Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bell Tolls for Ravitch Plan

According to the NY Times, the state senate has devised a short term plan to provide the MTA with a cash infusion-while at the same time eschewing any of the tolls that the Kruger-led faction believes is an anathema: "A proposal to add tolls to bridges over the East and Harlem Rivers to help finance the beleaguered Metropolitan Transportation Authority appears to be dead in the State Senate, as the Democratic majority is preparing to offer on Tuesday a scaled-back, short-term alternative to bail out the authority, two people briefed on that plan said."

If so, this is a big victory for strapped commuters; and the first step, hopefully, towards the badly needed overhaul of a corrupt and inefficient public authority: "The immediate impact would be, all service cuts are restored, fare increases would be cut in half, and there would be no tolls,” said one of the two people briefed on the plan. Democratic staff members reviewed some of the authority’s finances in recent days and concluded that a scaled-back plan would suffice in the short term. But the Senate proposal would require the transportation authority to submit to a deeper forensic auditing, a step lawmakers from both parties have demanded as a condition of laying out more taxpayer money for the authority, long dogged by waste and corruption."

What should be commenced-and almost immediately after this deal is struck-is a demand for the resignation of all senior staff; and the hiring of a team of bankruptcy attorneys and transit experts to determine how the badly needed restructuring of the authority should be accomplished. While this stop gap will not please the avaricious Ravitch, it will give the legislature the time to devise the agency's revamping.

What seems about to happen, however, is-at least from the governor's perspective-does not look pretty: "Gov. David A. Paterson also did not appear ready to accept the Senate plan. He is scheduled to hold a news conference with transit advocates on Tuesday, when he is expected to call for passage of the full Ravitch plan. The Ravitch plan was designed to spread the fiscal pain by requiring financial contributions from several groups. Businesses would pay a payroll tax. Riders would pay an 8 percent fare increase. And drivers would pay new bridge tolls. The rationale was that all three groups should pay because they all benefited from the transit system, including drivers, who would find roads heavily congested without it. Mr. Ravitch hoped his plan would command wide support and head off critics who might complain that one group or another was being singled out."

Paterson apparently is a glutton for punishment; willing to burden everyone in order to look evenhanded, he risks suffering the kind of slings and arrows that an anemic approval rating can ill-afford to bear. But by devising this alternative plan, the senate shifts the focus away from the governor's political self-flagellating gluttony, and throws the ball right over to the assembly, "where there is also opposition to tolls." (an apparent understatement)

Will the governor take the life raft? Hard to predict. But what we do know for sure, is that the amigos have struck again; and tolls will not be put on the city's free bridges.