Silver Says Senate Needs to ‘Focus’ On M.T.A., as Senators Demur

ALBANY–For the second consecutive week, legislators left the Capitol without passing a package that would alleviate the M.T.A.'s budget deficit. There is still no consensus.

Before session, State Senator Martin Malave Dilan was sipping coffee in the corner of the chamber when I approached him. He was unenthusiastic, following a report in today's Daily News where he said tolls are "dead" which the conference press shop tried to tamp down in a statement.

"Ravitch is not dead," Dilan said this morning. The issue will be discussed in conference Monday, Dilan said. He challenged Sheldon Silver to pass his plan.

State Senator Bill Perkins was standing next to Dilan, and offered these thoughts for his suddenly reserved colleague.

"Yeah, it can get done," he said, referencing a March 25 deadline set by the M.T.A. "I'm still optimistic. I think there's universal recognition still of the need to make up the revenue."

"There are many proposals. They are being evaluated and looked at," he said. (As he was saying this, Majority Leader Malcolm Smith was telling other reporters that the M.T.A. was "holding the public hostage" by pushing a deadline. He seems to be laying the groundwork for an extension.)

State Senator Hiram Monserrate walked by, and I tapped him on the shoulder. He put out a statement this morning saying that while he was open to bridge tolls as a "last resort," but because the M.T.A. "continues to fail in its responsibility to provide specificity" about its finances he now opposes the Ravtich Plan, and a modified version proposed by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. He led me to a table in the Democrats' anteroom, where he and State Senator Ruben Diaz sat me down.

"We floated the idea of them selling real estate that they have. We haven't talked about a commuter tax. We also haven't talked about how much actual stimulus money is going to go to transportation. So we still have all these unanswered questions," Monserrate said. "I'm not prepared to support tolling of the bridges at all until we resolve all these other issues."

Diaz grinned.

"The bottom line is this–the gang of four–the gang of three– became the gang of four again," he said.

I then asked Monserrate if he was jumping on the anti-toll bandwagon. He reiterated the points he had just made. We were interrupted when Secretary of the Senate Angelo Aponte walked by, glared at us, and shooed the senators into the chamber for voting. I walked over to an announcement of cost savings measures Silver was holding on the other side of the building.

I asked him if he would put up his plan for a vote. He said "I don't think there's any point, as I've previously said, of doing one-house bills."

"This is not about politics. This is about hard-working men and women and whether they have to pay an exorbitant rate in order to commute to work every day if they have a job," he said, somewhat testily. Silver was then asked if he was frustrated by the Senate's handling of the issue.

"I'm not frustrated. I'm only saying that, you know, the new majority is there a relatively short period of time and I think they have to focus on the issue, and when they do, I think they will accept the fact that this is column a or column b. Do you accept service reductions and a 31 percent fare increase, or do you accept a modest fare increase and a revenue plan that keeps that nominal. Those are the choices here, and that's where we are."