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Member: MTA board not discussing 2010 fare increase

The LIRR train going to Penn station prepares

The LIRR train going to Penn station prepares to pull out of the station in Mineola. (Feb. 23, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday/Karen Wiles Stabile

Discussion of fast-forwarding a fare increase on commuter rail lines, buses and subways before 2011 to help fill a huge budget gap hasn't reached "board level," a Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member from Long Island said Friday.

"I'm sure the staff is looking for ways to solve the . . . problem," said Mitch Pally, of Stony Brook, referring to the huge transit agency's $383-million budget gap.

The MTA's deficit persists even though the board voted late last year for severe service cuts. The savings from those cutbacks are intended to fill an earlier deficit, of similar size, caused by revenue shortfalls.

A fare increase is planned next year. But talk swirled Friday after a published report that MTA officials were considering upping fares this year instead.

Aaron Donovan, an MTA spokesman, said he knew of some MTA board members' discussions about a change in plans for the fare increase.

"Our position has not changed," Donovan said. "It remains our intention to raise the fare in 2011, not 2010."

Pally, who said he supports the 7.5-percent fare hike planned next year, noted that during recent MTA public hearings about the proposed service cuts, people were critical of the service reductions. Two of the nine hearings were held on Long Island, one in Carle Place and the other in Riverhead."It was clear from the public that they would prefer a fare increase over service cuts," Pally said.

The proposed cuts include cancellation of Long Island Rail Road service from Ronkonkoma to Greenport except for summer weekends, the reduction of trains on the Port Washington branch and the elimination of 13 Long Island In February, the MTA announced that projections show it would collect $378 million less in tax revenue than a new payroll tax was supposed to generate. The MTA plans to save $50 million by eliminating 1,100 workers across all its agencies. The cuts include more than 600 administrative staff and as many as 500 NYC Transit station agents.

Meanwhile, a group of state lawmakers called Friday for a forensic audit of the MTA's books.

At a news conference at the LIRR's Ronkonkoma station, the legislators urged state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli to provide "a full accounting" of the agency's spending. The MTA has an $11-billion budget.

"If you bring in $60,000 and you have bills for $75,000, the first thing you do is cut spending," said Assemb. Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue)."The MTA payroll tax is a knee-jerk reaction."With Mitchell Freedman

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