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Pols slam transit bill that would 'rob' MTA, cause fare hikes

MTA

MTA Credit: MTA head Joseph Lhota, center, said a proposed bill could lead to higher fares (Marc Beja)

Democratic congressional leaders and transit officials slammed a Republican-sponsored bill Monday they say would rob the MTA's coffers of billions.

The bill, approved by the Ways and Means committee on Friday, would eliminate a portion of a gas tax that has been flagged for mass transit for 30 years and require transit agencies -- like the MTA -- to fight each year for federal dollars. The cash-strapped agency currently gets about $1 billion annually from the tax.

At a rally in Grand Central Terminal, MTA head Joseph Lhota slammed the bill as “the worst piece of legislation anyone could ever imagine.”

“Make no mistake: As the largest transportation agency in the country, this bill will hit the MTA hard,” he said. “It will hit the MTA very hard.”

Lhota added that if the MTA doesn’t get the money it needs to pay for maintaining the system, “it will raise fares,” and force the agency to make “some serious decisions” about if and when it would be able to complete projects like the Second Avenue subway.

The Democratic congressional leaders at yesterday's rally conceded that it was unlikely for the bill to become law, as it would need to pass in the House and be reconciled with an accompanying Senate bill that has retained funding for mass transit. And even if Democrats didn't alter the bill after those steps — the House bill will likely be voted on next week, and the Senate plans to vote on its bill tomorrow— it could be vetoed by the president.

But Rep. Jerrold Nadler said he wanted to stop the bill before it gets that far.

“You don’t rely on the Senate stopping it,” Nadler (D-Manhattan) said. “Who knows what deals will be made in the Senate? It probably will be okay, but who knows?”

In a statement, Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff called the bill “a huge step backward from a balanced transportation policy.”

“There are no Democratic or Republican buses or rail systems,” Rogoff said. “We can only hope that the House will follow the Senate’s bipartisan lead and fix this misguided bill.”

A Ways and Means committee spokeswoman said the proposal, which calls for a one-time payment of $40 billion for mass transit instead of annual portions of the gas tax, would not add to the federal deficit, which is "a focus as Congress seeks to balance funding needs with fiscal accountability."
 

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