they really only get money for three-quarters of the year. that's another $300 million. If you want we'll show this to you.

REPORTER: Paterson surrounded himself with 20 representatives from labor unions, a big business association, transportation advocates, and contractors. He painted a dire picture of what the shortfall would bring.

PATERSON: Real things are going to happen. It will probably preempt service on the G train, the J train, the M, the N, the Q, the W, the Z trains.

REPORTER: Then the drama moved back to Albany. State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat from the Lower East Side, had reluctantly supported Paterson's plan so long as the bridge tolls could be kept to the price of a subway fare. In the third press event of the day, Silver sounded one of the favorite themes for MTA boosters, which is to remind the public of the authority's dog days.

SILVER: Let's not go back to the 70's, allow the infrastructure to deteriorate and allow the ridership to abandon mass transit, because of the lack of service and the unreliability.

REPORTER: The three leaders say they will continue to negotiate. But when a reporter asked Paterson how he was planning on convincing recalcitrant Senators who had failed to respond to his arguments so far, the Governor stuttered. Then he repeated that Senators needed to understand the urgency of the situation. For WNYC, I'm Matthew Schuerman.

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