Don’t Keep Transit Riders in the Dark, Governor

paterson.jpgMTA CEO Lee Sander, MTA Board Chair Dale Hemmerdinger, and Governor Paterson at a March press conference.

Heading into the weekend, Governor Paterson is still keeping a tight lid on exactly how he plans to handle the MTA’s huge funding shortfall. Lately, Paterson has taken to joking about this crisis by saying that "light bends around Albany" — a not-so-veiled reference to Senate Democrats and their closed-door machinations. I first heard the line a few weeks ago at the RPA Regional Assembly, where we all laughed and ate up the governor’s act.

Well, now it’s the governor himself who’s left everyone in the dark. He’s been dropping hints for days that he has some plan that will win enough votes to clear the Senate, giving no specifics. This is ominous, to say the least. And it makes all those Paterson barbs about statehouse dysfunction seem like so much hypocrisy.

The leaks that have dripped out so far don’t inspire confidence in the governor. Desperate for some development that he can claim as a victory, might he opt for "Deferred Armageddon" — financing even the MTA’s day-to-day operations with borrowed money? If so, the doomsday disaster unfolding today would pale in comparison to what such a plan would set in motion, as more and more of the MTA’s budget gets swallowed up by debt payments. Sounds crazy, right? It also sounds like the kind of "plan" that someone itching for a comeback in the polls would try to keep under wraps as long as possible. 

A year ago, Paterson signaled that he was serious about putting the transit system on solid footing when he chose Richard Ravitch to head the commission on MTA financing. When Ravitch’s commission unveiled its proposals last November, Paterson said, "The ways in which responsibility may have been shirked, or ignored, in
the past, to live for another day — that day has come, and we’re going
to have to make those tough choices."

Now is no time to walk away from that commitment.

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