Working Families Party Leaps Into ‘Halt the Hike’ Mode

dan_cantor.jpgWFP director Dan Cantor. Photo: Drum Major Institute.

Yesterday, after bridge tolls were officially ruled dead and before the latest breakdown in MTA rescue talks, the Working Families Party sent out an alert that its "Halt the Hike" campaign is back in full swing. In an email exchange with WFP spokesman Dan Levitan, I asked why, given the big income disparities between car commuters and transit riders, the party waited so long to join the fray. Does the Working Families Party oppose bridge tolls and road pricing? He wrote back:

That’s not the case at all. We don’t have a specific position on tolls per se — but we’re for bailing out the MTA whatever it takes. If it’s got to be tolls, fine. Vehicle registration fees? Fine. Gas tax? Fine. Payroll tax, you get the picture. The important thing, from our view, is that they find a way to halt the hike.

The real reason we’re ramping up? Now that the budget is over, we finally have time to breathe.

Behind the scenes, he said, the party has been more active:

We were working Senate Democrats to support the Silver/Ravitch plan best we could given that we had another huge ask in front of them at the same time — raising taxes on rich people so as to prevent devastating cuts to hospitals, classrooms, homeless shelters, etc.

Because of that effort, the WFP is widely viewed as a driving force behind the state budget currently inching closer to completion. But arguably, there’s no more important pocketbook issue facing a broader swath of New York City working families than fare hikes. Not to mention the dire consequences of leaving millions to rely on an underfunded, declining transit system.

For two years running now, the WFP has been a no-show in
public during a critical debate to fund transit, first via congestion
pricing and then via the Ravitch Plan. The headlines this morning highlighted one of the problems with playing catch-up this time around: Once a few renegade New York City Dems pulled the string on Ravitch, the whole thing began to unravel. How might this story have unfolded differently if the WFP had gotten out in front of the issue and thrown more of its considerable weight behind the plan?

  • Glenn

    This is exactly the issue where WFP could separate themselves from some of the “windshield perspective” of the the lumpen legislators from the outerboroughs.

    If they could broker a compromise with some upstate Republicans over this issue and been seen as “saviors of the fare” or at least adequately funding mass transit, it would be a real coup for them with their primary constituencies.

    In fact they are the ones that should be organizing candidates for primary challenges or separate WFP line candidates to make the Democrats return to their working class, union card carrying, mass transit riding majority…Not to mention all the unionized Transit workers, electricians, building trades, etc that would be put to work by a fully funded Capital Plan.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    I think Dan and the WFP are so deeply enmeshed in the Shelly-centric, windshield-perspective status quo up there in Albany that they are, essentially, useless on this issue. I don’t think they’ll ever admit it but my strong suspicion is that the WFP fully believe the idea that bridge tolls and congestion pricing are an unfair tax on the working man. I don’t think the WFP cares one iota about the environmental arguments either. I never hear them saying anything about environmental justice issues.

  • Sez

    You’re probably right Barf Bag, but see below from the WFP website. Glad Streetsblog is calling them out for being zeros on transit funding.
    ———————————-

    What if we could fight climate change and save New Yorkers billions on their utility bills?

    What if we could ensure that the benefits of the new Green economy are shared by all of us?

    We can. Working Families is leading the fight for a groundbreaking program to Green one million New York homes, massively reducing our carbon footprint, lowering energy bills, and creating thousands of family-supporting jobs.

    The Green revolution is here, but it’s up to us to make sure everyone in New York sees its benefits. As energy prices skyrocket, upgrading New York’s homes to maximize their energy efficiency can keep housing affordable for working families (tenants and homeowners alike) and apply the promise of green technology to the problems of today.
    to

  • Glenn

    It might sound strange, but folks from NYC take mass transit for granted as a piece of the environmental puzzle. Far too much so.

    Put up all the solar panels, windmills, plant a million trees and use as much biofuel as you can find, but all of that combined can’t come close to the energy & carbon savings of NYC’s mass transit system.

