Malcolm Smith Spins Transit Band-aid as Victory for “Reform”

Now that Governor Paterson has backtracked on his pledge to secure a long-term solution to New York’s transit funding crisis, the push is on to spin the slapdash result as a responsible outcome, not a capitulation to Albany’s lowest common denominator.

Courtesy of Liz Benjamin, here’s Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith emerging from last night’s closed-door session with the two Long Island legislators who will presumably give him the 32 votes needed to pass a bill:

I think it is a tribute to them, and a tribute to this Democratic conference. Reform is what everybody wanted. Everybody said that you should have a legislature where the rank-and-file members have a right to speak their mind, and have input — and not only have input but get some results.

Never mind that all the negotiating for this deal took place behind closed doors. Or that the plan Smith’s conference concocted does not reduce the MTA’s dependence on debt financing. Or that the band of senators who derailed the viable plan drawn up by the Ravitch Commission are the same group who held the Democratic takeover of the Senate hostage last year, in return for more lucrative and powerful committee chairmanships.

Sure, rank-and-file legislators need a more open, transparent process in Albany, but letting the Fare Hike Four dictate the agenda hardly qualifies as reform, or sound policymaking.

Fortunately, the city’s editorial boards aren’t buying it. The Times, the Daily News, and the Post unanimously slammed the framework that Smith, Paterson, and, one assumes, Sheldon Silver will now sign off on, because it doesn’t fund the MTA capital plan — the vital maintenance and improvements necessary to the transit system’s long-term health.

Under the Ravitch framework, the payroll tax would have funded those long-term investments, and car commuters would have helped to plug the MTA’s operating deficit through bridge tolls. The Smith/Paterson framework uses the payroll tax to plug the deficit, asks nothing of car commuters (who benefit enormously from a robust transit network), and leaves the capital plan unfunded.

Our transit system risks collapse, in other words, because Albany can’t muster the will to charge drivers. That is the core storyline in the ongoing MTA funding saga — not "reform" — and it has to change.

  • Did Malcolm Smith say “this bill is going to make sure that service cuts are maintained?” and did the other guy say “people face the end of service cuts”?

  • He opens with, “let me tell you why we’re here.”

    You’re here because you had five months and a perfectly reasonable solution on the table and chose to find the easiest way out.

    Despite the fact that we here all know the state is to blame, when the MTA proposes to raise fares again in six months to fund even basic maintenance of the subway, Albany knows the public will lash out at the MTA and these crooks will get off scot-free. It’s a disgrace.

  • I used the word “reprehensible” in a letter I wrote to Smith recently and I think it continues to be applicable here.

  • Glenn

    I wrote a letter to the WFP asking if they represent working families that ride transit together or just working families that drive around in stationwagons & minivans together.

  • MTA, please announce a $3 fare immediately, not six months from now. Make the announcement as pointed as possible. Make it clear that it’s a direct response to the utter failure of the electeds to perform even the most basic functions of their high offices. Otherwise, as Chris O’Leary points out, they will get off scot-free.

  • Glenn

    Can the MTA simply reallocate the money it receives for the operating plan to put towards the capital plan or reclassify items from capital to operating costs?

  • Obs

    Glenn, this is surmise since the details are secret, but it seems they are going to bond out most or all of the new money and then divide that among various areas. It’s normal to reclassify some of the “operating” maintenance as “capital maintenance.” The bonding for capital projects will be stretched by Build for America, stimulus, financing, under which the feds provide 35% of the bond interest as a cash payment. They are going to have to bond a big chunk of the new revenue to pay for the current operating deficit, pay off the current capital plan and have something left over for Upstate. Otherwise, consider that the current operating deficit is greater than the new revenue. The big crises happens in three or four years when all the new money is completely spent.

  • Sure, it’s reform, in the sense that they took a pile of b*llsh*t and “reformed” it into something they could pass while claiming to have tackled the problem, which, in reality, they’ve only exacerbated.

    After all the years of dysfunction in Albany, it’s not easy to find oneself surprised by the shenanigans, but this debacle has managed to renew my lack of faith in New York State’s government.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “MTA, please announce a $3 fare immediately, not six months from now.”

    Does Eliot Sander have a mortgage and need his salary?

    I said that the MTA needs $3 billion a year capital for ongoing replacement (it’s OK to borrow for expansions, because you only have to build them once). That assumes a pissed off SOB like me rams cuts of at least 25% and more like 1/3 down from what they’ve been charging.

    They say they’ll raise $2 billion, with $1.6 billion for operating to “save the fare.” They probably plan to borrow, and spend another 30 years worth of the payroll tax in five. And since it’s “free” money for Generation Greed, why get into all this conflict over it? Borrowed money is less green, which is how the costs got out of control to begin with.

    And by the way, what about the roads and bridges? I don’t want to build more either, but aside from some blighting roads in upstate downtowns, do we really want to let the onces we have rot?

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