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Lawmakers rip MTA for proposed service cuts

ALBANY - Having bailed out the MTA less than a year ago, state lawmakers ripped the mass transit agency Monday for proposing LIRR service cuts before cleaning up its own financial house.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) called "unacceptable" the proposal to scale back Ronkonkoma-to-Greenport train service to only weekends in the summer. Greenport has been a branch line terminus for 166 years.

And State Senate chief John Sampson (D-Brooklyn), through a spokesman, urged the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's top brass "to clean up their own fiscal mess before cutting services New Yorkers depend on."

Lawmakers said the MTA could wipe out its deficit - projected to be as high as $400 million - by firing headquarters staff and slashing overtime payments. They vowed not to provide another bailout.

MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin shot back that the agency isn't expecting more funds from state government. He said the North Fork service on the Long Island Rail Road was being reduced because average weekday ridership is fewer than 200 people.

"We clearly understand there is an economic crisis in the state . . . and that we have to live within the financial package we've been given," he said.

Last May, the legislature and Gov. David A. Paterson approved a bailout that included a new payroll tax on employers in the 12 counties served by the MTA. The tax hasn't produced the expected revenue, however.

Soffin said MTA chief Jay Walder has embarked on a reorganization that will reduce expenses, but not quickly enough to forestall service cuts.

They include elimination of LIRR late-night service to the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, fewer trains on the Port Washington and Montauk branches, and eliminating nine Long Island Bus routes.

Still, the North Fork cut has captured the spotlight here. "There are cuts that need to be made," said Marc Alessi (D-Shoreham), whose district encompasses much of the Ronkonkoma-to-Greenport route. "But the MTA should be looking within. It has become a bloated patronage mill."

Alessi was to meet with Silver last night to discuss the issue.

Alessi and Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) noted that North Fork employers would still have to pay the MTA payroll tax even after service is reduced.

"Give them more money? Absolutely not!" said LaValle.

Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington), a voting member on the MTA Capital Program Review Board, pledged to work with area leaders to overturn the cuts. He said he hoped to meet soon with transit officials.

Another board member, Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick), said the LIRR service cuts would impact Long Island's struggling economy. "Commuters need to get to work," he said. "We should be building up Long Island, not making things worse."

A Paterson spokeswoman said Monday the governor would have no comment.

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