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 us
there with the votes that we need to get it passed. Because there are
things in this plan that, somebody’s not going to like something. At
some point, you just have to sort of toughen up a little bit and make
the 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.

  • Larry Littlefield


    1) Come up with something that is worse for the future of the mass transit system and economy than the doomsday plan, but not immediately.

    2) Make people grateful to the Saints, Heroes and Geniuses in Albany who saved us from the unavoidable situation that had nothing to do with their past non-decisions and deals, so indifference keeps them running up pension credits after 2010.

    3) When the further consequences come due, blame the unaccountable MTA (but make sure those MTA Board members are quitely taken care of, so they won’t get off the reservation and tell some inconvenient truths).

    4) Make sure your offspring, if any, leave the state unless they are planning on inheriting your seat, and move to Florida.

    BTW, thanks to the federal stimulus plan (and assuming the federal government will be able to finance it), public school doomsday has been deferred to 2011 by digging the debt hole deeper.

  • MovinMaven

    Time to start hopping turnstiles again

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Time to start hopping turnstiles again”

    Not for the considerate folks who frequent this blog. Time to start riding bicycles.

  • Jason A

    The dithering is infuriating. It’s absurd these two are agreeing to a scotch-tape and chewing gum solution on the day it’s announced the MTA is going to be an additional 1.6 billion in the hole!!! Where is the alarm??!?!

    Of course that number is only going to balloon. Everyone knows that the economy is going to get worse before it gets better. Unemployment is going to keep rising, ridership is going to drop, taxes are going to dry up (etc…) And yet we’re left with these blase jokers who couldn’t care less…

    I’m not convinced this “Doomsday” plan is the worst we’ll see…


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