2007-11-28 / Political Page

Looks Like GOP Senators Will Make Fare Hike An Issue In '08

Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike blasted the MTA subway fare and bridge toll increase plans prior to Governor Eliot Spitzer's intervention last week, which saved a small percentage of straphangers from increased commuting costs.

Democrats may or may not feel satisfied with their governor's half-a-loaf solution to the transit related problem, but they're not about to score Spitzer publicly about the transit fare issue or any other unpopular problem.

Their criticism will probably follow the pattern set by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver before the governor announced last Tuesday that the MTA had suddenly found another $220 million, keeping the subway fare at $2 and avoiding a raise to $2.25 next year.

Silver had advised the MTA a day or two earlier at least to delay the increases to mid-April to give the legislators a chance to dig out some more mass transit dollars in their deliberations over the 2008 state budget.

Commenting along those same lines after Spitzer announced the present fare was safe for the moment, Assemblymember Richard Brodsky, a close Silver ally, repeated that same advice as he quietly praised Spitzer's action as a good "first step".

Even our Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg greeted Spitzer's action without turning any cartwheels.

But two of the state senate's Republican majority, Frank Padavan and Serphin Maltese, both from Queens, came out with guns blazing, pledging to continue fighting fare increases. They demanded answers and a pledge from the governor to reject any increase in the cost of "the monthly MTA commuter passes that hundreds of thousands of New York City residents rely on every day".

As had already been pointed out, the MTA preserved the $2 fare, which benefitted about 15 percent of subway users, but planned to go forward with increases for multi-ride discount cards.

The worst fears of Padavan and Maltese were realized yesterday when MTA Chief Financial Officer Gary J. Dellaverson said customers who buy unlimited weekly or monthly MetroCards and bonus pay-per-ride MetroCards might have to pay an increase of more than 3.85 percent. Commuter rail fares and bridge and tunnel tolls will rise an average of 3.85 percent, he estimated.

The exact range of increases for all but basic fares will be announced on December 19, when the MTA board will vote on the new fares and tolls.

According to the New York Times, Dellaverson explained: "At the most basic arithmetic level, obviously if you hold constant one portion of your revenues, then by definition other revenues will have to be raised to make up that difference."

Padavan (R- C, Bellerose), a senior member of the senate Transportation Committee, declared: "Any New York commuter can tell you that it's not enough to hold the line on a base fare increase. This was a missed opportunity for the governor to urge the MTA to do the right thing for millions of overburdened commuters and immediately drop their proposed fare and toll increase plan.

"Until we know where Governor Spitzer stands on key issues such as the cost of a monthly commuter pass, the senate majority will continue its fight against the MTA's plan."

Maltese (D- Middle Village), like Padavan a loyal follower of Majority Leader Joe Bruno in his ongoing battle with Spitzer, stated:

"This battle will not be over until the governor gets the MTA to drop its fare and toll increase scheme in its entirety." (This includes not only monthly commuter passes, but also LIRR fare increases, to which Long Island's Republican senate contingent is furiously opposed).

Maltese concluded: "Instead of proposed and unjustified and unnecessary fare and toll increases, the MTA should refocus their efforts on improving services and finding administrative savings."

It's important to remember that from the tone of the Padavan and Maltese positions and the bruising battle that has raged in Albany between Spitzer and Bruno over the past two months during which the governor has several times vowed to wage a war against Republican candidates in next year's elections in order to end Bruno's reign as majority leader, that the two Queens lawmakers will probably use the fare issue against Spitzer and their Democratic election challengers.

Maltese has already drawn an opponent- City Councilmember Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D- Ozone Park) and Queens Democrats have been eager to find a challenger to take on Padavan, who's been in the senate for three decades.

These developments seem likely, and will almost certainly lead to interesting titanic clashes since they involve the only two elected Republicans in Queens at any level of government.

WATER RATES MIGHT INCREASE AGAIN: It looks like property owners, who were stuck with an 11.5 percent water rate hike less than five months ago, will shortly be getting another 12 to 18 percent increase.

Councilmembers James Gennaro (D- Fresh Meadows) and David Weprin (D- Hollis) have been waging a furious battle against the hikes, apparently without success.

Weprin and Gennaro say the increases are unwarranted and could be averted if the City Council passes a bill that would enable the city Water Board to go after non-payers who owe the Department of Environmental Protection almost $536 million in back payments.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn has reportedly made a commitment to Mayor Michael Bloomberg that the council will pass the bill by the end of the year. Hopefully, the prayers of Gennaro, Weprin and thousands of homeowners will be answered by Quinn and the City Council.

VALLONE REACTS: In response to "a frivolous" lawsuit against the Department of Education by Debbie Almontaser, the school principal who resigned as head of the city's only Arabicthemed public school, City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. (D- Astoria) stated: "This lawsuit removes all doubt about her lack of fitness to lead children. First, she wouldn't stand up to terrorism, and now she admits she couldn't stand up to a little pressure."

According to Vallone, Almontaser became embroiled in a situation this year involving her connection to a tee-shirt glorifying intifada, a terrorist term she describes as being a "shaking off". Almontaser quit the principalship of the Khalil Gibran International Academy before the new school in Brooklyn opened its doors.

YOUNG OPPOSES SALE OF PUBLIC HOUSING: Assemblymember Ellen Young (D- Flushing) turned thumbs down last week on the "misguided" logic behind the idea of selling public housing located in "expensive neighborhoods" to balance the New York City Housing Authority budget.

In dismissing the suggestion of federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Regional Director Sean Moss, offered at an Assembly committee hearing, Young said she felt she had to speak out against the "ludicrous notion" because she has three municipal housing projects in her district- Bland Houses, Latimer Gardens, and Leavitt Street-34th Avenue.

"This show of support for our public housing here today should be a clear indicator to the powers that be in Washington that the solution to the affordable housing crisis is not selling of NYCHA housing, but to work together with all levels of government to secure even greater amounts of funding from federal, state and city sources," Young stated.

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