Pols Skeptical Ahead of Ravitch Report Release

The much-anticipated report from the Ravitch Commission is scheduled to be released within the hour. The report is expected to include recommendations for an eight percent increase in transit fares along with tolls on East River and, possibly, Harlem River bridges -- measures deemed necessary to avert the MTA "doomsday" scenario of a 23 percent fare hike and massive service cuts. And yet, in this morning's media coverage, we couldn't find one quote from a politician other than Governor David Paterson who was willing to keep an open mind on the idea of new bridge tolls.

Here's some of what was said in advance of the report's release.

From the Times, "Paterson Voices Support for M.T.A. Rescue Plan": 

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 at a news conference in Manhattan, "The message we keep trying to deliver is that we are in a very difficult fiscal time, and so it’s either going to be fare hikes or it’s going to be tolls and a combination of payroll taxes, but it’s the only way."

"Those who are upset about this, what I would urge them to consider is, it’s the inaction in the past that’s led to this overwhelming deficit," he said. "This is a very difficult endeavor, but we are trying to show leadership."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said that he had not seen the final report, but that he favored keeping the fare affordable. "I am not afraid of reasonable tax proposals that will provide the revenues that are necessary to do that," he said.

"Even the businesses that might be called upon to pay it would be better served by having that affordable revenue stream there, and an affordable fare," Mr. Silver said. "We can’t afford service cuts that make the subways and buses inaccessible."

Asked about tolls on the bridges, however, he reiterated that he was waiting to see the report.

Some of the difficulty that proponents will face in winning approval for the plan could be seen at a meeting of Democratic members of the Assembly in Brooklyn on Wednesday, some of whom voiced misgivings about both tolls and taxes.

"This proposal is the beginning, not the end, of a process, and there’s going to be a tremendous amount of deliberation before a final product is acted upon," said Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn. "We have to make sure that the outer boroughs don’t bear a disproportionate share of the pain."

From the Daily News, "Gov. David Paterson: Panel to suggest much smaller MTA fare hike":

The commission "found a way to reduce the fare increases to 8% by distributing the responsibility among all those who use the service," Paterson said.

From Newsday, "Panel touts 8% fare hike, city bridge tolls for MTA":

"I think the MTA had a certain number of options, and what the MTA had done was to raise fares by 23 percent," Paterson said yesterday at a news conference in Manhattan about judicial appointments. "What the Ravitch Commission . . . did is they came in and found a way to reduce the fare increases to 8 percent by distributing the responsibility among all those who use the service."

From the Post, "Gov: $ave MTA":

"Let's not make the bridge tolls be the center of the proposal," said Assemblyman Micah Kellner (D-Manhattan). "There's been widespread opposition to it for decades. I'd hate to see Ravitch make that the centerpiece of a proposal and watch it go down in flames because of it."

Kellner said that even though he's in favor of the toll proposal, the panel should focus on options that are more politically possible.

From AMNY, "Familiar fix for budget crunch — Raise fares and toll bridges":

"They’re coming up with the same old tired solutions that the public has rejected already," said City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside). "We have too many bureaucrats who can’t think out of the box."

Another critic of fare hikes, state Sen. Bill Perkins, (D-Manhattan), suggested the MTA sell some of its real estate holdings to raise money.

"I want to see some creativity," he said. "I’m very concerned about that old idea that keeps coming back: Raise the fares."

Perkins, a member of the Transportation Committee, called the East and Harlem River tolls a "Quixotic" idea that’s "been around for a while and never gone anywhere."

Gene Russianoff, an attorney for the Straphangers Campaign who has been sharply critical of the MTA, said the Ravitch Commission appears to have struck a good balance.

"(It’s) asking everybody who benefits from the subways, buses and commuter lines to help contribute to their maintenance," he said. "That includes drivers, riders and businesses."