Down to the Wire By Henry J. Stern
Legislators Plan to Supersede Agency's Doomsday Budget
The artificial March 25 deadline set by the MTA
The agency's gambit is in part justified and in part showmanship. They need money, so they create an immediate crisis in the hope that someone will solve it for them. They also need to reduce their overhead in a way that will minimize service reductions, while protecting their passengers from the brunt of the cost. This is what private companies that are not publicly subsidized do in hard times.
It is probable that sometime, but not until next week at the
earliest, that a package will be agreed upon by Albany
DIGRESSION: There is no specific location that evokes the MTA
A numbered building, however, lacks the panache and prestige that such a huge agency deserves. It is also a symbol of corruption and dysfunctionality. Going the other way, Grand Central is much too noble a name, while Madison Avenue (where they now occupy an office building at No. 341, across the street from Brooks Brothers) is an address associated with advertising, just as Wall Street means finance.
Penn Station clearly evokes transit, but it is owned by
Amtrak, a country-wide railroad operation. Amtrak could be thought of as
similar to a GSE
Another possibility is Fulton
Rockefeller built Albany
Currently, to reach Albany
Those of us who oppose bridge tolls have the responsibility
of suggesting alternative revenue sources for mass transit. One idea is
to increase the gasoline tax, either for the MTA
New York State
tax rates are the reason that gas costs about 25 cents less in New Jersey
Another suggestion is to increase auto registration fees more sharply for heavier motor vehicles. An SUV would then pay substantially more than a Prius. This was the case many years ago, when the weight of the car was required to be listed on the registration document, and the fee was directly proportional to the weight. Now we have relatively minor increases until the vehicle’s weight exceeds 7000 pounds, at which time the tax jumps to $112 per two years. SUVs (sport utility vehicles) weigh between 4400 (Ford Explorer) and 5500 pounds (Chevy Tahoe), so neither is affected by the substantially higher tax rate above 7k. However, Governor Paterson’s proposed budget already provides a 25 per cent increase in licensing and registration fees.
The burdens imposed by increased taxation lead to
consideration of cost reduction by the MTA
Cost reduction can be accomplished either by discontinuing
services, freezing or lowering personnel costs, or by requiring employees to
perform more work. Any of these proposals will be opposed by public
employee unions, who are the largest contributors to legislators’ campaigns,
and whose lobbying expenses are the highest in Albany
The affinity between politicians and labor unions has developed over the years. It is relatively non-partisan, and when the Republicans controlled the State Senate the unions contributed to their campaigns. The Working Families Party, small but militant, is ardently pro-labor and can take part in Democratic primary contests, thus instilling fear in timid legislators who are accustomed to following the directions of their leaders. In the 2008 Democratic primary on the Lower East Side, the WFP endorsed Speaker Sheldon Silver for re-nomination, a reasonable decision in view of the likelihood of his victory (He won handily.), and his support for their issues.
One question as yet unanswered will be whether Governor Paterson will ask Senate Republicans for help in imposing bridge tolls, bypassing his own party members.
A related issue is whether the Senate Republicans will allow themselves to be used for this purpose, and, if they do, what price they will exact from Paterson and Speaker Silver. Since all negotiations are conducted in secret (as I suppose is necessary when people get serious), we have no idea at this time what the outcome will be.
It would be foolish for the Republicans to allow themselves
to be bought, but the Congressional GOP went along with President Bush’s
ever-increasing budgets as long as they were larded with earmarks for their
districts. Why should New York State Republicans be more principled than
It is also possible that the governor will lean on his colleague, Malcolm Smith, with sufficient force to persuade Smith to recant his heresy in opposing bridge tolls. Smith’s hold on the majority leadership is not the strongest. It relies on the likelihood that since every other Senator wants to be the leader himself or herself, none of them can find sufficient support for a coup.
This afternoon Speaker Silver and leader Smith announced that the legislature would aim to resolve the transit budget issue by Wednesday, April 1. Transit would be considered at the same time but not as part of the adoption of the State budget, which by law must be approved by 12.01 a.m. on April 1. Last year, the legislature was a day late and billions of dollars short.
Silver said each body would consider various issues in their party conferences. The powerful Silver, who has been Speaker since February 1994, enjoys a 109-41 majority in the Assembly, while Smith has the bare minimum of 32-30. A quorum of the Senate, a necessity if taxes are to be increased, is said to be 38 members, which provides the Republicans with a way to block action if they chose to use it. That course might not, however, be politically desirable. The Federal governmental showdown of 1995 was widely blamed on Republican speaker Newt Gingrich, and led to the loss of Congressional seats by the GOP.
We will see whether or not the issue can be resolved by Budget Day. And watch out for other legislation which is likely to be sneaked in during the closing rush. Of particular concern is a bill sponsored by trial lawyers which would double their fees in major cases.
Enjoy the weekend.