Gov. Patterson Voices Support For Ravitch Commission Plan

We are a little over a day away from the complete Ravitch Commission report being released. However over the last 7-10 days details of the proposals have been leaked from the New York Times to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s “Mobilizing The Region” blog.

For the first time the man who created the Ravitch Commission, Gov. Patterson has voiced his support for the plan which he is still reviewing. One of the main proposals which has been discussed on this blog & many others is the addition of tolls on East River crossings. Until now, no specific toll amounts were known. However tonight we all learned that the potential tolls would be $5 for cash paying customers & $4.15 for E-Z Pass users. The plan also calls for smaller tolls on Harlem River crossings.

The proposal is also there for adding a new company payroll tax which the governor supports as well. If these recommendations make it through Albany, the potential fare hike would drop back to he original forecast of 8% as well as put off “doomsday scenario service cuts & eliminations”.

William Neuman (with contributions from Kareem Fahim) of the New York Times has more in this report:

Gov. David A. Paterson said for the first time on Wednesday that he supported a financial rescue plan for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that includes charging tolls on bridges over the East and Harlem Rivers. The plan, he said, would substantially reduce the size of a fare increase the authority had sought.

The governor also spoke favorably about a recommendation in the plan for a tax on company payrolls in the region. The measures are aimed at helping the authority overcome a projected $1.2 billion deficit next year and a gaping multibillion-dollar hole in its long-term capital budget.

The governor said he was still reviewing the plan, but was “quite pleased with what I see so far.” “As an alternative to a fare hike,” he said, “I think it’s very viable.”

The governor said the plan would include an increase in fare revenues of 8 percent next year, scaling back a 23 percent increase that the authority had previously said it would need to offset plummeting tax revenue and enormous debt payments.

The plan also calls for a tax of one-third of 1 percent on the payrolls of companies in the region served by the authority. That would amount to about $330 for every $100,000 of payroll. Companies, not workers, would pay.

And it calls for tolls on bridges to Manhattan that are currently free. Tolls on the East River bridges would match tolls on other major crossings already managed by the authority, including the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge (formerly the Triborough) and the Queens Midtown Tunnel. On those crossings, cars with E-ZPass are charged $4.15, while drivers paying in cash are charged $5. Lower tolls would be charged on the smaller Harlem River bridges.

Click here for the complete report.

Well this should be quite the report when it is fully released on Friday. I look forward to going over it completely. I said I would wait to comment on some of the leaked proposals but I will not do so any longer.

Let me first start off by saying that I would love to not see a fare hike. However I am a realist & realize that one will occur one way or another. Since riders have no way of not dealing with it, common sense would say that we would prefer an 8% increase versus the doomsday scenario of 23%.

With saying that, I am not sure if these proposals will make it through the web of elected officials who will decide their fate. The idea of tolling the East River bridges has been proposed & defeated many times before. Regardless of the financial crisis our economy is going through, I am not sure if our so called leaders would go against the grain on this specific proposal.

Lets be frank here, as far as tolling the bridges is concerned, look for many residents & elected officials to play the discrimination card. They will contend that their specific area is being discriminated with the addition of tolls on these crossings.

Lets use Staten Island drivers as an example. They will most likely express anger & frustration of potentially being hit with a two toll trip from Manhattan to Staten Island. You can bet your last dollar that local officials in the borough will say they are being discriminated against if tolls for the East River crossings become a reality.

In the New York Times piece, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was questioned. Judging by his “reiteration” of needing to see the final report, I feel it is safe to assume he will be against this specific proposal. In the end on this issue, I don’t know if it will pass. My gut tells me no as history always repeats itself with this issue regardless of the economic conditions & benefits. He seemed open to an idea of a new company payroll tax.

As far as that is concerned, I feel it is a bad idea. While the proposed amount of 1/3 of 1 percent seems low, I can envision many companies using this as an excuse to layoff workers. If they do not choose to do that, they might just relocate outside of the areas that the MTA serves. The latter scenario could have a good/bad impact depending on what state you are in.

If the state was to implement this payroll tax, other states could use this as an opportunity to encourage businesses to relocate with less overall cost to them. Our economy is in a recession that will probably last for quite awhile so don’t think for one second that companies would not jump at such an offer if it was presented by other states nearby.

Seriously who in their right mind would consider new taxes when our economy is in a steady downturn? Basic economics tell you that doing such a thing is never a good idea & that hasn’t changed. With our economy in such a downturn, we should be encouraging companies to create jobs, not give them a free pass to cut them. As I said the amount on paper sounds low but this would cost a lot more in the long run.

So we basically raise taxes during an economic downturn, CHECK!

Impact real estate prices, CHECK!

Encourage companies to either relocate, layoff employees, create less jobs, or all 3, CHECK!

So to sum it up an idea of a payroll tax is so bad it is starting to make congestion pricing look attractive to me, & we all know how I feel about that!

I am really curious to hear what other proposals the Ravitch Commission will make. I hope they have some other ideas as the chances of these proposals passing seems iffy at best.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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