May 06, 2009 - 8:40am
by: Erik Engquist
Local business and transit groups breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday as the state Legislature moved to approve a rescue plan for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
All are grateful that the 32 Senate Democrats finally reached consensus on a plan that will stave off service cuts and shrink a planned 23% fare increase to about 10%. But they recognize that it’s a short-term fix that probably won’t last more than two years, and maybe not even one.
“It’s important to recognize the victory. We have avoided what would have been the biggest fare hike in a generation and the most draconian service cuts in at least as long,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, an anti-car advocacy group. “In this economy, getting $2 billion in new money is no small feat.”
But he said the $400 million in annual capital funding provided by the plan is just a fraction of what is needed to keep the system in good repair and fund new projects.
“The capital plan is still largely unfunded,” said Mr. White. “We’re going to be back at this juncture again, maybe even before the year is out.”
The Legislature’s package of new taxes and fees provides funding for two years of what is expected to be a five-year, $25 billion MTA capital plan beginning in 2010. Lawmakers are now hoping that the economy recovers enough to provide the tax revenue needed for the balance of the capital plan.
“I’m not sure that the MTA is really fixed,” said Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “It’s definitely a stopgap measure at best.”
Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a business group, said, “The fact that there is a funding plan to maintain the transportation system for the next two years is a good thing.” But she said the Legislature should have put tolls on the East River bridges, as the Ravitch Commission suggested last fall, or enacted congestion pricing, which state lawmakers rejected in April 2008. Either measure would have reduced traffic congestion and provided hundreds of millions of dollars for enhanced bus service.
Indeed, while the new plan raises money for the MTA from motorists through increased registration fees, it does nothing to discourage driving.
“There seems to be widespread belief now that drivers do have to pay their fair share, and that in this plan, they don’t do that,” Mr. White said. He added, “A 10% fare increase in another environment would be a big fight. The fact that we’re even calling this a victory speaks to the unique and dire circumstance we find ourselves in.”
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