MTA to vote on finance plan next week

When the MTA Board votes next week on a financial plan to balance its $1.2 billion budget gap, the question won’t be if fares will increase, but rather how significant those increases will be and what areas residents can expect to pay more.
The mechanism of how the MTA plans to accomplish this only became more uncertain last week when the Ravitch Commission - a group headed by former MTA Chair Dick Ravitch - released a report calling for lesser fare hikes for subway and bus riders, but new tolls on the East River bridges and a payroll tax.
The new tolls would raise an additional $600 million annually and installation of a payroll tax of one-third of one percent on employers would bring in an additional $1.5 billion in revenue per year helping the agency balance the budget and raise funds for capital projects.
While Governor David Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg both praised the Ravitch Commission for its work, a number of lawmakers in Albany and the city have taken issues with the toll plans.
“The idea of having to collect $1 billion in toll revenue just to achieve a net amount of $600 million is preposterous,” said City Councilmember John Liu, who chairs the Council’s Transportation Committee. “That’s wasting 400 million.”
Liu said that the MTA should consider increasing the payroll tax by .0046 instead of .0033 or a plan that City Comptroller William Thompson Jr. unveiled that would increase the amount charged for registration fees on private and commercial vehicles based on their weight - the more the vehicle weighs, the more money drivers would pay.
In order to institute new tolls on the East River bridges, the State Legislature - which is made up of both the Senate and Assembly - would have to sign off on the proposal. That is far from certain as many pundits are harkening back to last year when the Assembly effectively killed Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan by not even bringing it up for a vote during the end of session.
The MTA Board will meet on Wednesday, December 17 where it will have to vote on a plan that balances their budget.
In November, the MTA proposed a plan that called for a 23 percent increase in subway and bus fares as well as the elimination of numerous weekend bus lines in order to balance their budget. On Tuesday, December 9, the Straphanger’s Campaign released an analysis by the city’s Independent Budget Office that said fares could rise to at least $2.50 in 2009, a 30-day unlimited MetroCard could jump to $104 from $81 and the 7-day MetroCard would go to $32 from the current price of $25.
“Transit fares will go through the roof and service through the floor unless Governor Paterson and state legislative leaders come to the rescue of transit riders,” said Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign.

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