This plan isn’t about unclogging New York City’s streets — it’s about milking them
The latest MTA fare and (especially) toll hikes are just a taste of what Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio are offering with the deal they struck last week — a plan that amounts to an endless bailout for an agency that somehow manages to lurch into fiscal crisis on a regular basis.
First, the fare hikes: Come April 21, weekly MetroCards will squeeze you for another buck, a 3 percent hit. Monthlies will jump $6, up 5 percent. And the 5 percent bonus on pay-per-ride cards vanishes completely.
But bridge and tunnel tolls rise first — as of March 31. Mail-in tolls at the Verrazzano, for example, will soar nearly 12 percent.
The Cuomo-de Blasio scheme would also add an entirely new class of tolls — “congestion pricing” fees for anyone driving into Manhattan below 61st Street. Tellingly, the exact amount is to be determined only sometime in late 2020. Can you spell B-L-A-N-K C-H-E-C-K?
The revenue is all supposed to go for MTA capital spending, with a priority on city transit, along with the five-borough take from a new Internet sales tax and levies on marijuana (once it’s legalized).
But state senators from Long Island, with support from Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, immediately raised an alarm: They demand that any congestion-pricing “formula” be “advantageous” for Long Island commuters.
That clearly means either special discounts for their voters, or directing some of the take to the Long Island Rail Road.
Never mind that LIRR riders are already getting an $11 billion tunnel and station at Grand Central on Manhattan’s East Side that will shave considerable time and hassle off their commutes.
By Friday, pols from north of the city were also weighing in, demanding a cut of the take for their constituents.
In other words, a big new pile of money is on the horizon, and hands are out to grab it.
Which makes it clear: The goal here isn’t about unclogging New York City streets — it’s about milking them.
The other official objective is to get the MTA money for new signals, new cars and buses and other capital needs. But the ugly truth is that the agency has time and again gotten new “revenue streams” only to soon run into fresh fiscal folly.
Back in 2009, it got the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Mobility Tax, which added a 50-cent charge to taxi rides and a new tax on payrolls across the MTA region. Plus fare hikes.
Thanks to prior crises, it also gets cash from the sales tax, real-estate taxes and petroleum taxes — as well as direct city and state subsidies.
Yet all the proposed new revenue won’t even cover half of what the MTA needs for its next four-year capital plan.
Meanwhile, the agency’s operating budget faces billions in shortfalls over the coming years. What will they look to tax next?
Yet the Cuomo-de Blasio plan devotes barely a sentence to the MTA’s out-of-whack expenses. MTA fares “must be controlled in future years through cost containment and improved management,” it says. That’s it.
Oh, the plan talks of bureaucratic consolidation as a cost-saver, but Cuomo’s made the same claim for years about making local governments across the state more efficient — and numbers-crunchers say the actual savings would be trivial.
This deal isn’t a solution to the MTA’s woes — it’s a political answer to the politicians’ needs.
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