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Posts from the "David Paterson" Category

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On MTA Board, David Paterson Could Be a Force for Transit Funding

In late 2008, then-Governor David Paterson stood with Richard Ravitch and Michael Bloomberg to announce his support for tolling the East and Harlem River bridges. Will Paterson continue to serve as a voice for road pricing and transit funding on the MTA board? Image: Seth Wenig/Associated Press

As first reported by the Daily News this morning, Governor Andrew Cuomo has nominated former Governor David Paterson to serve as the newest member of the MTA board.

Paterson is an unusually high-profile pick for the board — he will have nominated some of his fellow board members — and it’s not yet clear what the political implications are of Cuomo selecting his predecessor. Will Paterson’s status, for example, lend him more leeway to speak freely on transit issues than other gubernatorial nominees?

For transit advocates, there’s a lot of promise in the possibility of David Paterson turning his attention to the MTA. What the system needs right now is money, and there aren’t many public officials who know that better than Paterson.

It was Paterson that helped pass the payroll mobility tax, which brought in well over $1 billion a year for the MTA. That measure, unpopular with suburban lawmakers, has been absolutely critical in keeping the transit system afloat, though it wasn’t enough to prevent Paterson from presiding over an unprecedented series of service cuts and fare hikes. Now, the payroll tax is under attack. Just last December, Senate Republicans won a deal to eliminate part of the tax, removing $320 million from the dedicated funding stream Paterson helped establish and forcing the MTA to depend on unreliable annual appropriations from Albany.

Moreover, Paterson knew at the time that even the payroll tax wasn’t enough to pay for the aging transit system, and was perhaps the most important supporter of instituting tolls on the East and Harlem River bridges. Paterson first appointed Richard Ravitch to find a solution to the MTA’s fiscal woes, then backed the resulting plan, including bridge tolls. “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,” said Paterson in 2008.

Eventually, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver endorsed bridge tolls, but the same amigos who temporarily handed control of the State Senate to Republicans also scuttled tolls in that chamber. Even after bridge tolls were officially dead, however, Paterson stayed firm in his support for them.

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Cuomo Wants Budget Fix ASAP, So Another MTA Raid May Be Coming Soon

If Andrew Cuomo has his way, the state legislature and Governor Paterson will close the state’s $315 million shortfall before he takes office. The push from the governor-elect means that in the next two months, New York state’s current leadership may again determine whether to close a budget gap by raiding MTA dedicated funds. Nearly $20 million for transit could be on the line.

It cold happen again soon. Graphic: Carly Clark/Streetsblog

It could happen again soon. Graphic: Carly Clark/Streetsblog

Paterson has repeatedly stated that he doesn’t want to pass the current deficit on to the new administration. “That $315 million needs to be balanced so that the new governor can start on January 1 only dealing with a $9 billion deficit and not any surplus that came from the 2010-2011 budget negotiations,” said Paterson in a joint press conference held with Cuomo yesterday.

So far, the current legislature has rejected calls for a special session to deal with the deficit and other Paterson priorities. But at the joint presser, Cuomo added his voice to Paterson’s, urging the legislature to fix that $315 million hole before he takes office. “If Governor Paterson leaves a shortfall on the table, it rolls forward to next year and what is already an impossible year with a $9 billion deficit, give or take,” said Cuomo. “So if Governor Paterson were to compound next year, that would not be responsible.”

That adds some political muscle to Paterson’s request. Paterson is a lame duck, but legislative leaders are going to have to deal with Cuomo moving forward. Rejecting Cuomo’s call for a special session before January would start Sheldon Silver and John Sampson off on the wrong foot with the incoming governor.

Paterson has proposed closing the $315 million shortfall with a mechanism similar to what the state used earlier this year to make up for a shortfall in federal Medicaid payments. By instituting an across-the-board cut of 1.1 percent to all state programs, that maneuver stripped the MTA of $16.7 million in dedicated revenue. If this new spending cut mechanism is organized the same way, it would cost the MTA another $18.7 million. If legislators don’t exempt revenue from the MTA payroll tax, which they spared before, the impact on transit could be about twice as big. Transit advocates and City Council transportation chair Jimmy Vacca have warned state leaders not to hit transit again.