    Did I mention that NYC is a coastal city…

  • Sez

    Point taken Glenn. But WFP is based in New York City. More from their website. They ain’t doing much for their bus driver member, but then again, neither is the TWU.

    Who We Are

    Bus drivers in Queens, teachers in Buffalo, auto workers in Syracuse, tenants in Brooklyn, seniors in Rochester, students in Manhattan, home health care aides in Westchester and telephone workers in the Bronx.

  • “That’s not the case at all. We don’t have a specific position on tolls per se — but we’re for bailing out the MTA whatever it takes. If it’s got to be tolls, fine. Vehicle registration fees? Fine. Gas tax? Fine. Payroll tax, you get the picture. The important thing, from our view, is that they find a way to halt the hike.”

    In other words, we’re going to complain about the hike and demand that it be stopped, but we’re not going to make any constructive suggestions or otherwise stick our neck out to any significant extent.

  • Santino

    What Levitan is saying is correct – the WFP was full throttle on the budget fight not to mention having like 40 staff on CD-20. Try as you will to read this as a political/ideological decision, but it just comes down to resources.

    Also, it was suprising to say the least that the Senate Dems didn’t come along on the Silver compromise plan, WF may look like johnny come lately, but at least they’re coming and bringing the calvalry with them.

  • Santino

    In response to Josh, WFP doesn’t get to negotiate the final deal. There inside baseball, grassroots actions, and communications can only create situations conducive to the three principals coming to the table and bringing their conference along to the final proposal. If the state operated more democratically it would be different – but WFP doesn’t get to decide the solution.

  • Right, of course they don’t get to make the final decision, but merely saying “we support doing what it takes to stop the hike” doesn’t accomplish anything. Saying “we support a payroll tax” or “we support bridge tolls” is taking a stand. Saying “we oppose the hike” isn’t.

  • Sez

    Hard to buy your argument Santino. Regardless of how many organizers were in CD 20, the WFP could have, and they still can, issue a statement saying they fully support Ravitch/Silver or some specific funding proposal. They haven’t. Opposing fare hikes is a non-position.

  • Santino

    I hear what you are saying, but i think you are looking at it too literally. WFP doesn’t tend to issue statements, when they come out for something they tend to come out full force.

  • mfs

    It’s really surprising how much people here are willing to beat up the WFP. Remember the comments on this post seven days ago?

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2009/03/23/where-does-the-working-families-party-stand-on-mta-rescue/

    Well, now they’re on the scene. Oh by the way, they just got a major plan passed that makes the NYS tax system way more progressive than it was before. Something maybe transit riders can appreciate?

  • My first direct contact with the WFP was someone – outside a Nader rally! – trying to get me to vote for Hillary Clinton for senate. Let’s say I was less than overwhelmed with their bold agenda. I was hoping they’d do something to prove they weren’t Democratic party hacks using a different name to capture voters disenchanted with the Democratic party, but not yet. Just like “the Albany project.”

  • The role OF WFP is greatly exaggerated. They are a legend in their own mind!

    Streetsblog comment “the WFP is widely viewed as a driving force behind the state budget” is not substantiated once you link to the news story which says the “influential” WFP AND RANK&FIle DEMS worked to raise taxes.

    Why does Streestblog give WFP credit when the original story gives it but brief mention?

    To prove the point: How many WFP members do you know? They only get about 2% of the vote in a General Election. They are Sound and Fury, signifying nothing.

  • Sez

    In one party NYC any ballot line which allows an insurgent to challenge the Democratic Party matters. That’s why WFP could matter. There aren’t a whole lot of straws to grasp at when Democratic incumbents are getting reelected with 90% of the vote and are rarely challenged in the primary. If a party claims to represent the working class and they don’t do anything for transit, they should be called on it. Thanks Streetsblog for doing something the rest of the media can’t be bothered with.

  • Santino

    I got an invite to a party WFP is throwing called ‘good bye rush limbaugh’ to celebrate tax hike on rich, and i heard they are launching halt the hike campaign as well. It’s at a place called the Beekman pub in NYC on Saturday night.

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