23 March 2009

NYC News: MTA officials approve $2.50 subway fare

The MTA's finance committee voted to raise the subway fare—including a base fare increase to $2.50 from $2—Monday. The full board votes Wednesday.
Monday, March 23, 2009 12:12 PM

(AP) - Transit officials voted Monday for a package of steep fare hikes that will increase the cost of a single subway or bus ride from $2 to $2.50.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority's finance committee approved the measure as state lawmakers sought to reach a compromise on a bailout plan that would avoid the worst of the planned fare increases and service cuts.

Under the proposal, the price of a monthly MetroCard would rise by $22, or 27.2%, to $103, and a weekly unlimited-ride MetroCard would jump by $6, or 24%, to $31.

The full MTA board will vote on the fare increases Wednesday following Monday's vote by the finance committee. The fare hikes and service cuts would take effect June 1.

The MTA adopted a budget in December designed to close a $1.1 billion gap in its operating budget by raising fare and toll revenues by 23%. The board also approved sweeping service cuts, including eliminating 21 local bus routes.

Gov. David Paterson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver support a bailout for the MTA in which transit riders, motorists and businesses would share the pain.

Under that plan, crafted by a state commission headed by former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch, fares would rise 8% on average, drivers would pay to use the free East and Harlem River bridges and businesses in the MTA's 12-county region would be charged a payroll tax.

State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith was still seeking a compromise to the Ravitch proposal on Monday. Negotiations were continuing.

The MTA is a state agency that runs New York City's subways and public buses, the Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road, the Long Island Bus system and several bridges and tunnels. It has $27 billion in debt.

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Monday, March 23, 2009 1:32 PM

NY state senator indicted on assault. A grand jury in Queens indicted Hiram Monserrate on three counts of second-degree felony assault and three counts of third-degree misdemeanor assault.

AP) - A freshman state senator sworn in to office despite allegations he slashed his girlfriend's face with a piece of broken glass in a jealous rage has been indicted on domestic assault charges, prosecutors said Monday.

A grand jury in Queens indicted Hiram Monserrate on three counts of second-degree felony assault and three counts of third-degree misdemeanor assault. Mr. Monserrate, who faces seven years in prison on the most serious of the charges, was expected to be arraigned later this week.

Mr. Monserrate, who was in Albany on Monday for a legislative session, released a statement claiming he did not commit a crime.

"I've said all along this was accident. Karla has said all along this was accident. The district attorney's politically motivated decision to pursue this case doesn't change the fact that this was an accident," he said.

His attorneys will seek an independent prosecutor because they believe Queens District Attorney Richard Brown is biased.

The 41-year-old former police officer was arrested after Karla Giraldo's face was slashed on Dec. 19 at his New York City home. The gash over her eye required 25 stitches. Both said the incident was an accident.

Mr. Monserrate told police that he tripped while holding a glass of water and that the glass accidentally hit her.

But authorities say evidence, including surveillance videos, painted a more violent picture of a heated argument and a frightened, bleeding woman in distress. Investigators say Mr. Monserrate smashed her face with broken glass because he thought she was also dating a police officer.

According to the police report, Ms. Giraldo, 29, initially said she was assaulted, then changed her account after learning officers planned to arrest him. She later filed a statement with police saying she did not wish to press charges.

Meanwhile, Mr. Monserrate was sworn in to office in January, part of an influx of new lawmakers who helped Democrats gain control of the Senate for the first time in four decades. He was also appointed chairman of the Consumer Protection Committee.

Some lawmakers and women's groups criticized the decision to seat the freshman Democrat, saying he should not be sworn in until the criminal case was resolved.

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by: Erik Engquist

Mayor details idea of freelancers’ benefits

Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants the U.S. to develop a federal unemployment fund for independent workers pinched by the economic downturn.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Freelancers Union will work to develop a federal unemployment benefit for independent workers who lose all their clients, the mayor announced Monday.

In remarks to the Economic Club of New York, Mr. Bloomberg said freelancers could be given a tax benefit for paying into a common fund that they could tap if their incomes dried up.

A mayoral spokesman explained, "The proposal we plan to develop could allow freelancers to pay pre-tax dollars into a fund that they can draw upon when not working." Federal legislation would be required.

The mayor suggested that independent workers often struggle to get lawmakers' attention.

"Freelancers, who are often middle-class entrepreneurs, have never had much political clout, and so they face some serious disadvantages when it comes to taxes and benefits," he said at a luncheon in midtown. "I think it's time to start leveling the playing field for freelancers."

The mayor and Freelancers Union are also lobbying the state Legislature to reduce or eliminate the state’s Unincorporated Business Tax for 17,000 businesses, which he said would encourage more laid-off New Yorkers to do freelance work. Mr. Bloomberg unveiled that effort in January, when he also launched an initiative to create new incubator space for aspiring entrepreneurs.

In the months ahead, we’ll work with the union to find space specifically for freelancers,” the mayor said, adding that he would work with Freelancers Union President Sara Horowitz “to make New York City as freelance-friendly as possible.

A political consultant at the lunch said the mayor’s efforts for freelancers would help him to win the votes of that constituency in the November election, when he is expected to face off against William Thompson, the city comptroller.

Mr. Bloomberg and the City Council lowered taxes on freelancers last year, after years of pressure from Ms. Horowitz and her organization.


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