Here’s another wake-up call for state legislators dithering over a transit funding package: The sinking economy continues to choke off revenues for New York City’s subways and buses. The MTA finance committee announced this afternoon that the agency’s budget gap is $621 million bigger than previously forecast. That’s on top of the $1.2 billion hole that brought about the imminent doomsday fare hike and service cuts. The culprit? Plummeting revenue from dedicated taxes, fares, and tolls.
If there was any doubt before, now it should be clear: The latest transit rescue package proposed by Malcolm Smith is too skimpy to get the job done. By refusing to ask car commuters to shoulder any of the burden, the plan Smith put forward would merely postpone the day of reckoning for straphangers.
Tomorrow the State Senate is expected to vote on that plan, or some variation on it. For months obstructionist senators have excused their own inaction by pointing fingers at the MTA for what they deem a lack of transparency. But now the Senate might pass a transit
funding package without holding any public hearings whatsoever. How opaque is that? The utter lack of transparency or discussion about this latest plan should be enough to preclude any votes from senators looking to burnish their good government cred.
The new budget numbers also set the stage for tomorrow’s big rally in Union Square, where the Working Families Party and transportation advocates will gather to protest the doomsday fare hike and service cuts. The Senate’s proposal is a band-aid that won’t deliver what this coalition demands: a long-term, sustainable revenue stream that will protect straphangers from paying more for a deteriorating transit system. A real remedy, like the Ravitch plan, needs a united front behind it in order to regain momentum. This rally must be a galvanizing moment, and the person best positioned to deliver is Dan Cantor, head of the labor-backed Working Families Party.
Here’s a chance for the Working Families Party to make a strong push for a robust transit plan. A plan that will put the city’s subway and bus systems on sound footing. A plan that will spare working New Yorkers from worse fare hikes and deteriorating service.
Car commuters are one constituency asked to sacrifice next to nothing in the Senate’s latest proposal, even though the average income of the city’s car owners more than doubles that of the transit-riding, car-free majority. The official position of the Working Families Party is that the MTA funding plan should be "based on the Ravitch principles." Coming out with a more forceful position at tomorrow’s rally — like a full-fledged endorsement of the Ravitch plan itself, including bridge tolls — could change the terms of the debate.