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Many ideas to solve MTA budget gap, but reality is another thing

Fed-up with the MTA and its “doomsday” cuts passed Wednesday, New York officials had their own suggestions — and some angry words — for the troubled agency and its $400 million budget gap.

“New Yorkers are simply tired of this MTA budget dance that has become known as the hustle,” said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, as the MTA board unanimously adopted its 2010 budget Wednesday.

MTA leaders stressed that the painful plan is not a done deal and they will use the coming weeks to revise the cuts, which include scaling back bus and subway service and phasing out discounted student MetroCards.

Most of the speakers railing against the cuts Wednesday had their own answers to close the gap. But how realistic are their suggestions?

Here’s some of their ideas:

Atlantic Yards
Proposal: Opponents of the Nets arena in Brooklyn are screaming at the MTA for selling its rail yards before below the original market value of $215 million. "The fact is Forest City Ratner has not paid you one dime. You need to renegotiate that contract right now," said City Councilwoman Leticia James.

Reality: City officials are squarely behind the development, saying it must move forward now or jeopardize future funding.

Make drivers pay
Proposal: Officials have, once again, brought up the ideas of tolls on the free city bridges and congestion pricing to help the MTA. The $5 tolls would have generated at least $600 million a year, and the city’s congestion pricing plan would have yielded $500 million for mass transit. 

Reality: State lawmakers blew a gasket when the bridge tolls were proposed, and they are unlikely to consider the idea in an election year. Mayor Bloomberg recently expressed hope that the MTA’s crisis would bring back congestion pricing, but it would also have a hard fight.

“Unlike the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz,” I don’t think our legislators are going to wake up with courage one morning,” said board member Doreen Frasca. “Because if they did they would get the guy who is not doing his fare share, which is the drivers.”

Revive the commuter tax
Proposal: The MTA would love to have back the roughly $760 million it once received from the commuter tax, a levy applied on city workers who live outside of the boroughs.

Reality: The commuter tax has been a nonstarter in Albany since it was repealed in 1999.

Use Capital Funds
Proposal: Many elected officials want the MTA to tap $140 million in available capital improvement funds to prevent service cuts.

Reality: MTA officials are adamantly against using capital funds, arguing that’s what ruined the system back in the 1970s. 


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