Another Imperfect Senate M.T.A. Plan, With a Key Difference: It Might Pass

ALBANY—The State Senate's second publicly presented plan to provide revenue to the M.T.A. is getting a better reception, at least,

ALBANY—The State Senate's second publicly presented plan to provide revenue to the M.T.A. is getting a better reception, at least, than the dead-on-arrival program they introduced last month.

If Majority Leader Malcolm Smith is to be believed, it might actually pass the chamber.

Smith told reporters, at a press conference about rules reform, "We will have 32 votes to pass an M.T.A. plan."

He was asked where the votes would come from.

"From the Senate," he replied, unspecifically.

Some members of his conference remain opposed to one component of the plan–the payroll tax on businesses in the 12-county service area, which is projected to raise $1.49 billion. State Senator Brian Foley reiterated his opposition today in the Capitol lobby, and his fellow Long Islander, Senator Craig Johnson, also remains opposed.

"I continue to be concerned about the impact of that," State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins told me this morning. "But I'm hoping we can find a way to allay those concerns."

Gene Russianoff, the head of the Straphanger's Campaign who had traveled up to the Capitol today with other transportation advocates to meet with top Senate officials, seemed very cautiously optimistic about the fact that there was a plan with a chance of passage. He called off plans to distribute leaflets in Brooklyn urging people to call State Senator Martin Malave Dilan to come up with a plan.

Asked if he himself found the Senate plan sufficient, he said, "That's the exact question we've been trying to grapple with. At least we've gotten the religion of getting recognition that the whole problem needs to be addressed."

Neysa Pranger of the Regional Plan Association, which has advocated for a rescue package in the spirit of the one proposed by M.T.A. chairman Richard Ravitch, said the Senate's plan is a "positive step."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he would look at it thoroughly.

David Paterson, after meeting this morning with Silver and Smith and this afternoon with Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos, said, "It's a plan worth considering and we're looking at it. It does pay pretty much what needs to be paid to keep the fares at a reasonable heightened eight percent."

"The numbers appear to work," he added.

Perhaps most significantly, Republicans, while wary, aren't rejecting the plan out of hand.

Skelos said that he hadn't seen it yet, but would give it a look. "I think there has to be a total review to see what taxes we can eliminate," he said. "My conference has a real problem with the payroll tax. The other issue is, and the governor can discuss that, is the so-called issue of the upstate highways and bridges. It's a billion and a half, and that's not a lot of money."

Smith said that the $1.2 billion is "a down payment on a plan in an effort to show good faith that we're willing to work on this issue" and that more funding for roads and bridges would come later.

Advocates have hoped that Republicans who have manufacturers in their districts that have contracts with the M.T.A. would be more likely to support a plan (along with the three Republicans from New York City), but the two I spoke to echoed Skelos.

State Senator George Winner called the amount provided a "drop in the bucket." State Senator Betty Little expressed a similar concern. 

"Yeah…" Little said, raising her eyebrows. "You want to sit under the apple tree with me and wait?"

They both said they would look at it.

State Senator Frank Padavan, of Queens, came the closest to declaring support.

"With regard to the magnitude of the package, I'm already there. I've been there for weeks," Padavan said. "These other issues have to be flushed out because every day it changes."

"Because it's a very fluid situation, I don't know what I'm answering yes or no to," Padavan said, indicating he was also disappointed to be "negotiating through the media."

State Senator Marty Golden said he would not vote for the current plan, as did State Senator Andrew Lanza, the other member from Staten Island.

Austin Shafran, a spokesman for Smith, said that a bill will be introduced Wednesday, and a vote will take place next week.

Counting Padavan as a "yes" and Foley and Johnson as "no," and assuming all the other Democrats will vote yes (everyone I've seen has said they will, but I haven't seen them all), that leaves only 31 votes.

I told Padavan that the votes didn't seem guaranteed yet, and that Foley and Johnson had indicated they were not on board.

"What the hell?!" he said. "It's a tough vote for everybody. We're talking about raising taxes, raising revenues, raising fares to bailout the most corrupt—correction—the most God-awful bureaucratic entity in the state, the M.T.A., with a huge bureaucracy, everybody tripping all over themselves, with seven agencies all duplicating each others function and a hierarchy that's just enormous. And we're bailing them out. Because we can't do anything about it. We can't change them!"

Another Imperfect Senate M.T.A. Plan, With a Key Difference: It Might Pass