Bailout Bill Proposed
State senate staffers worked feverishly yesterday to dot every i and cross every t to make sure that the MTA bailout bill they were crafting had exactly the language needed to spell out the deal that will save New York City straphangers and other commuters millions of dollars in commuting costs while maintaining current MTA service levels.
The legislation being hammered out would have to satisfy all 32 Democratic senators in Majority Leader Malcolm Smith's ranks, especially two from Long Island who Smith had persuaded on Monday night to give their support and end the seemingly endless effort to get an MTA bailout plan approved.
Previous efforts last month to reach that goal had failed as various Democratic senators had balked for one reason or another at voting on several proposals that were presented, while Republicans refused to bail out their rivals.
The bill now making its way to both houses calls for a payroll tax on employers, including school districts, in areas served by the MTA.
Governor David Paterson then proposed paying a $60 million reimbursement to the school districts, but Senators Craig Johnson and Brian X. Foley, both from Long Island, still weren't convinced.
Majority Leader Smith then huddled with the recalcitrant pair for about four hours Monday night, trying to get them to accept the plan.
Johnson said afterward that he and Foley emphasized that, despite the press releases coming out of the governor's office, the language in the bill would leave no doubt that the reimbursements would be made to the school districts.
"We needed to be comfortable with what the bill language was going to be so that the residents of the school districts would be protected," Johnson explained.
When Smith emerged from the meeting, he said he believed he had the two Democratic votes that would give him the 32 necessary to pass the bill.
But, he stressed, the exact language would have to be in the bill to satisfy Foley and Johnson. "The devil is in the details," said Smith, who has been under tremendous pressure to get a bailout bill passed from the governor and transit advocates.
Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had indicated last week, that although he preferred the bridge toll bailout plan the Assembly had passed, he would be willing to accept any reasonable plan the senate could pass.
After Smith got Johnson and Foley to pledge to vote for the bailout plan, a spokesman for Silver told reporters that Assemblymembers were "encouraged" by the senate plan and were prepared to act immediately in order to save the fare and preserve massive service cuts.
The plan would raise an estimated $1.76 billion, according to Smith. In addition to the tax on employers, the plan calls for a 50-cent surcharge on all Yellow Cab rides in New York City and increases in motor vehicle fees.
Smith said, "We would like to pass the bill this week, once lawmakers work out how and when the school districts will be reimbursed."
If the legislation passes as planned, the governor is ready to sign it into law.
In that case, 8 million public transit customers would see the cost of a ride rise from the $2 base fare to $2.25, not $2.50, and the price of an unlimited-ride MetroCard would be set at $88, not $103. The monthly card now sells for $81.
Subway and bus fares are set to change on May 31 and LIRR and MetroNorth ticket prices would go up the following day.
As for service cuts, the new revenue would enable the MTA to continue running 25 local bus routes and two subway lines. The agency would also be able to continue to provide services that were scheduled to be cut. If the legislative deal doesn't materialize, service cuts could begin as early as next month.
The planned service cuts would shut down the W and Z subway lines and the M and G lines would be shortened.