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Senate Dems want vote on MTA plan

A new plan to add a $1 surcharge to taxi and livery cab fares is scheduled to go for a vote in the state Senate next week. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Philip Newman

State Senate Democrats have called for a vote next week on a new MTA financial rescue plan that includes a surcharge on taxi fares and vehicle registrations as well as a 12−county payroll tax, but no bridge tolls.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D−St. Albans) expressed optimism that the new plan would gain approval despite the Democrats’ slim two−vote majority in the Legislature.

Austin Shafran, a Smith spokesman, said the proposal would go to a vote next week.

“We think our plan is a sensible solution and will garner the necessary 32 votes needed for passage,” Shafran said.

Neither Gov. David Paterson nor the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had an immediate comment on the new plan.

The proposal would include a payroll tax of 34 cents on every $100 in wages in the 12 counties served by the MTA, but with a lower but unspecified tax in outer suburban counties than in the New York City area.

It would also include:

• a $1 surcharge on taxi and livery car rides in the 12 counties, providing 50 percent of the expected $95 million annually to be spent to underwrite bonds for improvement of upstate and Long Island highways and bridges

• a $25 fee on motor vehicle registrations in the 12−county area, estimated to raise $130 million annually

• a 25 percent increase in driver’s license fees

The Ravitch Commission plan called for tolls on 13 bridges on the Harlem and East rivers, which several Democratic Senate members have opposed from the start. The tolls were removed from the new plan.

Republican members of both the state Assembly and Senate have remained opposed to either plan to bail out the MTA.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D−Manhattan) said of the new proposal: “I am willing to support any plan that provides a stable, long−term funding stream for transit and apportions the burden equitably among everyone who has a stake in the MTA’s future.”

Supporters of the new plan say passage would eliminate the need to implement the MTA’s so−called “doomsday” plan to raise transit fares from 23 percent to 30 percent and to carry out what MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger called “just awful” service cuts, including shutdown of the W and Z subway lines and elimination of 22 bus lines.

The plan would provide a transit fare increases of perhaps 8 percent.

The MTA has said it would begin carrying out fare increases May 31 and that the service cuts would have to be followed by a whole new round of service reductions in a downward spiral leading toward the ruinous conditions of the transit system 30 years ago.

The MTA faces a budget gap of $1.28 billion, brought on to a great extent by the free−fall of fees from real estate transactions , but also from interest coming due on the $22 billion borrowed for projects such as the Second Avenue subway and the East Side Access.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e−mail at news@timesledger.com or phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 136.

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