Commentary: George Pataki, Used Fare Salesman

The head of the MTA says a mass transit fare hike is inevitable. That's different from what Governor Pataki was saying in his re-election campaign. WNYC's Brian Lehrer is wondering: just how short does the governor think our memories are?

Apparently, very short. It was Sunday October 13th - just six weeks ago - when this exchange took place in the televised gubernatorial debate.

Pataki: I have a plan of increased revenues and restructuring.

It was a rare moment of directness in a debate filled with fuzz. The governor had a plan for avoiding a fare hike.

Flash forward to Thursday: MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow announced that the economy is now so much worse than before the election, that a fare increase is inevitable. Or as he put it

Kalikow: We don't make these decisions frivolously. This took us six months.

In other words, they withheld the revised estimates to deprive the voters of a campaign debate on the merits.

The Governor's response? Predictably bland: We're going to have to sit down and see what they propose and make sure they justify it.

But what happened to the plan? Why didn't the governor come charging to the rescue, plan in hand? Why didn't he chastise Kalikow for not implementing the plan, sticking to the plan, or even asking about the plan?

Sorry, folks, there's no tooth fairy, and there never was a plan. The governor thought we'd forget.

And apparently, most of us did. Most of us in the media certainly did. The only immediate reporting on the governor's role in the fare increase decision was to quote that bland throwaway line about sitting down to see what they're proposing. There were also a few vague references to the governor's campaign position.

But no tough questions about a pre-meditated bait and switch. The Albany press corps must be so jaded that this kind of lying is considered normal, and worth no more than a shrug of the shoulders.

So let's clear up a few things. First the chain of command. Whatever happens to transit fares is the direct responsibility of the Governor of New York. He appoints the majority of the MTA Board. He appointed the chairman, Mr. Kalikow. That's the way the system was set up.

Second, there does seem to be a real plan, as distinct from the fake plan. It seems to be for Kalikow to deflect attention from the governor, and take the heat himself. Listen:

[Tape of Kalikow]

Good George Pataki. Bad Peter Kalikow. The governor owes you one, Pete.

So what happens next? Well, perhaps, the governor rides to the rescue with a partial plan, appears to pressure the MTA board, and the final fare increase is a little smaller than the proposal announced on Thursday. According to that script, the guv gets made to look like a hero instead of the bait and switch artist that he is.

But just as likely, the governor will simply accept the MTA proposals in his usual quiet way, take a modicum of responsibility, and mutter a platitude about everyone sharing the pain.

And why shouldn't he? The next election is 3 years eleven months and two weeks away. If we can't remember what happened six weeks ago, who'll remember then?

The MTA is taking public comments on the proposals at