ALBANY—Here’s the latest spin by state senators opposed to the M.T.A. rescue package currently on the table: blowing the March 25 deadline will give them more time to bandy about random ideas.
“Deadlines are arbitrary dates set by people that have things to hide,” State Senator Carl Kruger, who is adamantly opposed to tolls, told me. His idea to generate revenue for the M.T.A.: use bridges over the East and Harlem River as collateral, borrow $4.25 billion against them, give $1 billion to the M.T.A. and invest the remainder in the state’s common retirement fund and use the return—it’s “conservatively” pegged at 6.5 percent—to pay off the bonds.
“The most recent proposal about creating a public benefit authority: It’s met with stonewall silence,” Kruger claimed. “There are other proposals on the table as well and they too have been met with silence. I don’t feel, nor will I accept the fact that there’s linkage from one piece of this so-called bailout is married to another piece of the bailout.”
State Senator Pedro Espada Jr., who joins Kruger in opposing tolls, said the deadline was “artificial” and suggested a sale-lease for M.T.A. property for the development of affordable housing.
“I think this dynamic that’s unfolding here is really one of thinking out of the box,” he said. “Good ideas—Kruger has a good idea. Thompson has a good idea. I hope my idea achieves both getting some new revenue into the system and putting the real property assets to use for affordable housing.”
Neither plan is yet codified in legislation. State Senator Martin Malave Dilan, chairman of the Transportation Committee, said he was “not optimistic” about getting anything done anytime soon.
“If we’re not going to do tolls, we need to look at other things: registrations, we may even need to look at raising some kind of taxes on gasoline in the district,” he said.
It remains clear that Majority Leader Malcolm Smith does not have the votes to pass anything on the issue. Something was supposed to be passed last week. Then this week. Now, he is calling “questionable” the March 25 deadline that he has alluded to previously and is being pushed by David Paterson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
“We’re working every day,” Smith said. “It’s questionable. It was done by the board, based on a June deadline. And we’re just not sure if those deadlines are one that they put for the sake of getting a vote.”
So Smith is suddenly singing the same tune sung by Silver during the congestion pricing debate. And what tune is Silver singing?
“I’m not here to play chicken with anybody,” Silver told reporters earlier Wednesday. He seems to have the votes necessary to pass his package of $2 bridge tolls and a regional payroll tax in the Assembly. “I don’t see anything that’s been on the table that’s going to resolve this problem by March 25, which is what the deadline is. The thing that’s clear is, the drop-dead budget of the board of directors of the M.T.A. is unacceptable. The service cuts and eliminations they proposed is unacceptable, the massive increase in fares they proposed is unacceptable, and the only thing that’s acceptable, and the only alternative, is coming up with the revenue package that avoids all of those things.”
I told Kruger what Silver had said about playing chicken.