If the state does raid the MTA to plug the current budget gap, it could foreshadow even worse news for straphangers. Any damage inflicted to the MTA’s finances by this $315 million state deficit pales in comparison to the potential trainwreck of next year’s budget, in which the state is currently $9 billion short.

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Paterson Signs Smart Growth Act; Now Comes the Hard Part

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Under New York's smart growth law, will state agencies continue to subsidize projects like the reconstruction of Rochester's South Avenue Garage? Photo: Travelin' Librarian/Flickr

Governor David Paterson announced Tuesday that he had signed Assembly Member Sam Hoyt’s Smart Growth Infrastructure Public Policy Act, making it the law of the land that all state infrastructure spending must comply with a set of smart growth principles, including fostering compact, mixed-use development and reducing dependence on the automobile.

Paterson’s approval has been expected since the bill passed the legislature in June. The next six months will help determine how big a difference the governor’s signature will make.

Important precedents will be set in the waning days of the Paterson administration, said Peter Fleischer, who directs Empire State Future, a statewide smart growth coalition. The administration needs to take an active role in developing smart growth implementation policies at the highest levels, he said.

“We want Paterson’s economic people there, his environmental people there, and we want Paul Beyer of the Smart Growth Cabinet there,” said Fleischer. The governor’s Smart Growth Cabinet, which Beyer manages, brings together state officials to coordinate policy across departments.

Fleischer identified the departments where the smart growth law should have the biggest effect, singling out Empire State Development; the Department of Transportation; the Environmental Facilities Corporation, which helps build water and sewer infrastructure across the state; the Dormitory Authority and the Power Authority (in charge of financing and constructing colleges, courts and health care facilities, and providing low cost electricity from the state’s hydro, gas, and oil power plants, respectively). The departments that matter are “any of the big agencies with money who have discretion over where they spend it,” he explained.

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Paterson Signs Two Traffic Justice Bills Into Law

On Friday evening, New York Governor David Paterson signed two bills intended to make streets safer by giving law enforcement greater leeway to bring charges against reckless drivers.

alg_children.jpgDiego Martinez and Hayley Ng were killed when a van left idling and unattended careened backwards into a group of pre-schoolers on a Chinatown sidewalk. The driver was not charged.
As Streetsblog readers are well aware, New York City pedestrians and cyclists are seriously injured or killed by vehicular mayhem on a daily basis, but in the vast majority of cases, the motorist remains free to get right back behind the wheel. Even on crowded city streets, it's exceedingly rare for drivers who maim or kill to face consequences more serious than a traffic ticket.

One reason prosecutors hesitate to bring charges is that the standards for proving criminal negligence or recklessness can be difficult to meet. Hayley and Diego's Law, sponsored by Dan Squadron in the State Senate and Brian Kavanagh in the Assembly, creates an intermediate charge -- a traffic violation called careless driving -- which prosecutors can use in cases where criminal convictions seem unlikely. Motorists found guilty of careless driving will have to complete a driver education course and face fines up to $750, jail time up to 15 days, and license suspensions up to six months -- or a year for repeat offenders.

"We expect that the NYPD and District Attorneys are always looking at all the different options to hold people accountable for actions that lead to injuries and deaths," said Transportation Alternatives' senior policy advisor Peter Goldwasser. "With this law, we expect that they will be able to do that to an even greater degree and create a deterrent effect."

Joseph McCormack, chief of the Vehicular Crimes Bureau at the Bronx District Attorney's office, said he would have applied the careless driving charge to Randolph Belle, the motorist who executed an illegal U-Turn on West Kingsbridge Road last week, causing a livery cab driver to veer into a bus shelter, killing one person and severely injuring several others.

