Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bailout the MTA?

All of a sudden there are pols and their enablers who have been struck with amnesia-so swift are they to tax the folks for an MTA that rivals AIG in a complete lack of accountability or transparency. To listen to the geshrei from the critics of the Senate majority's plan to rescue the MTA from...well, itself, you'd think that they'd just stiffed the Little Sisters of the Poor.And the very first critic out of the box was the little leprechaun Mike Bloomberg.

Now if Mike Bloomberg is taking pot shots at you on a transportation and tolling policy than you must be on the side of the angels. Here's the wisdom of the little engine that could:

"We need a plan that solves the problem, not something that's going to get us to next year," the mayor told reporters, including DN City Hall Bureau Chief Adam Lisberg, who is trailing Bloomberg at the St. Patrick's Day Parade.

"Next year will be even more difficult to get something through the Legislature, because it will be an election year for the state Senate and the state Assembly and for the governor," the mayor continued. "So I think this is the year to solve this problem, and incidentally, we have to solve the capital problem. The capital problem comes first. If you don't solve your capital problem, you don't know how to project what the operating expenses are going to be."

This comes from someone who's very first instinct is to tax the folks and give all the swells that hang out with him a pass-owing to their indispensability. Only Bloomberg would wax nostalgic about his congestion tax: "As he likes to do when the topic of generating revenue for mass transit comes up, Bloomberg reminded everyone that he had his own plan - congestion pricing - that was summarily rejected by Albany...'The city came up with their plan, we sent it up to Albany, they wanted to do something different, and that's fine," Bloomberg said. The MTA is a state agency. We have four votes. But we have to have a system that's reliable. Otherwise, this city will choke."

Right along side of the mayor-bike and skateboards at the ready-was the Transportation Alternative wackos, ready to provide some street cred for the patrician mayor. As the Politicker points out: "Near as I can tell, Wiley Norvell of Transportation Alternatives struck first, via e-mail. "The Senate Democrats' so-called MTA rescue plan is a deferral of responsibility that postpones tough decisions and threatens to make the Authority's financial situation worse," he wrote. "What the City, State and millions of straphangers need are the long-term solutions offered by the Ravitch plan."

Than along comes the permanent government types like Kathy Wylde-ready to provide the amen chorus for anything that hurts the city's outer boroughs and small businesses. And all of the criticism seems to be directed at the fact that the Smith-led plan doesn't address the "long term needs" of the agency. Well, aside from the fact that in the long run we're all dead, where does it say that it's responsible to give the MTA any kind of long term lease on the tax payers' purse strings? As Pedro Espada told the NY Times: "Senator Pedro Espada Jr., a Bronx Democrat who has strongly opposed the Ravitch toll proposal, defended the Democratic conference against its critics. “The arrogance of saying, we told you senators what we need, and you will rubber-stamp it,” he said. “There’s a new day in the Senate. It’s that kind of arrogance that has given us tunnels to nowhere and some of the worst service around.”

The reality is that the deferral of addressing the capital needs of the agency-when that agency is being given carte blanche by some to self medicate-devolves from the fact that there is no long term plan that's been laid out by the MTA scions. By aside from that, why is it responsible to provide for the long term health of such an addicted patient?

Here's Liz's take, something that never made the paper's official government version story in the NY Daily News this morning: "Smith said this plan is sufficient to meet the MTA's short-term problem, which is its operating deficit. In terms of the long-term, capital shortfall, that would be addressed after a forensic audit, with a commitment to upstate and Long Island transportation projects and perhaps through either PIT surcharge in the MTA region and "new ideas from the public and legislators." Let's just take a moment," Smith pleaded. "...At best, we should see what the capital plan looks like, where the money is being spent, how it 's being spent and see what we can do to help...We took care of the operational problem; there will be no service cuts with this...Give us now at least until the end of the session to come up with a capital plan for (the MTA). We'll work with them to do that."

Yet all of the putatively responsible folks who get their Daily News exclusive this morning think that buying a pig in a poke is sound fiscal planning. Maybe they can hire Chris Dodd to do their forensic audit. So the News simply bashes the senate plan in print in the body of the paper-perhaps leaving the editorial writers to do the fact gathering: "Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith's universally panned MTA bailout appears dead on arrival - leaving riders closer to sky-high fare hikes and service cuts. Not only did the Democratic governor and Assembly speaker blast the stop-gap plan Tuesday, but the head of the Senate Finance Committee rejected it, too. "I don't think a piecemeal approach will accomplish the goals," state Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) told the Daily News."

Oops, sorry, wrong Kruger fellas-but mistaking the second fiddle for the orchestra leader is only one of their many sins. How about writing as if the MTA and its legion of resident chorus of enabling geniuses are imbued with papal infallibility: "Kathryn Wylde, head of the Partnership for New York, an influential business group, panned Smith's idea, saying,"You can drive a truck through the holes in that plan." Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, said ignoring the capital construction plan would mean no work for tens of thousands of construction workers. "The Senate essentially is telling tens of thousands of construction workers, 'Go join the unemployment line.'"

So the battle is on-and kudos for Smith's response to Wylde in the Politicker, as the majority leader refused to genuflect to someone who carries the water of others who simply lack any real concern for straphangers: " I asked Smith about the business community's position on the payroll tax as he unveiled his plan, and he said, "The business community doesn't vote on this plan. We do."

And for all of the umbrage being displayed at the Smith plan-and especially the snarky responses of Marty Golden who should say that the mayor paid his way into the theater before commenting-the rescue plan needs to go through the senate; and there is no support there for the Toll House cookies on display at the governor's office yesterday (unless Golden wants to step up and support tolls and go head to head with Vinnie Gentile in 2010). So let the games begin, and good luck to those who want to make the MTA their poster child for good governance.

Pedro Espada in the Politicker gets the last word: "A few minutes after Paterson's event had ended, Espada called my desk. "I think the advocates, the governor and all the critics. I ask one question: where is the capital plan?" He asked. It has not yet been introduced; normally the M.T.A. submits a wish list every five years (this year it happens in October), which must be approved by a board consisting of Smith, Silver, Paterson and Michael Bloomberg. So it's a moving target. "When we don't think and we write these blank checks, we get service that ranks them just above Mr. Madoff in terms of accountability," he said. "This is a new day, and all kudos to Senator Malcolm Smith. He's taken on the permanent government."