On May 6, the State Legislature agreed upon a plan to provide consistent, stable funding to the cash-strapped Metropolitan Transportation Authority. I strongly believe that a safe, efficient and dependable mass transit system is critical to the region’s economic health and a major factor in our ability to weather this economic crisis and attract and retain jobs. I was always committed to supporting whatever the legislature ultimately decided to do to fund the MTA. A part of the recent agreement that was very much underreported was the restoration of all proposed service cuts, including the elimination of the M10 bus line, overnight service on the M104 and staffing at various subway station booths. Although I applaud all parties, I also believe the plan didn’t go far enough to ensure the long-term vitality of our mass transit system.
Last December, the Commission on Metropolitan Transportation Authority Financing submitted a plan to provide a stable revenue source to the MTA. The commission was formed at the request of Gov. David Paterson and was chaired by former MTA Chair Richard Ravitch; its proposal attempted to distribute the burden of the expenses among mass transit riders, drivers, city residents and suburban commuters. This occurred in response to MTA’s announcement that its fiscal problems required drastic actions, including a possible 32 percent fare hike and serious cuts in critical services. A protracted discussion ensued, numerous proposals were put forth, and it was unclear which ideas would ultimately be instituted.
The agreement reached earlier this month provides the MTA with $1.9 billion a year through a payroll tax and other mechanisms, prevents dramatic fare hikes and eliminates proposed service cuts. The agreement also institutes reform of how the authority operates to maximize efficiency and improve transparency. The Assembly early on understood just how critical this decision was and had committed to supporting a plan to fully fund the MTA. Gov. Paterson provided crucial leadership throughout the discussion, ultimately forging the agreement by bringing together representatives of constituencies with greatly differing needs.
Though I am thrilled that the service cuts have been eliminated, I don’t believe the plan goes far enough. I have long advocated the establishment of a dedicated revenue stream to fund MTA’s ongoing capital needs, essential to the system’s upkeep and maintenance. While the agreement provides sufficient funds for MTA’s next two years of capital expenses, we will need to go back to the drawing board at that time to provide the MTA with the funding necessary to maintain and expand access to our mass transit system.
We cannot neglect the maintenance of our buses and subways, nor can we make their use prohibitively expensive for riders. During the fiscal crisis of the 1970s, we stopped investing in the MTA. It was a horrible mistake that had a devastating impact on the city, the suburbs and the entire economy. We cannot afford to make that mistake again.
Assembly Member O’Donnell represented the 69th Assembly District, including portions of the Upper West Side, Morningside Heights, Manhattan Valley and West Harlem.
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