Silver, Bloomberg Meet on MTA Rescue Plan

Assembly speaker blasts proposed fare hikes, service cuts

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver attended a summit meeting with Mayor Bloomberg Friday afternoon to "devise strategy to save the MTA."

Bloomberg, who gave a lengthy presentation on his revised city budget proposal Friday, met with Silver afterward. The meeting was not on the mayor's public schedule.

"The exorbitant fare increases and crippling service cuts that have been announced by the MTA are unacceptable," Silver said before the meeting Friday.

Silver Says He's Confident

Silver is one of Albany's traditional "3 men in a room" who can deliver passage of legislation providing cash to reduce fare hikes.  The others are the State senate majority leader and governor.

"I'm confident it will happen," Silver said in discussing a cash-rescue plan the MTA says is necessary to avoid the magnitude of fare and toll hikes and service elimination scheduled to be put into play this month.

Silver indicated that a payroll tax increase will be necessary, although it will likely be combined with a rebate to school districts to avoid a rise in local property taxes. The speaker also said that a $1 taxi surcharge that would partially benefit roads in upstate counties would be "unfair" and is unlikely. He said a 50-cent surcharge that goes to help the MTA is more appropriate.

As for East River bridge tolls opposed by State senators, Silver said, "Never say never in Albany." Multiple sources close to the MTA talks say, however, that new tolls are no longer part of the conversation.

Paterson's Plan Focuses on Payroll Tax

Gov. David Paterson
's secret plan to help the budget-strapped MTA "focuses on a payroll tax that would exempt schools," a source close to the three-party talks in Albany said.

Recalcitrant Democratic State Senators are concerned that an increase in school payroll taxes would have the unintended consequence of causing property taxes to rise, the source said.

The source also said that tolls on East River bridges "are a dead idea." 

Gov. Paterson has supported new tolls on the East River, but he has evidently conceded the votes don't exist in the senate to approve them.

Yesterday, Paterson said he had "a new idea" -- which he refused to disclose -- to resolve the deadlock over how to bail out the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is due to invoke its "doomsday budget" at the end of May.

A state bailout is needed to avoid an average fare increase of 23 percent that the MTA board already voted to take effect on May 31. The board voted to increase the base fare on subways and buses from $2 to $2.50, eliminate two subway lines and 35 bus routes, and curtail service on other lines. Fares will rise on commuter rail lines, and bridge and tunnel tolls already in place will increase.

The measures are to address a $1.2 billion budget deficit that the MTA blames largely on the recession. This week, MTA officials said the deficit has worsened by another $600 million, which would require deeper cuts or a bigger bailout.

As the governor, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and Assembly Speaker Silver continue to debate a possible bailout, straphangers learned they could face a possible second fare hike by the end of the year. 

The MTA's CEO, Elliot Sander, said the authority hasn't decided on the timing of further fare hikes.

The authority "is not in a position to wait until December to take the steps necessary" to close ballooning budget gaps, the document states.

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