MTA and Albany: Oops, We Miscalculated

By Tim Minton
|  Wednesday, Dec 9, 2009  |  Updated 9:51 AM EDT
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MTA and Albany: Oops, We Miscalculated

What's that coming along? Service cuts, probably.

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The MTA's bailout needs a bailout.

Seven months after Albany came to the rescue of straphangers, there's a problem with the numbers. A payroll tax that was supposed to provide a billion dollars in relief by now has delivered 20 percent less -- blowing a $200 million hole in the MTA's budget for this year.

Oh, and legislators also cut another $143 million last week to help with their own deficit (of cash, not creative strategic planning).

Who's to blame? Take your pick: the governor, the economy or business owners cheating on their taxes.

The governor is responsible for the budget office that predicted a billion dollars would come this year from the payroll tax.  If the accountants there just botched the math, the governor takes the heat for this new crisis.

Of course it could be that the recession has just dragged payrolls down lower than reasonable estimates (but wasn't the country already deep into a recession when the numbers were projected?).

The last possibility is that business owners could be cheating, or to be charitable maybe just paying late. That's the best hope because either way, the expected cash should show up sometime next year.

In the meantime, the MTA's bosses are scrambling to fix the mess. They've pledged not to raise the fare or tolls again until 2011, and have even renewed that pledge in the face of the latest surprise. That leaves service cuts -- at least $200 million worth -- combined with "administrative massaging" of the rest of the budget to find money where none existed last week.

Based on the "doomsday" plan floated before the bailout earlier in the year, it's a safe bet that riders can say goodbye to dozens of bus routes, especially on weekends. The W and Z lines are back on the endangered list, along with Brooklyn service on the M. Late night subway riders can expect to wait longer and may have to get on or off at different stations because their regular ones may be closed.

When will we know for sure? Next week. By law, the MTA has to come up with a balanced budget for 2010 and a proposal is due December 14th. A MTA spokesman says "tough choices are being made."

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