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Hayley and Diego’s Law Might Be Enacted By Friday

StringerHayleyDiego.JPGManhattan Borough President Scott Stringer at a rally for Hayley and Diego's Law last month. Photo: Noah Kazis
The only thing that can prevent the adoption of New York state's first "vulnerable users law" is Governor Paterson's veto pen. Hayley and Diego's Law, named in memory of two pre-schoolers killed by a van left idling by a Chinatown sidewalk, would make it easier for law enforcement to file charges against motorists who injure or kill pedestrians and cyclists. It will go into effect in a matter of days as long as the governor doesn't explicitly reject it.

Last week, the Assembly officially presented the bill to Governor Paterson, setting in a motion a 10-day countdown that ends this Friday. If Paterson signs it, the bill becomes law. If he ignores it, the bill also becomes law once the countdown expires. The governor would have to veto the bill, overturning a 38-23 vote in the State Senate and a 137-0 vote in the Assembly, to prevent it from becoming law.

We have a request in with the Governor's office to see where he stands.

If the bill clears this final hurdle, the next question is how police and prosecutors will adjust. By defining the offense of "careless driving," the law should lessen the apparent reluctance of law enforcement to charge drivers who maim and kill on crowded city streets.

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Bus Cams on the Table in Gov’s Budget

34thst2.jpgIf New York were allowed to install bus lane enforcement cams, bus riders wouldn't be slowed so much by illegally parked delivery trucks.
Tucked into an otherwise bleak state budget, there's one piece of good news for transit riders. One of Governor Paterson's amendments to the state budget would authorize New York City to keep its bus lanes clear of traffic with camera enforcement. 

New York can't install bus lane cameras without authorization from Albany. So far, the legislature hasn't bestowed it, despite wide-ranging support. Two years ago, Assembly transportation commmittee chair David Gantt killed an earlier version of bus camera legislation, leaving New York City bus riders stuck in traffic. 

The new budget amendment would actually be an improvement over that bill. The old legislation limited bus-mounted cameras to the city's five Select Bus Service routes, while the current version allows camera enforcement on up to 50 miles of bus routes -- exactly the length of the city's current bus lane network. "It's saying that all bus lanes are important, in every borough," said Lindsey Lusher Shute, Transportation Alternatives' director of environmental campaigns.

The cameras would either be stationary or mounted on buses, recording the license plates of motorists parked or driving in bus lanes. Fines would be set at a maximum of $125.

Camera enforcement would be a real game-changer for bus riders. Dedicated lanes can mean much faster trips, but in New York, all sorts of other vehicles constantly violate bus lanes. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's office conducted a study last summer which found more than 350 vehicles parked in Midtown bus lanes over a 40 hour period. The police, meanwhile, are at best too thinly stretched to spend sufficient manpower on keeping bus lanes clear, and at worst they're the source of the problem.

Because NYCDOT and the MTA appear loath to install physically separated lanes for their big-ticket bus improvements on First and Second Avenues, camera enforcement will be critical to achieving better performance. 

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Albany Chaos Open Thread

With Governor Paterson's political career flaming out in spectacular fashion, speculation is rampant that he might step down any day, thrusting Richard Ravitch into New York state's executive office.

Ravitch would inherit a budget crisis of epic proportions and a state capital that was already in utter disarray. The potential succession would also elevate a former MTA chair with no future political ambitions, at a time when transit funding is in dire straits and no one in Albany seems inclined to face up to the problem.

Consider this an open thread for predictions on how the next few weeks and months will play out in Albany. I'm dying to see who's going to be Ravitch's lieutenant governor.

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Gov’s Proposed NYC Tax Hike: A Testament to Your Local Pols, New Yorkers

So it's come to this. With transit revenues plummeting to the point where the MTA has to deal with a $400 million shortfall on top of an austerity plan that already calls for deep cuts in service, Governor Paterson yesterday proposed shifting the burden of the MTA payroll tax to fall heavily on New York City businesses. The idea is to tax city payrolls at .54 percent and suburban payrolls at .17 percent, skewing the flat .34 percent rate established last spring.

fidler_kruger.jpgPerhaps the "Mobility Tax" should be renamed in honor of Lew Fidler and Carl Kruger.
The proposal would raise $230 million for transit -- enough to avoid some damage but not enough to stave off the service cuts that have been announced or restore funding for student MetroCards. It would also come at a heavy price, discouraging businesses from hiring while unemployment remains stubbornly high. If the choice is between horrific service cuts and a 60 percent increase in the local payroll tax, then the New York City economy is between a rock and a hard place.

