Yesterday the MTA revealed that its finances are in even worse shape than originally believed, with declining property tax revenue resulting in an additional $621 million budget gap—even after planned fare and toll increases of up to 30% and service cuts go into effect. With those dreaded changes just weeks away, the authority is still hoping the state will pass some sort of bailout package to help avoid the worst of the cuts. Sadly, the MTA's hopes rest on the Albany legislature, where hopes go to die.
Or do they? Malcolm Smith says that at this point, he'll support just about any bailout plan scrawled on a napkin—as long as it can get the minimum 32 votes needed to pass in the Senate. By the way, if you needed to Google "Malcolm Smith" after reading that sentence, you're not alone—only one out of 29 New Yorkers approached by Clybe Haberman on the Upper West Side know who Smith is, either. Speaking to reporters yesterday after a closed-door meeting with Governor Paterson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver about the bailout, the anonymous Senate majority leader said, "It’s not about merit. It’s just about what gets us there with the votes that we need to get it passed."
Smith favors a bailout bill that would raise money with a $1 taxi surcharge, a payroll tax and an automobile tax, while Paterson and Silver both favor rescue plans that would use a combination of new bridge tolls and payroll taxes. But none of the proposals are likely to get the 32 votes in the Senate, because at least four Democrats oppose the payroll taxes, and no Republicans are ready to support the Senate Democrats’ plans. Still, Democratic leaders say they hope (aw, there's that word again!) to hold a vote on Wednesday.
Explaining his opposition to the taxi tax, Paterson told the Post, "The dollar on the taxis, I think, is too much for the taxi drivers. The number of people taking taxis has dwindled. It's very poor for the industry." But didn't the TLC recently trumpet an increase in taxi ridership? According to the Times, Paterson added, "I’m somewhat just offended by that at this point, because as professionals we’ve got to resolve this." And Silver seemed equally willing to support any bill that could get the magic 32 votes, saying, "Does it get some of those Republicans who are now standing on the politics of it to put up or shut up? If it does that, that’s fine."