MTA TO ALBANY: S.O.S.

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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority took heat last week after adopting a budget that raises fares and cuts services. But MTA chief executive Elliot Sander mirrors the opinion of angry straphangers who feel the budget cuts are draconian—and says the state needs to step in and help out.

The budget proposal, which raises the base fare by 50 cents to $2.50, and the 30-day unlimited card by $23 to $104, was necessary to close a $1.2 billion deficit and present a balanced budget, as required by law.

“We feel a little bit like a punching bag,” Sander said after the public’s reaction to the controversial budget.

The fare hikes and service cuts, however, can be mitigated if Albany provides addition aid or passes the Ravitch Commission’s recommendations for increasing revenue. The commission, led by former MTA chair Richard Ravitch, proposed tolls on East River and Harlem bridges, a payroll tax, some service cuts and an 8 percent fare increase. As a member of the commission, Sander also contributed to the plan.
“It is crucial Albany provides funding the Ravitch report suggests,” said Sander in a roundtable discussion with reporters last week.

To make the case to Albany, Sander is touting his fiscal management of the authority, which has kept expenses in line with rate of inflation, reduced bureaucracy, reduced the budget by 5 percent between 2004 and 2007, and is looking to cut another 6 percent of the budget in four years.

Sander said much of the MTA financial ills can be blamed on a reduction in tax revenue and Albany cutting state aid to 2 percent in the 2000 to 2004 capital plan. That caused the MTA’s portion of the debt service, or interest and principal paid on loans, costs to “skyrocket.”

“Albany really abandoned us,” Sander said.

State Sen. Thomas Duane supported the Ravitch report, though he was concerned that  placing booths on the East River bridges might cause vehicles to back up into Brooklyn as drivers wait to pay a toll. Aside from that concern, he supported the plan and funding the MTA.

“Legislators are going to have to really step up this year,” Duane said. “If we’re expecting working people to pay more for mass transit, we’re going to have to put more state resources in it to hold the line.”

The MTA is holding public hearings on proposed cuts and fare hikes throughout the city, Westchester County and New Jersey. On Jan. 14, 2009, the MTA’s Manhattan public hearing will occur at the Hilton New York Trianon Ballroom at 1335 Sixth Avenue at West 54th Street. All hearings begin at 6 p.m. and registration to speak closes at 9 p.m.

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