New York Times (NY)
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company
February 5, 2009
Paterson Giving Priority To Transit-Rescue Plan
Gov. David A. Paterson will step up his efforts this month to orchestrate a rescue of the financially struggling Metropolitan Transportation Authority , a top aide said on Wednesday.
'This is now going to be the governor's main focus with the Legislature in the next couple of weeks,' said Marc V. Shaw , a senior adviser to the governor.
The governor has endorsed a rescue plan for the authority that was proposed by a state commission that he created, headed by Richard Ravitch, a former authority chairman.
The plan calls for a new payroll tax to be paid by all employers in the 12-county region served by the authority. It also calls for imposing tolls on the Harlem River and East River bridges connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.
The authority has said that if the plan is not approved, it will have to raise fare and toll revenue by 23 percent, starting in June, and make deep cuts in service. Both measures are meant to help close a budget deficit this year of $1.2 billion and even larger ones projected in coming years.
The Ravitch panel's plan calls for a more modest fare and toll revenue increase of 8 percent -- and no service cuts.
Two people close to discussions of the plan said that the governor's staff had in recent days begun to circulate a draft of a bill with the tax and toll proposals.
Mr. Shaw would not discuss the details of the draft.
When the rescue plan was first made public in December, several key supporters said that it was urgent that the Legislature act on it as soon as possible.
Mr. Ravitch and others said then that they hoped it could be passed quickly, as early as last month, so that it would not get bogged down in a larger debate of the state's budget, which also faces a huge shortfall.
The sense of urgency reflected a recognition that with the state in a budget crisis, there would be intense competition for scarce dollars.
January has come and gone without passage of a rescue plan, but Mr. Shaw said that the effort is moving along much as the administration had anticipated.
On Tuesday, the governor and the Legislature announced an agreement to close a $1.6 billion hole in the current state budget. With that done, Mr. Shaw said, the focus will turn to the transportation authority's financial needs.
He said the administration still hoped to complete the rescue before the Legislature approves a new budget.
Mr. Ravitch has been working to sell his plan to legislators. He has met with many of them individually and held meetings with separate groups of Democratic Assembly members and senators.
The Senate, which is under the control of Democrats for the first time in decades, has scheduled two hearings on the plan, to be held on Feb. 18 and 19.
'We obviously want to get clarification of what the project is about, how it works, how the resources are going to be used, how services are going to be impacted one way or the other,' said Senator Bill Perkins , the chairman of the Senate committee on authorities, which will hold the hearings jointly with the transportation committee. 'This is a big, big idea, a big, big project that is going to be sort of a signature decision for us in the Senate and the Legislature.'
The timing of the hearings, however, means that no final legislative action can be expected on the plan before the end of February at the earliest.
Many legislators in both houses have expressed support for some sort of rescue plan for the authority, while criticizing particular aspects of the Ravitch plan. The proposal for bridge tolls has come under especially heavy fire.
Richard Brodsky, an assemblyman from Westchester County, said that many issues still needed to be resolved.
He said that some Assembly members wanted to see changes that would strengthen the independence of the authority's board and also wanted assurances that money given to the authority would be spent wisely. Other issues included how the burden of supporting the authority is shared between city and suburban counties and questions about financing for transportation projects elsewhere in the state.
'No one can tell you now that this will happen in a day, a week, inside the budget or outside the budget,' Mr. Brodsky said. 'There are lots of moving parts here.'