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David Paterson

Pols Skeptical Ahead of Ravitch Report Release

10:59 AM EST on December 4, 2008

The much-anticipated report from the Ravitch Commission is scheduled to be released within the hour. The report is expected to include recommendations for an eight percent increase in transit fares along with tolls on East River and, possibly, Harlem River bridges -- measures deemed necessary to avert the MTA "doomsday" scenario of a 23 percent fare hike and massive service cuts. And yet, in this morning's media coverage, we couldn't find one quote from a politician other than Governor David Paterson who was willing to keep an open mind on the idea of new bridge tolls.

Here's some of what was said in advance of the report's release.

From the Times, "Paterson Voices Support for M.T.A. Rescue Plan": 

The governor said he was still reviewing the plan, but was "quitepleased with what I see so far." "As an alternative to a fare hike,” hesaid, "I think it’s very viable."

The governor said at a newsconference in Manhattan, "The message we keep trying to deliver is thatwe are in a very difficult fiscal time, and so it’s either going to befare hikes or it’s going to be tolls and a combination of payrolltaxes, but it’s the only way."

"Those who are upset about this,what I would urge them to consider is, it’s the inaction in the pastthat’s led to this overwhelming deficit," he said. "This is a verydifficult endeavor, but we are trying to show leadership."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said that he had not seen the final report, but that he favored keepingthe fare affordable. "I am not afraid of reasonable tax proposals thatwill provide the revenues that are necessary to do that," he said.

"Eventhe businesses that might be called upon to pay it would be betterserved by having that affordable revenue stream there, and anaffordable fare," Mr. Silver said. "We can’t afford service cuts thatmake the subways and buses inaccessible."

Asked about tolls on the bridges, however, he reiterated that he was waiting to see the report.

Some of the difficulty that proponents will face in winningapproval for the plan could be seen at a meeting of Democratic membersof the Assembly in Brooklyn on Wednesday, some of whom voicedmisgivings about both tolls and taxes.

"This proposal is thebeginning, not the end, of a process, and there’s going to be atremendous amount of deliberation before a final product is actedupon," said Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn. "We have to makesure that the outer boroughs don’t bear a disproportionate share of thepain."

From the Daily News, "Gov. David Paterson: Panel to suggest much smaller MTA fare hike":

The commission "found a way to reduce the fare increases to 8% bydistributing the responsibility among all those who use the service,"Paterson said.

From Newsday, "Panel touts 8% fare hike, city bridge tolls for MTA":

"I think the MTA had a certain number of options, and what the MTA haddone was to raise fares by 23 percent," Paterson said yesterday at anews conference in Manhattan about judicial appointments. "What theRavitch Commission . . . did is they came in and found a way to reducethe fare increases to 8 percent by distributing the responsibilityamong all those who use the service."

From the Post, "Gov: $ave MTA":

"Let's not make the bridge tolls be the center of the proposal,"said Assemblyman Micah Kellner (D-Manhattan). "There's been widespreadopposition to it for decades. I'd hate to see Ravitch make that thecenterpiece of a proposal and watch it go down in flames because ofit."

Kellner said that even though he's in favor of the toll proposal,the panel should focus on options that are more politically possible.

From AMNY, "Familiar fix for budget crunch — Raise fares and toll bridges":

"They’re coming up with the same old tired solutions that the publichas rejected already," said City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside). "We have too many bureaucrats who can’t think out of the box."

Another critic of fare hikes, state Sen. Bill Perkins,(D-Manhattan), suggested the MTA sell some of its real estate holdingsto raise money.

"I want to see some creativity," he said. "I’m very concerned about that old idea that keeps coming back: Raise the fares."

Perkins, a member of the Transportation Committee, called the Eastand Harlem River tolls a "Quixotic" idea that’s "been around for awhile and never gone anywhere."

Gene Russianoff, an attorney for the Straphangers Campaign who hasbeen sharply critical of the MTA, said the Ravitch Commission appearsto have struck a good balance.

"(It’s) asking everybody who benefits from the subways, buses andcommuter lines to help contribute to their maintenance," he said. "Thatincludes drivers, riders and businesses."

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