MTA Passes Doomsday Budget

The MTA Board has voted unanimously to pass a doomsday budget plan -- laced with massive service cuts and phasing out of student MetroCards -- and send it to public hearings

Several members made statements expressing concerns over the controversial budget, including one who said "it stinks." But the Board is required by law to send a balanced budget into the new year.

The budget hopes to close the gap on a $383 million shortfall that unexpectedly cropped up in the past few weeks as a result of lower than expected tax revenues and a court decision that gave transit union workers an 11.5% hike over three years.

New MTA Chief Executive Jay Walder said "this is the beginning of the process, not the end."

Phasing out of free student transportation wouldn't be implemented until September, leaving extra months to reverse that plan.

The powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told Tuesday night that the student MetroCard cut will not be allowed to take effect.

Governor Paterson has said he would try to find more state revenue to ward off cuts to student discounts. The governor could also work with lawmakers in Albany to restore State funding cut in recent weeks. If accomplished before service changes now scheduled for next summer, millions of riders could be spared a lot of pain.

Meanwhile Walder also today conceded that the public's money is being wasted on inefficient operations, bloated management and old technology.

"We need to take the place apart," said Walder, making the strongest comments in years by an MTA chairman about financial problems that have led the transit organization to the brink of massive service cuts.

Walder said the 5000-strong administrative staff is too large, and, continuing a battle fought by his predecessors, he also took aim at "unacceptably generous" wage hikes awarded to transit union workers. An arbitrator gave them an 11.5% hike over three years. But that contrasts with an immediate 10% reduction in salaries for the MTA's non-union employees.

"Labor has to work with us to solve this imbalance," said Walder.

"We must accept there will be layoffs," the transit CEO added. "We can't pay for work that is no longer necessary. Private business does not operate this way."

Before the board voted, a long line of public speakers voiced their opinion on the proposed cuts.

Among them was an angry Brooklyn councilman Charles Barron who said, "You respond slower to the people's needs than the C train and G train on the weekends.

"You sit here and bring anxieties to young children," he said. "What do you want them to do? Jump the turnstiles and turn them into criminals?"

Many spectators in the overflow crowd held up signs that read "YOU ARE SO SCREWED," apparently referring to what the budget plan will do to riders.

Meanwhile a coalition of Brooklyn community groups has announced a "day of outrage" march for Monday, December 21st, starting at 3:00pm at MTA HQ on Madison Avenue and 44th Street. 

The policy of free or discounted student rides has been in place since 1948. Ending it could cost half a million students nearly $1,000 per year in transportation fees.

That could have a big impact, as eighty percent of the city's public school students have family incomes low enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

Public Advocate-elect Bill de Blasio released a statement on the vote saying: "The MTA’s vote today could very well result in students missing school because their families can’t afford the extra cost of a metro card.  We cannot place such an unfair burden on low income students and their families in the middle of a recession.  The decision to approve this doomsday budget was made without considering credible alternatives or giving New Yorkers a say in the process."

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