2009-03-11 / Features

Liu Scolds MTA At UCCA Meeting

BY RICHARD GENTILVISO

(L. to r.): State Senator George Onorato, Borough President Helen Marshall and Joseph Risi, an attorney, were among the speakers at the United Community Civic Association meeting March 5. (L. to r.): State Senator George Onorato, Borough President Helen Marshall and Joseph Risi, an attorney, were among the speakers at the United Community Civic Association meeting March 5. City Councilmember John Liu has tangled with the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) many times in his eight years as chair of the council Transportation Committee.

[The MTA] has threatened us with service cuts and wholesale elimination of many bus lines here in Queens," Liu said at the United Community Civic Association (UCCA) meeting on March 5.

With Queens intensively dependent on buses because of the lack of subway lines in the borough, Liu said, "Buses and subways are two different modes of transportation," debunking the MTA's position that subways and buses are interchangeable options for riders.

The QM22 express bus into Manhattan, serving the Astoria and Jackson Heights communities, is one of the bus lines threatened with closing. The bus is usually filled and heavily utilized, especially by people with disabilities and those who cannot climb stairs.

(L. to r.): Jack Brucculeri, a newly sworn in member of the United Community Civic Association board of directors, Gus Antonopoulos, Joseph Farenga and Sons Funeral Home owner/funeral director and UCCA President Rose Marie Poveromo posed at the March UCCA meeting. (L. to r.): Jack Brucculeri, a newly sworn in member of the United Community Civic Association board of directors, Gus Antonopoulos, Joseph Farenga and Sons Funeral Home owner/funeral director and UCCA President Rose Marie Poveromo posed at the March UCCA meeting. Liu told UCCA that shutting down the QM22 is "totally and utterly unacceptable". Facing a $1.2 billion deficit, the MTA has said service cuts to buses and subways could begin March 25.

But Liu is optimistic something can be done, namely, imposition of the proposed mobility tax by a commission headed by former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch, which Liu supports "almost entirely".

Liu supports Ravitch's plan for a mobility tax that would raise $1.5 billion a year for the MTA by charging businesses in the MTA's 12-county area a tax of 33 cents on every $100 of payroll they have.

While Liu acknowledged the timing of a new tax is not great, he said, "This is the least of all bitter pills." For example, in addition to the service cuts, the MTA has proposed a 23 percent increase in fares, with a jump to $2.50 in the base fare.

What Liu doesn't support are tolls on East River bridges. Liu said the bridges have long since been paid for and are an intrinsic part of the city's street gridwork. "Don't impose an unnecessary and divisive tax on us," he said of Queens residents. "Bridge tolls aren't even necessary to bail out the MTA. I would urge you all to write and email [elected officials. The MTA] is starting to dismantle the transit system that took decades and decades to build."

Borough President Helen Marshall said Mary Immaculate and St. John's Queens hospitals are closed. Marshall will form a task force to replace the hospitals. "Long Island Jewish [Hospital in Nassau County] is interested in St. John's but they want to tear it down and build a new hospital," she said. Marshall has previously recommended that a new hospital be built along the East River shoreline in Western Queens.

UCCA President Rose Marie Poveromo said Mount Sinai Hospital of Queens has plans to tear down its old annex building and build a new unit there.

State Senator George Onorato, speaking of Mount Sinai's plans, said, "[Mount Sinai] wants to expand exactly right where they are. They have plans to do it but they don't have the funds. I'm trying to get some of the [federal] stimulus money to help them."

Onorato said the state's budget deficit has climbed to $15 billion. The senate and Assembly have agreed to propose separate budgets and then reconcile them in a joint conference, he said. The new budget is due April 1.

Concerning the MTA's deficit, Onorato said, "We have to do something about it."

Former Assemblymember Ivan Lafayette, now deputy superintendent for community affairs with the state Insurance Department, spoke on the topic, "Will you be protected if your insurer goes out of business?"

"The answer is absolutely yes," said Lafayette. "We audit [insurance] companies every 18 months to make sure that they have proper reserves to pay their obligations."

Lafayette said the widely reported federal bailout of AIG (American Insurance Group), the world's largest insurance company, was brought about due to an international unit of the company, not the units in New York, which have verified required reserves, he said.

Attorney at Law Joseph Risi spoke on estate planning. Risi, a 25-year practitioner in Astoria, addressed questions regarding wills, living wills and healthcare proxies.

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