Anger over the Metropolitan Transit Authority's "doomsday" budget reached fever pitch Wednesday, when an irate speaker threatened to throw a shoe at the Authority's top executive.
The MTA's "worst-case scenario" 2009 budget, which passed Wednesday, contains massive service cuts and huge fare and toll hikes. It was all too much for straphanger Stephen Millies, 54, who said he works as an Amtrak employee.
"Where's Elliot Sander?" Millies asked before bending down. "You made $300,000 last year. Shoes for you." The angry rider was tackled before launching any foot-ware at the MTA's chief executive. The shoe threat was apparently inspired by an angry Iraqi journalist who launched both shoes at President George Bush during a press conference in Iraq last week.
Details of the controversial MTA budget have been out for weeks. NBCNewYork.com first reported on the prospect of a $100 monthly fare card six weeks ago. The Daily News broke the news of subway and bus line eliminations and reductions. Several news outlets have been reporting the base fare could go up to at least $2.50 a trip.
Board members Wednesday said they were no happier but had little choice other than to vote for a budget that is as much a political document as a financial one.
The MTA is required to pass a balanced budget by Dec. 31 and rapidly declining real estate tax revenues have created a huge deficit. A big chunk of the problem is the decade-long capital improvement program begun in the mid-90s, which Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Rudy Giuliani forced to be funded with borrowed money.
Recognizing the problem, New York Gov. David Paterson put former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch in charge of a commission to find a new way to fund the MTA.
The resulting Ravitch Report called for tolling the East River bridges and a downstate payroll tax but it will take action from Albany to make it happen.
And that's what Wednesday's budget is about: Putting tremendous pressure on Albany to come to the rescue.
Indeed Sander said this budget will be dramatically altered "as soon as the Governor and Legislature" act.
It's also worth noting than none of these things can actually go into effect until there are public hearings so the hikes and cuts wouldn't go into effect until June.
So don't worry about these huge cuts and hikes yet. Give it a month or two.