New York - Report: Gov. Paterson, Pols Whacked Student MetroCard Program
New York - Here’s the document that shows how Gov. Paterson, the state Assembly and state Senate quietly whacked funding for the student MetroCard program.
Legislative leaders touted the deficit reduction plan on Dec. 2 with press releases proclaiming nearly $3 billion in state spending was cut “while preventing tax hikes and loss of aid to vital services.”
But Gov. Paterson, Assembly members and state senators didn’t mention what was buried on page 79 of the 85-page bill. Albany officials were drastically slashing to only $6 million their payment to the MTA for “the costs of the reduced fare for school children program.”
Up until this year, the state provided $45 million - a sum transit advocates and the city controller’s office have long said was far too little. Earlier this year, the state had whacked it to $25 million.
Faced with a budget gap of nearly $400 million, the MTA board yesterday adopted a budget for next year that envisions eliminating the free or discounted MetroCards the Department of Education distributes to hundreds of thousands of students to commute to school.
The budget also calls for scaling back bus and subway service, including the elimination of 21 local bus routes and two subway lines. Straphangers will have to wait longer for more crowded rides, officials readily conceded.
Public hearings - and another MTA board vote next year - are required before the changes can go into effect.
“This is the start of the process, not the end of the process,” MTA Chairman Jay Walder said.
The package could change, but Walder indicated it would be on the margins.
“When $400 million is taken from our budget practically overnight, you do have to make these kinds of changes that impact people’s lives,” he said.
At a spirited board meeting, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, other elected officials and transit advocates urged the MTA to tap construction and maintenance funds to maintain service and the MetroCard program.
“These transit cuts are devastating,” Councilman James Vacca (D-Bronx) said to board members. “We will be creating transportation deserts. It’s not fair.”
Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) thundered, “You can’t get lower than this ... taking MetroCards away from our children.”
MTA officials, though, have said they have few options and less time. Early this month, the state Legislature and Gov. Paterson slashed MTA funding by $143 million, including the payment for free and discounted MetroCards for students.
The state budget office also recently informed the MTA that payroll tax revenues for mass transit are lower than earlier state projections. The authority is required to adopt a 2010 budget by the end of this month.
Board member Jeffrey Kay, one of Mayor Bloomberg’s representatives, blasted the state for cutting student MetroCard funding and crafting a bailout package earlier this year that was incomplete, leaving the MTA to confront yet another funding crisis.
“They’re the ones that put a deal together and said ‘You’re fine for two years,’” Kay said. “It’s their deal that fell apart.”
The taxes and fees in the bailout adopted earlier this year aimed to generate about $2 billion a year for mass transit.
Dan Weiler, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), said legislators shouldn’t be blamed for the student MetroCard program getting the ax in the MTA budget. “The MTA chose to eliminate the program,” he said.
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