At The Edge of Abyss, An M.T.A. Deal

ALBANY—With exhausted relief and little fanfare, David Paterson and legislative leaders announced an agreement on a $2.26 billion bailout bill for the M.T.A. during a Red Room press conference this evening. It is expected to be passed by legislators tomorrow.

“This agreement will allow the M.T.A. to continue its critical infrastructure repair programs and will ensure also that they will be able to do that through 2011 unimpeded,” Paterson said. The plan is the product of months of negotiations and back-and-forth, but is based largely on a framework put forward by the State Senate last month. The bill will contain:

— $1.5 billion from a payroll tax of 34 cents per $100 of payroll at every employer in the 12-county M.T.A. service area. To satisfy two holdout suburban legislators, a provision will mandate that the state reimburse school districts for what they contribute to that plan

— $500 million from a 10 percent fare increase. The base fare for a single ride in the transit system will rise from $2 to $2.25, but exactly how prices for monthly and weekly passes change must still be sorted out by the authority’s board. This hike is less than the one laid out in a doomsday scenario enacted by the M.T.A. Paterson also said that there will be additional fare hikes in 2011 and 2013 of 7.5 percent

— $85 million from a fifty-cent surcharge on taxi rides in the 12-county service area

— $130 million from a $25 fee on motor vehicle registration in the 12-county service area

— $10.5 million from an increase in the fee on driver’s licenses in the 12-county service area

— $35 million from an increase in the tax on rental cars

Of the overall amount raised, $400 million will be diverted to fund $6.5 billion of capital projects over the next two years. No money in this package is being set aside for upstate roads and bridges; Paterson and legislative leaders pledged this will be dealt with this fall.

The overall amount is higher than the $1.9 billion reported earlier; that figure reflects the rough amount of money that will flow to the authority this calendar year.

An actual bill is still in the works. Paterson said he will grant a message of necessity so lawmakers can vote on the bailout tomorrow.

“This is one time that the term message of necessity couldn’t be more accurate,” Paterson said.

Gene Russianoff, a lawyer for NYPIRG’s straphangers campaign, put it this way: “This has been like a long ride on the IRT, and we wound up at Grand Central.”

Paterson, who was thanked profusely by both Silver and Smith, can now play the role of M.T.A. savior. It was he who first convened a commission led by Dick Ravitch to concoct a bailout for the authority, and Paterson maintained that the framework of shared sacrifice in the plan–among straphangers, businesses and motorists–was maintained.

Paterson also came in this weekend with an inducement to the last holdouts in the State Senate.

At the same time, Smith can claim credit for moving the first bill on the issue, and many of the revenues he proposed (the taxi fee, the car registration fee) replaced tolls in the overall package. Granted, his hand was forced by members of the gang of three, but they can claim credit for slaying tolls.

(It’s unclear if any Republicans will vote for the plan. There are 32 Democratic votes for the measure in the State Senate, which had been questionable in the past. Smith thanked them for providing “friction” on the issue.)

And Silver can claim credit for pushing for capital funding. In fact, he has. Paterson praised him for his “institutional knowledge of how these things have worked in the past,” and Silver conspicuously answered all questions involving specific numbers during the presentation of the plan.

“During the 1970s fiscal crisis, we stopped investing in the M.T.A. and it was a horrible mistake,” Silver said. “I have insisted throughout this debate, right up until this evening, that we just cannot afford to make this mistake again.”

He added: “We have rescued this system from the brink of abyss.”

At The Edge of Abyss, An M.T.A. Deal