MTA board approves draconian budget

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Bad news travels fast.
One day after Governor David Paterson unveiled his state budget ripe with cuts, new taxes and fees; it was the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) turn to announce their own balanced budget complete with increased fares and massive service reductions.
The MTA board approved a plan to balance their $1.2 billion budget gap that would increase the base fares on city buses and subways from $2 to $2.50 as well as eliminate service entirely on two subway lines in Queens and have less frequent service on a host of other bus and subway lines in the borough.
“Today we fulfilled our requirement to adopt a balanced budget within the constraints of existing resources, and those resources are simply not great enough,” said H. Dale Hemmerdinger, MTA Chair. “Our fervent hope is that available resources will grow in the coming months, so that this budget can be amended before it is implemented.”
The large budget gap, which the agency said is a result of plummeting tax revenues, higher fuel costs and increased debt service obligations, would take shape next year if state leaders cannot find alternate sources of revenue for the strapped agency.
“I have called this budget draconian, severe and extremely painful, and it is all of those things,” said Elliot G. Sander, MTA Executive Director and CEO.
The 23 percent increase in the revenue from fares and tolls, which would begin in June 2009, would yield approximately $670 million. The Straphanger’s Campaign released an analysis by the city’s Independent Budget Office that said fares could rise to at least $2.50, a 30-day unlimited MetroCard could jump to $104 from $81 and the 7-day MetroCard would go to $32 from the current price of $25.
In addition, each MTA agency would cut an additional 4.7 percent, including at least 5 percent of managerial costs. The MTA identified the service reductions because it believes it can be implement without compromising safety or security, and still provide MTA customers with alternative options for reaching their destination.
“I believe that going ahead with this plan would be a big mistake,” Bloomberg said. “Instead, state leaders need to help balance the MTA’s operating budget without resorting to these draconian steps, and also create a funding stream that will allow the MTA to keep the existing system in good repair while expanding transit service for our growing city.”
The MTA is calling on state legislators to find more funding for the agency and is looking to implement some recommendations that the Ravitch Commission put forth earlier this month including new tolls on the East River bridges and a payroll tax.
The new tolls would raise an additional $600 million annually and installation of a payroll tax of one-third of one percent on employers would bring in an additional $1.5 billion in revenue per year helping the agency balance the budget and raise funds for capital projects.
Queens City Councilmember John Liu, said the 23 percent fare increase and tolls could be avoided if it instituted the 33 cents tax per $100 or corporate payroll.