AAA New York: Hold MTA to the fire
Seems AAA New York doesn’t like rescue plan that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is seeking from Albany.
The group sent out its opinion today with the headline “The Wrong MTA Plan.”
To recap: The MTA wants Legislators to enact recommendations made by a state-appointed committee led by former MTA head Richard Ravitch. They would set a payroll tax on all employers in the 12-county MTA region and would put tolls on the four East River and Harlem River crossings that are now free.
They would also allow the MTA to further increase tolls and fares by the rate of inflation every two years without additional hearings. (Larger hikes would require the hearings.)
That payroll tax is intriguing. It’s a mistake to see it as just a tax on corporations. But it really means that every employer from the tip of Long Island to the top of Orange and Putnam counties would pay 33 cents for every $100 of payroll. Every deli, clothing store, contractor, local government, school district, hospital and non-profit would pay. Self-employed people would pay, too.
Ravitch, and MTA leaders say the measures would share the pain of keeping mass transit systems crucial to the region running.
One thing worth noting: While AAA New York’s position says the authority “is pressing for additional toll hikes of up to 25 percent, as well as new tolls on New York City’s East River bridges,” that’s not the way the MTA has presented it. The MTA says fare hikes on its trains and buses and toll hikes on its nine bridges and tunnels would reach 25 percent and more if the Ravicth Commission recommendations are not passed. If they are enacted, fare and toll hikes could be kept to about eight percent. (Not exactly great news coming a year after the last fare hikes, but better than the alternative.)
That said, here’s the AAA’s opinion”
The Wrong MTA Plan
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is pressing Albany lawmakers to quickly enact a financial bailout plan before a March 25th deadline. But lawmakers should take a step back and carefully assess the plan before granting the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) another blank check.
The authority is locked in a perennial financial crisis, in both good times and bad, and there seem to be no end to the ever escalating tolls and fares. Toll revenues now represent 330% of MTA’s bridge and tunnel operating costs. Nevertheless, the authority is pressing for additional toll hikes of up to 25 % as well as new tolls on New York City’s East River bridges.
Even worse, the MTA’s bailout plan seeks to put future toll and fare hikes on automatic pilot, allowing toll and fare increases to rise along with inflation. That diminishes MTA’s accountability and it is simply wrong to remove the issue of toll hikes from the oversight of the MTA board and the public. While the State has made some progress towards instilling greater accountability in its public authorities, reports of wasteful spending , political patronage and similar debacles persist. The MTA’s plan represents a giant step backwards at a time when we need more oversight of public authorities, not less.
Finally, the bailout plan fails to get to the bottom of the MTA’s financial woes. The Authority’s finances are in a perpetual state of disarray because they have been built on a financial house of cards. The massive debt incurred by the authority places a increasing strain on the MTA every year. And like many private sector companies, the MTA is strained by mushrooming labor and health care costs.Yet the bailout proposal, while granting MTA billions in additional taxpayer revenue, contains no long term cost containment measures.
Before the state approves another MTA bailout, its elected officials should insist on a plan that addresses the root causes of the MTA’s financial woes and provides more oversight.
John A. Corlett
Chairman, Legislative Committee
AAA New York State
1415 Kellum Place
Garden City, NY 11530