Despite the fact that the MTA's commuter rail lines, which keep suburban roads from turning into parking lots, are already more heavily subsidized than the subway, we are poised to enact a policy that will lessen the burden on the suburbs and hit the core of the region's economy the hardest.

Are bridge tolls or congestion pricing an option right now? The window to prevent this particular transit catastrophe by putting a price on wasteful driving probably isn't open any longer -- the revenue stream couldn't start flowing fast enough to balance the MTA's books. And the fact is, the same State Senate crew who killed bridge tolls last spring is still in power, and we're nine months closer to election day.

So think of the New York City payroll tax hike, if it comes to pass, as a testament to the obstinacy of Carl Kruger, Pedro Espada, Ruben Diaz, Sr., and the disgraced Hiram Monserrate -- as well as their GOP counterparts like Marty Golden and Andrew Lanza who sat idly by and did nothing to help the Ravitch plan last year.

Nine months after these NYC-based State Senators killed bridge tolls and nearly two years after members of the city's Assembly delegation stopped congestion pricing in its tracks, we now face the distinct possibility that NYC businesses will end up shouldering more than three times the payroll tax rate as suburban businesses. Think back to all the city politicians you've heard float make-believe proposals about reinstating the commuter tax or making only non-NYC motorists pay bridge tolls. This new tax on New York City -- on their constituents -- is their handiwork too.

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Pollution Pricing? NY Among 11 States to Back Low-Carbon Fuel Rules

While many in Washington spent their holiday breaks wondering if Senate Democratic opposition would deal a major blow to progress on a climate change bill, eleven northeastern governors were agreeing on a deal that suggests otherwise.

The eleven governors, including New York's David Paterson, vowed to develop a shared low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS) that would cut the total "life-cycle" emissions from transportation fuels. That measure would include the indirect environmental harm caused by biofuels' adverse land-use effects as well as the direct consequences of burning conventional gas.

The process is not going to be easy, or quick -- the states' pact mentions only that a "regional framework" for the standard would be established by 2011. But the governors' deal is a sign that amid uncertain prospects for congressional action on carbon emissions caps, states are emerging as laboratories for new approaches to curbing pollution.

Even an LCFS that allows fuel producers to select their own method of pollution reduction and measures emissions on a per-gallon basis, as recommended by the Union of Concerned Scientists, would not be a substitute for climate legislation that seeks to put a fair price on carbon.

What an LCFS can do is put electrified rail and other forms of transit on a more competitive footing by encouraging gas and diesel prices that reflect the full environmental toll taken by the burning of fossil fuels. As the California High Speed Rail Blog observed in its analysis of that state's LCFS -- which is expected to serve as a model for the eleven northeastern states:

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Fare Hike Four to Paterson: Not So Fast

In case you've forgotten who's in charge these days, Governor Paterson's nomination of Jay Walder to succeed Lee Sander as MTA chief was quickly met with a joint statement from Malcolm Smith, John Sampson, and Fare Hike Four members Pedro Espada and Carl Kruger. In the interest of "transparency and accountability," the senators say they plan to put Walder in front of their committees before any decision is made. Kruger, for his part, tells The Daily Politics that he doesn't consider the backbone of the region's economy to be a particularly urgent agenda item.

"We'll look at it over the course of the next couple of months," said Kruger. ... "After that, we'll finish our vetting process, which hasn't even begun yet, and we'll have a better idea about the timetable (for a confirmation vote)."

When Liz Benjamin informed Kruger that Walder has already spoken of restoring public trust in the agency -- a task that will be much more difficult thanks to shameless hucksters like Kruger himself, the senator replied:

"I come from Missouri; don't show me, tell me. I mean, everybody says they're for oversight and accountability. What does that mean? What does it mean?"

I swear, this blog just writes itself sometimes.