Wednesday, May 06, 2009

In Lieu Of An MTA Bailout

Consider A Merger With The Italian Railroads

Did he ever return,
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn'd
He may ride forever
'neath the streets of New York
He's the man who never returned.
[With apologies to the Kingston Trio and the people of Boston]

Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator of Italy, strung upside down on a meat hook from the top of a gas station at the end of WWII, wasn't exactly known for his acts of kindness or benevolence.

Far from it.

Il Duce did, however, benefit Italians in one way (note with giant asterisk) -- he made the trains run on time.

Actually, that was an urban legend.

As per, the folks who fact check such things,

"The Italian railway system had fallen into a rather sad state during World War I, and it did improve a good deal during the 1920s, but Mussolini was disingenuous in taking credit for the changes: much of the repair work had been performed before Mussolini and the fascists came to power in 1922. More importantly (to the claim at hand), those who actually lived in Italy during the Mussolini era have borne testimony that the Italian railway’s legendary adherence to timetables was far more myth than reality.

"The myth of Mussolini’s punctual trains lives on, albeit with a different slant: rather than serving as a fictitious symbol of the benefits of fascism, it is now offered as a sardonic example that something good can result even from the worst of circumstances. As Montagu and Darling wrote: ‘Mussolini may have done many brutal and tyrannical things; he may have destroyed human freedom in Italy; he may have murdered and tortured citizens whose only crime was to oppose Mussolini; but “one had to admit” one thing about the Dictator: he “made the trains run on time.”’

Damn, another myth busted!

Okay. So much for selling the LIRR to Fiat. Still, do we really want to spend all that taxpayer money to bail out a shabbily run public authority (and one that has nothing but disdain for the public), only to see our money go down the tubes (literally) by year's end?

A payroll tax, with some $36 million in taxes to come from school districts.

School districts? Aren't they struggling as is, and already taxing strapped homeowners to the hilt?

Sure, Albany has pledged to reimburse school districts for 2010-11, but what happens after that? Will the sun set on the payroll tax? Doubtful. More likely, the tax will be permanent, and the homeowner/taxpayer will once again be stuck picking up the tab.

Increased tolls and fares are among the pocket-pickers aimed at alleviating the MTA's $1.8 billion (that number seems to grow every day, doesn't it?) deficit. An 8% increase for NYC subways and buses. 10% for the dashing Dans of Long Island.

Paying more for cab rides, drivers' licenses, and motor vehicle registrations. [Yeah, like we don't already pay too much for those registration stickers that don't actually stick. Who got the sweetheart deal on that?]

We say, screw the MTA. [They wouldn't hesitate to screw you, after all.] Don't bail, let 'em fail.

Ignore the doomsday plot of the MTA chieftains. Jump the turnstiles, run the barricades, toss your E-Z Pass into the East River.

All right, so maybe anarchy and lawlessness isn't the answer. [Although, we don't see why not. Heck, that's been the manner of running the MTA for years, hasn't it?]

Preserving calm and the rule of law aside, we're not too keen on this bailout, where, when all is said and done, the State Legislature will do what it does best -- pass the buck to the taxpayer. [Or should we say, take the buck from the taxpayer!]

Say the MTA goes under (again). Is there bankruptcy protection for public authorities?

Probably not.

What about allowing the MTA to default on its debt payments? Whoa! Don't think the bondholders would like that. But hey, who told them to invest in such a slipshod operation, where past nonperformance almost always guarantees lousy results?

Having the MTA go under, while causing many of us to salivate at the prospect much like Pavlov's dog, wouldn't really be a tenable solution. In the end, it would cost the taxpayers many-fold more than even this unseemly bailout, stop-gap and shortsighted as it is.

So how about letting the MTA go to the brink, and then selling the whole kit and kabuttle for ten cents on the dollar to the highest bidder -- or to the bidder who, if nothing else, could make the trains run on time, if not at a profit. [What the heck is a kabuttle, anyway, and does the MTA own one?]

Could Timex be interested? They're pretty good at making things run on time -- as well as take a lickin'.

Maybe Disney would like a go at it. Hey, they cleaned up Times Square. And anyone who has been to a Disney park knows that their transportation system -- from monorail to parking lot tram -- works like a charm.

Then, too, there's those Somali pirates, whose reach is further and further off the Somali coast these days. These guys, eye patches and all, may take the system off the MTA's hands real cheap. At least then we'd be hostage to a bunch of scoundrals officially recognized as outlaws. [All the MTA board lacks is that official recognition. Somebody draw up a Citation.]

Or, we could just sell the MTA to another city (say, Boston), or another country (the Emirates are always looking for a bargain). Why should New Yorkers suffer alone?

Frankly, we don't presume to know whether any of these prospects would be the salvation for a public authority on life support.

Would that someone simply pull the plug on the MTA, and put New York straphangers, farepayers, and taxpayers out of their misery.

And then, just for sport, we could entertain the thought (only the thought, mind you) of hanging the MTA bigwigs (in effigy, of course) upside down on meat hooks from the roof of Jamaica Station.

Someone's gotta pay, and we're darn tired of that someone being us.

Viva Il Duce!
- - -
From The New York Times:

What the M.T.A. Bailout Plan Means for You
By William Neuman

Now that Democrats in the State Senate say that they have enough votes to pass a rescue plan for the financially reeling Metropolitan Transportation Authority, what is in it?

First, the authority’s planned fare and toll increase of 20 to 30 percent will be rolled back, probably to about 8 percent.

Beyond that, many details are still to be worked out but below are some of the main points of the Senate plan.

A tax on payrolls to be paid by employers in the 12-county region served by the authority. In New York City, Long Island, Westchester and Rockland Counties, employers would pay 34 cents for each $100 of payroll. In Orange, Putnam and Dutchess Counties, employers would pay 25 cents for each $100 of payroll. The tax is estimated to bring in $1.49 billion a year.

In a compromise that proved important to winning enough support in the Senate, school districts would be reimbursed by the state for the cost of the tax. But exactly how that will happen or where the money will come from remains unclear.

The plan also includes a series of fees on vehicles and drivers within the 12-county region:
-A 50-cent surcharge on yellow cab rides would bring in $95 million a year.
-A $25 charge on motor vehicle registrations would bring in $130 million a year.
-An increase of 25 to 30 percent to the fee for drivers licenses and learners permits would generate $10.5 million a year.
-A 5 percent increase in the tax on vehicle rentals would bring in $35 million a year.

Along with the payroll tax, all that adds up to about $1.76 billion annually for the transportation authority.

The Senate says that 25 percent of that amount, or about $440 million, would be set aside to help pay for the authority’s capital program, which includes the maintenance and modernization of the transit system. It is very likely that in the first years of the plan, however, that money would be needed to help balance the authority’s operating budget, which faces enormous deficits.
The governor’s office, the Assembly and the Senate are currently working to write legislation that can be voted on this week. The bill is also expected to include some reforms on how the authority operates, but just what will go into the final bill is not known.

It could include a requirement for an audit of the authority’s finances and a provision stating that the authority’s board members must sign a paper showing that they understand their fiduciary duty to the authority.

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