Senate Dems Release Another MTA Funding Plan Without Tolls

Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith has come out with another MTA funding proposal, which again gives commuters who drive across East and Harlem River bridges a free pass. The $1.76 billion it would generate annually for the MTA falls more than $300 million short of the projected revenue from the original Ravitch plan ($2.1 billion). Liz Benjamin at the Daily Politics has the details:

Under the Democrats' proposal, which does not yet exist in bill form, the payroll tax would be 34 cents per $100 in the 12-county MTA service area, but it would be graduated so the outlying counties would pay less (exactly how much less was not immediately clear).

The payroll tax would generate the lion's share of revenue: $1.49 billion.

Another key feature: a $1 taxi drop-off fee (50 cents more than what was originally on the table).

Half of the $190 million this fee is expected to generate would be used to pay the $95 million debt service on a $1.2 billion capital plan for roads and bridges upstate and on Long Island -- a move designed to woo GOP lawmakers and suburban Democrats who have so far dug in their heels in opposition to the payroll tax.

Other highlights:

- A $25 motor vehicle registration fee - on top of the existing fee, which was increased in this year's budget. ($130 million).

- Boosting the auto rental surcharge from 6 to 11 percent. ($35 million).

- A 25 percent increase in the motor vehicle license fee. ($10.5 million).

The proposal also includes several measures related to MTA governance and financial disclosure. Smith has not yet lined up the 32 votes needed to pass a plan in the State Senate, but spokesman Austin Shafran expressed confidence that a majority can be wrangled, reports Politicker's Jimmy Vielkind.

In a statement, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver left the door open -- fairly wide, I'd say -- to supporting the proposal:

I am willing to support any plan that provides a stable, long term funding stream for mass transit and apportions the burden equitably among everyone who has a stake in the MTA's future.

I have not had an opportunity to fully review the Senate's plan, but if it can accomplish both of those objectives and command the support of the majority of Senators then it is an alternative we're prepared to take very seriously.

Let's just focus on the revenue here. Smith's plan appears to fall short of Shelly's own by around $150 - $200 million per year, so something's got to give. Assuming the fare hike is held down to the range of eight percent, that means the Senate Dems are still prepared to sock New Yorkers with some combination of service cuts and slapdash investment in maintenance and expansion. Will that qualify as "a stable, long term funding stream" that "apportions the burden equitably"? With the MTA's financial picture growing bleaker by the day and the need for a robust plan all the more apparent, the only answer that makes sense is "No."