Can the M.T.A. Bail Out David Paterson?

ALBANY—As the state’s top lawmakers search for a revenue package to prevent the M.T.A. from enacting a doomsday budget, most of the ideas of late have come from the Legislature. Now, in the critical week for action on the authority, David Paterson is stepping up.

The political reasoning is simple: Still down in the polls, the governor is looking for a win. If he were to deliver on a plan preventing major fare hikes for the M.T.A., he would ingratiate himself to a large strap-hanging constituency.

“The time is now,” a Democrat close to the governor said. “There’s going to be a new forcefulness as he tries to define himself. The M.T.A. is part of that—I don’t know exactly what it’s going to be, but it’s important that he makes it his.”

On Thursday, it was reported that former authority chairman Richard Ravitch had modified his original proposal to bail out the authority—it prompted stiff resistance because it included tolls on bridges over the East and Harlem rivers—to make it more politically palatable to holdout state senators.

Friday, David Paterson spoke about the M.T.A. to reporters after addressing a convention of the Regional Plan Association in midtown.

“There may have been a distraction by the budget period, and obviously by religious holidays, but there’d be no excuse if this goes more than another few days to a week,” Paterson told reporters. During his speech, he said Ravitch “brought back a plan that won the approval of every reasonable point of view from different sides.”

The governor seems no longer willing to wait for the State Senate, where earlier plans died, and is now moving ahead on his own. As best I can tell from lawmakers and sources in that chamber, little progress has been made beyond the smattering of things on the table at the end of last week.

“We are still considering all options with the exception of tolls, and we’re absolutely committed to working with the governor, Assembly and M.T.A. as well as all members of our conference on a fair solution that will address the M.T.A.’s budget shortfall and prevent devastating fare hikes for transit users,” said Austin Shafran, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith.

This will be the hot topic today. And for Paterson in particular, with a budget season behind him that didn’t help his standing with voters, it’s the critical front.

“Solving the M.T.A. would be a big deal,” said Evan Stavisky, a Democratic political consultant. “The governor’s challenge is to tackle the problems of the day, and the potential collapse of the mass-transit system is clearly one of the pressing problems of the day. While governors have sometimes been overshadowed by mayors, this is a problem of such large proportions; dealing with a state agency on such a large proportion, after the budget, it’s something that trumps everything else. It’s sucking the oxygen out of the room in state government now.”

Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat, who met with Ravitch and called his modified proposal a “step forward,” said that Paterson could emerge a political hero.

“I think he wants to have more of a hands-on after the budget process,” Espaillat said of the governor. “He can come out of this as a consensus-builder.”

Can the M.T.A. Bail Out David Paterson?