2009-04-30 / View From the Middle

View From The Middle

MTA Throwing Problems On The Public's Shoulders
By Charles Rogers

MTA Throwing Problems On The Public's Shoulders — Again

For all intents and purposes, the following dialogue could be taking place right now in Albany:

"So whaddya think, Shellie?" asks Dave. "Is it gonna work again this time?"

"I don't know," says Shellie, "I think the riders are gonna balk again, only louder now. Whadda you think, Malc?"

"Well, if they do, we'll just tell 'em it's gonna take a little longer, but we really have their wellbeing in mind. You know, just like we've told 'em every time we've put it on their shoulders. Don't worry. It'll work out. Always does."

They all join in: "Yeah. Yeah. Always does...."

If you think the conversation is among the East Side Kids or West Side Kids or just a bunch of kids getting together to plan a party for their friends (and enemies), think again. It's our state legislators — no, let's rephrase that — it's our elected officials, planning the next increase to help bail the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) out of its money woes, something they've been trying to do for decades.

We can add a few lines to it, of course, in case anybody complains even a little bit: "Listen, Dave, if things don't go the way we want them to, we can always do a few other things, like put a dollar tariff on cab fare or raise the price of car registrations and drivers' licenses or maybe add charges on car rentals. The public won't notice, especially drivers. They don't use the MTA anyway, so what does it mean to them?" And another voice whispers from the corners of the vast hall of the State Assembly, "We can maybe charge tolls on the East River bridges, y'know."

It's a dilemma, all right. And it's obvious that Albany doesn't have an inkling about how to fix it. They think — bless them all — that they will be able to please everyone, thus saving their jobs (and thus saving civilization as they and we know it).

Fat chance!

They know that, too. While they put on a serious face and the Democrats blame the Republicans and vice-versa, they all say they "have a plan" to fix the MTA. Last Friday, Governor David Paterson, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith held a meeting to discuss it. The meeting started at 3 p.m.

The meeting ended at 3:20 p.m. The legislative leaders couldn't agree on the plan from the outset, so how could they give each other an inkling as to which direction to take?

Oh, by the way, Senator Smith said that the plan he had submitted was the only workable one, and he was so sure it would pass both statehouses and be signed by the Governor that he was all prepared with his bags packed to take a trip to Puerto Rico in the middle of the week. There were reports he might extend that "fact finding" trip to India, and China as well. Hey, he's doing his political thing, don'tcha know. What the hell, leave the plan on the table for others to work out while you go to INDIA! Unbelievable!

Y'see, the MTA has ALWAYS been in money trouble. Back in 2004, State Comptroller Alan Hevesi (yes, THAT Alan Hevesi, whose term was under a cloud and he eventually resiugned in disgrace) did an audit that found that the MTA was being run into the ground because of its bad management practices. Hevesi, as comptroller, did a big study that found that MTA officials just plain made some bad commitments and bad investments. He said that officials then held back on informing the public and on confronting its financial problems.

Eventually, it all caught up to them and put them in a hole. A bad, deep hole. Combine the recent dent (Did I say dent?) in the national, state and city economy and you've got a big conundrum; one that only the State big wheels can try to iron out, even if the process will be slow.

But, once again, they're shooting themselves in the foot by just plain working against each other, either from a personal or party basis. We have to admit that their horribly large, ridiculous egos have a great deal to do with their decisions; as if they don't get enough pats on the back from their district constituents. Of course, heaven forbid they should even falter for a second to go against the wishes of their party. Right now, word has it that there will be no votes from Republicans on the issue. None.

Ah, but what the hell...If they can't come up with something pretty concrete by May 31 (that's when the budget is due), then they'll just go ahead and increase the fare. No big deal. And they'll say, "You know, just like we've told 'em every time we've put it on their shoulders. Don't worry. It'll work out. It always does."

And they'll all join in: "Yeah. Yeah. Always does..."

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