Toll Plan Momentum Slows
March 2nd, 2009
The debate about an MTA bailout plan continues to be front stage and center in the legislature this week.
While advocates of the plan were given great hope by statements from Gov. David Paterson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, it has since become clear that support for the bill in the Senate is very slim.
“There was a lot of momentum going into the weekend,” said Neysa Pranger of the Regional Plan Association, referring to support in the legislature for securing a bailout for the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
Late last week Paterson pushed the legislature to take action on the Ravitch plan, which would raise funds for the MTA with payroll taxes and $5 tolls on East River Bridges.
Then Silver voiced his support for a compromise of $2 tolls on the bridges. Silver wields great power in Albany and he has indicated he has enough support to pass the bill in the Assembly.
“I am confident Silver can shore up his delegation,” said Pranger. But dissension is mounting in Silver’s ranks.
Momentum slowed over the weekend when City Comptroller William Thompson came out against the plan. Joined by assemblymen Adriano Espaillat, Rory Lancman and Jose Peralta and sporting a letter with the signatures of 20 legislators who oppose the tax, Thompson proposed increasing fees to register vehicles depending on their size rather than tolling bridges.
A number of legislators say the tolls will hurt the working class. They say they want funding alternatives that don’t burden the poor. Assemblyman who oppose the bill, plan to deliver a letter with 30 signatures to leadership this week.
Critics say Thompsonís plan will find greater opposition from suburban representatives.
On top of Thompson’s stand, it became clear on Monday that getting the bill through the Senate is far from likely.
Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith is in a more precarious position than Silver. Smith does not hold a strong majority in his conference, and a number of Democratic Senators including Sen. Carl Krueger of Brooklyn and Sen. Ruben Diaz of the Bronx stand firmly opposed to the tolls.
“The MTA must provide the honest accounting that New Yorkers deserve for the public to have a sufficient say in how that money is being used and full knowledge of what it is being used for,” said Smith in a statement released last week. “While the proposal to modify the recommended tolls on the East River Bridges from $5 to $2 warrants strong consideration and will be discussed within our Conference, it would be unacceptable if straphangers were forced to bear the burden of the reduced toll.”
Smithís spokesperson, Austin Shafran, said today that the Senate delegation was “very concerned” that Richard Ravitch said a $2 toll would be enough to support the MTA when the Senate had been told $5 tolls were necessary. Smith made it clear today that he would like to see another audit of the MTA to assess whether its financial situation is as dire as it claims.
Pranger said that while “it is hard to argue against” the assertion that there should be a full audit of the MTA, “the situation is too urgent to hold up the process.” If a bailout pan is not passed before March 25, the MTA says it will have to implement “draconian” service cuts and large fare hikes.
The Senate has posted Paterson’s draft legislation based on the Ravitch plan here, and senators are looking for input on how to fix the MTAís financial situation.By David King on March 2, 2009, 4:44 pm
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