Straphangers are once again on the short end of the stick as the MTA passes major cuts to service in order to fill a nearly $400 million budget gap.
In a 12-0 vote, the MTA released its final proposed budget for 2010, which was presented to the MTA Board’s Finance Committee and was voted on by the full board on Wednesday.
The only member who didn’t vote on the budget was Norman Seabrook, who was not present at the meeting but was strongly opposed to the budget.
The $383 million gap is blamed on state budget cuts, reduction in the state’s payroll tax projection and the MTA’s failure to appeal TWU Local 100’s arbitration.
Putting focus on Albany for the bad budget, the MTA is claiming that the state promised money then cut funds shortly before the end of the fiscal year. Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith said that a delay in payroll tax by businesses is to blame.
“The money will still come,” Smith told the AmNews. “The payroll tax didn’t come in as fast as we anticipated. Some businesses have not complied, as well as a number of factors.”
While the MTA is sticking to their word of not increasing on fares in 2010, there will be noticeable changes that include cutting 700 jobs, eliminating the W and Z subway lines and cutting bus service to over 20 routes.
The Student MetroCard program was also on the chopping block, which calls for elimination of one half of the current discount by the time school starts in the fall of 2010 and the remaining discounts being gone by September 2011.
Gov. David Paterson has promised that he will find a way to preserve the program. State Sen. Martin Dilan, who chairs the state’s Transportation Committee, has already put a bill forth to save the Student MetroCards from being phased out.
Cuts to service are similar to the proposed cuts that that weren’t instated earlier this year with 21 local bus routes in danger of being eliminated. Major bus routes proposed for elimination at the time included the M10, which goes from Midtown to Harlem via Eighth Avenue in Manhattan and the B25 in Brooklyn that runs through Fulton Street.
“To present a balanced budget despite losing hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding over the past two weeks requires measures that are painful to the MTA, our employees and our customers,” said MTA CFO Gary J. Dellaverson.
MTA Chairman Jay Walden said that the vote is simply a start to the process, and he realizes the pain associated with the cuts.
“I agree that that this will bring changes to people’s lives,” he said. “But we must be willing to look for change and productivity.”
Prior to the vote, several people, including elected officials, organization leaders and MTA customers, voiced their opinions about the cuts. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Council Members Charles Barron, Leticia James and Robert Jackson and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer all spoke out against the budget.
“How low can you go?” asked Barron. “We don’t know if you even have a deficit. Stop playing games with the children, and balance the budget on the backs of who can afford it.”
The community didn’t waste time in voicing outrage over the proposed changes. Community leaders and politicians, who were on the front lines in a barrage of protest earlier in the year for the MTA’s first threat of cuts, are fighting back again.
However, this time while cuts to bus and subway service are an issue, the threat of more than a half a million school children who use Student MetroCards is in the spotlight. Many low-income families depend on the program to get their children to and from school.
Demonstrations across the city had residents saying “enough is enough” since news broke about another threat of MTA changes. On Tuesday morning, students at Maxwell High School in Brooklyn held a demonstration against the MTA led by community activist Kevin McCall.
“I oppose the MTA’s action to terminate Student MetroCards for the upcoming 2010 school year,” said State Sen. Kevin Parker. “Although the MTA is arguing there is a need to make these particular cuts in such tough economic times, these transportation cuts are destined to undermine the quality of education for our children.”
Parker added that getting rid of the program could increase absences among low-income children. He said that the elimination would come at a terrible time for low-income New Yorkers, many of whom are unemployed.
On Tuesday, Barron held a protest at MTA headquarters in Midtown against the proposed service cuts. He said that over a half million students use the cards that pay half of the full fare.
“The MTA wants to balance their faulty budget on the backs of our children with a ‘youth tax.’ With an $11 billon dollar budget, this proposed cut is unconscionable and unacceptable. Thanks to Bloomberg, our zoned schools are being shut down and yet our children will have to pay a fare to commute to another school. This city is becoming more for the rich,” he said.
Brooklyn activist Tony Herbert agrees that truancy rates among students will go up. According to him, students and parents are in an uproar.
He said, “The last thing we need is a higher truancy rate and more of our young folks hanging out on street corners because they did not have enough money to get to school.”
All service cuts proposed by the MTA are scheduled to take effect next spring.