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Bridge Tolls

Malcolm Smith: New York Transportation Policy “Not About the Merits”


Video: Elizabeth Benjamin/The Daily Politics.

We were half-kidding last week when we said state legislators were open to taxing anything from pet food to shoelaces as long as they could say they had saved the MTA, and as long as drivers could continue to cross East and Harlem River bridges at no cost. Turns out it's no joke after all, according to Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith.

Following another futile secret meeting late yesterday with his Assembly counterpart Sheldon Silver and Governor David Paterson, Smith acknowledged that at this point any revenue source will do. The Politicker reports:

"It's not about merits," Smith said. "It's just about what gets usthere with the votes that we need to get it passed. Because there arethings in this plan that, somebody's not going to like something. Atsome point, you just have to sort of toughen up a little bit and makethe tough decisions."

"It's not about merits" goes a long way toward explaining Smith's proposal to substitute bridge tolls with a taxi surcharge, a scheme that by one columnist's count has the support of Smith, Carl Kruger, and no one else. It could also serve to sum up Smith's idea of "reform" in Albany, at least as it applies to the MTA funding crisis. Consider his comments when The Fare Hike Four unveiled their cockamamie plan.

Liz Benjamin asked Smith whether the fact that the new plan clearly represents the thinking of the old Gang of Three was a sign of his own weakness. He said it was just part of the "paradigm shift."

"Quite frankly, I would hope my members are strong enough and will try to drive agendas," Smith said. "This is a Democratic conference, this is not a Malcolm conference."

"I encourage them: go ahead with the Gang of Three, do your thing."

As for toughening up, Smith could stand to heed his own advice. Ignoring the merits in an effort to appeal to the lowest common denominator isn't hard. Nor is it particularly virtuous to preach transparency and reform while hiding behind closed doors.

When it comes to MTA rescue, it's past time to make the tough decisions. Straphangers are still waiting to see if the new leader of the Senate has it in him.

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