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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Crains: MTA fare increase compromise now supported by exec office-holders, but not supported by legislators; Daily News on wealthy tax hike

The buzz in the last day or two has been that New York State government leaders have an MTA fare compromise that could spare transit riders a 25% fare increase.
Crain's headline to the latest major story is that Paterson, Bloomberg and Silver are on board with the now-famous (Richard) Ravitch plan compromise. (The crucial element of the Ravitch plan is the imposition of taxes on employees in the MTA service region and the imposition of tolls on the East River bridges, in exchange for temporing the looming fare increase.)
Unfortunately, state legislators are not cooperating --yet.
{{Scroll down for a link to NY Daily News article which lays out an Albany (New York State legislature) on tax hikes on the very-wealthy, with a mind to thwarting killer fare increases.}}
"Get on board with MTA fix: Without the Ravitch plan, many face unaffordable increases," March 28, 2009
The board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority last week did what it had to do in the face of Albany inaction—it raised fares by about 20% and made painful service cuts to balance its budget. This will harm the New York region's economy. Reversing it may depend on the actions of CEOs.

The causes of the MTA's problem are simple. The agency is broke because the recession is pummeling real estate transfer taxes, and it has no money to finance crucial capital improvements because the Pataki administration loaded up the MTA with debt that's now coming home to roost.

The solution, worked out by civic leader Richard Ravitch, is fair and equitable. It imposes relatively modest fare increases, a small regional payroll tax on all downstate employers and tolls on drivers crossing the East River bridges. Gov. David Paterson, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver agree the Ravitch plan makes sense. Yet Democrats can't marshal the votes to pass it in the Senate. Breaking that deadlock requires winning over Senate Republicans—and that's where the CEOs come in.

The business leaders who make up the Partnership for New York City have stood solidly behind Mr. Ravitch, despite the fact they would be paying a new tax when they could least afford to do so. They haven't been powerful enough to tip the balance in the Senate in part because the Albany-based Business Council of New York State has opposed the MTA compromise in line with its consistent no-new-taxes position. The attitude is shortsighted and anti-downstate. A change in the Business Council's thinking would help.

Also crucial may be the Real Estate Board of New York, which supports Mr. Ravitch but whose top priority in Albany right now is rent legislation. REBNY has long been one of the most reliable sources of campaign funds for Senate Republicans; it has the clout to pressure them to support the Ravitch plan.

Some suggest the answer lies in firing another CEO, the MTA's Lee Sander. He has become a target for those who believe the MTA is bloated and wasteful. In truth, Mr. Sander has wisely streamlined operations and cut costs in his two years in the post. He hasn't solved all of the MTA's problems. Who could in such a short time? And he hasn't been the most effective politician in selling what he has done. But is that really a fault? Shouldn't the job go to a seasoned transportation professional rather than a politician?

Without an MTA fix, countless New Yorkers face an unaffordable increase in one of their most basic necessities—and the MTA's capital plan will simply stop, putting the system on the track to ruin. There are many important issues to be decided in Albany in the coming days. None is more important than saving the MTA.

On Friday March 27, 2009 Kenneth Lovett and Glenn Blain in "The Daily News" reported on an Assembly (our lower house in the legislature) plan to increase taxes on three tiers of the people with income earnings over $300,000 per year. The Senate Democrats have a competing plan on people earning over $350,000 per year. Either of these plans would lessen the blow to subway riders, modest income taxpayers in the MTA service region, and drivers passing over the East River bridges.
Overall, propects are not looking encouraging for this plan's success, as our Democratic governor (David Paterson), Assembly leader (Sheldon Silver) and Senate leader (Malcolm Smith) are not in agreement on these plans. These leaders are evidently kowtowing to the ultra-rich, while the working and middle class New Yorkers are quaking with dread at the prospect for 25% fare increases in the midst of an economic crisis.

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