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Eye on the Island: December25 , 2009

MTA’s X-Mas Surprise

There’s a scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) where Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase), despondent because his boss canceled everyone’s year-end bonus, celebrates as a messenger arrives at his door on Christmas Eve, carrying what appears to be a check.

Griswold quickly signs for the envelope. “What is it?” one relative asks excitedly. Before its contents are revealed, Griswold’s father-in-law, Art Smith (E.G. Marshall) offers a prediction, “A letter confirming your reservation at the nuthouse.”

If Hollywood were casting National Lampoon’s MTA Vacation (2009), state Senator Brian Foley (D-Blue Point) would portray Griswold, the guy who cannot catch a break. Senator Foley has figuratively been driven insane by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) because Foley cast a tough vote aimed at averting MTA service reductions, and the MTA announced last week it would cut services anyway.

The MTA’s inability to balance its books, even after the state Legislature approved a new payroll tax as part of the MTA’s May 2009 bailout package, will complicate his November 2010 re-election prospects. Senator Foley recognizes this, explaining why the first-term state lawmaker from Suffolk County introduced legislation to reduce for suburban voters the MTA’s new payroll tax. The sheer craziness of Senate Bill 6312 can be explained simply: the MTA says it needs more cash. In response, Senator Foley sponsored a law to give the MTA less money.

To recap, the state Senate’s Democrats, who hold a 32-30 majority in that chamber, authorized an annual MTA payroll tax in the spring equal to 34 cents for every $100 earned in the state’s 12 downstate counties, or $340 for someone earning $100,000.

Senator Foley now wants only New York City residents to pay the 34 cent rate, with Nassau and Westchester chipping in 23 cents per $100, and Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Suffolk contributing 11 cents for every $100 earned. The bill is going nowhere because city-based Democrats rule the state Legislature. Nonetheless, I look forward to hearing Senator Foley argue next year that he tried mightily to cut the MTA payroll tax Senator Foley imposed.

We’d be having a different conversation today if Albany’s Democrats had heeded my advice about confronting the entire MTA board, each a gubernatorial appointee given a six year-term. Headlined ‘Call the MTA’s Bluff,’ an excerpt from one of my January 2009 columns follows: “With neither the governor nor state legislators facing the voters until 2010, this is the year they ought to call the MTA board’s bluff. Implement every single fare hike and service cut as outlined in the MTA’s (Jan. 21, 2009 Garden City, NY public hearing) notice, Albany’s policymakers should tell the MTA’s board. In exchange for that leap of faith, the governor should insist that every single MTA voting board member sign a sworn affidavit saying they’ll resign at the end of their current term if their ‘doomsday’ plan does not balance the MTA’s 2009 budget. The MTA board’s never-ending threats extract too much psychic energy from the populace. This is a great way to get rid of all of them effective 2015.”

The full text is at Visitors to that link will notice I like making National Lampoon references when doing MTA stories.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism.