News, commentary and analysis by leaders of the Communist Party USA in New York State. We discuss State politics and issues in New York City, covering developments in labor, civil rights education, housing and more.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

No need for MTA's draconian cuts!

By Dan Margolis
New York State Communist Party

Once again the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is threatening New Yorkers by making draconian cuts to bus and subway service, this time especially for students and seniors. One loses track of how many times the authority has done this over the past few years. While the MTA board usually backs down from the most horrific of its planned abuse of New Yorkers, each time there are at least some cuts, either fare increases or service reductions - or both.

This time is both similar to, and different from, the previous go-arounds. What is different is that the proposed service reductions are even worse than past "doomsday" scenarios. What is the same is that no cuts or fare increases are actually necessary.
Big cuts proposed

New Yorkers are already reeling from fare hikes and service cuts, but now the MTA wants to do more. In December the board voted to axe the W and Z trains, as well as 21 bus routes. They've agreed to cut the number of trains per hour on all the other lines. At night, trains are slotted to run only once every 30 minutes.

But perhaps most egregious of all is the treatment of students and seniors. Under the new rules, students will no longer get free or reduced fare Metrocards, meaning that New York will become one of the only cities in the country that doesn't bother to give its students a way to get to school. This undermines the basic democratic right to an equal education for all (a right that has never been fully realized in this country, and, to the extent that it has been achieved at all, has been severely eroded over the past few decades).
Effects on young people

In this city's school system, young people apply to high schools. That is, they try to get into the best high schools in the city, either a "flagship" school like Stuyvesant or the Bronx School of Science, or a school that specializes in a certain field. A lower-income student who excels at his or her coursework in predominantly African American East New York can apply to Stuyvesant, and, if accepted, receive a stellar education. The questions have to arise: Why can't all of our city schools be as good as Stuyvesant? What about the fact that schools in poorer areas, where students are mainly racially and nationally oppressed, are invariably worse off economically than those in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods? Yes there is, at least, the possibility of applying to and getting into a top-notch school. But getting into a school means nothing if you can't actually get there. Without the free Metrocards, that student in East New York, along with his or her family, will have to decide: Spend the money ($4.50 per day, $22.50 per week, about $90 per month) to get to Stuyvesant, or forego the opportunity and go to the local school. In an area where more than one in five people live in poverty, that extra $90 amounts to a significant monthly wage reduction and is simply impossible.
Unequal impact

This will affect all working people, but the racist dimensions cannot be ignored: African Americans and Latinos will be disproportionally affected. The same goes for seniors, who will have their Access-a-Ride service cut.

Currently, seniors can call Access-a-Ride and get picked up from their home and brought where they need to go. This system has been riddled with problems - talk to any city senior and listen to the stories of incredibly long wait times - but, once again, we have an "at least" situation: at least seniors were able to get around. Now, Access-a-Ride service will be trimmed, and our older residents will be picked up and brought only to the closest accessible subway station. Hopefully their destination subway station won't be an inaccessible one (without an elevator or escalator)! Since most stations are non-accessible, areas around these stations will simply become no-go areas for our older population.

What kind of city treats its younger and older generations like this?

The public has learned not to trust the MTA, a shadowy authority known for keeping at least two sets of books. But even if it is true that there is a $383 million deficit in the MTA's budget, there are ways to fix the problem without these abominable cuts.
City Council's plan

The newly elected City Council, more progressive than the old, has started a campaign against the cuts, and has put forward a realistic plan to alleviate a huge portion of the deficit. The plan is as follows:

• Reallocate 10 percent of direct stimulus aid to MTA operating expenses (this should generate about $91.5 million)
• Use budgeted PAYGO capital funds for operating ($50 million)
• Reallocate 10 percent of additional stimulus transit aid via state to operating expenses ($30 million).

This plan is, of course, not perfect. Allocating money away from the capital fund, which is used for new projects, such as the Second Avenue subway line, is harmful. It holds up important projects, and would stop the creation of jobs that such projects bring about. This is important, and can't be overlooked. Nonetheless, the situation is extreme.

If the City Council plan is the best we can win for now, it has to be supported. But we New Yorkers should, while supporting that, be fighting for something more as well.
Giveaways to the rich

As the People's World reported earlier, the MTA has made numerous sweetheart deals with developers, most notably around the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn (itself a miserable debacle pushed by Mayor Bloomberg). That project represents a giveaway of hundreds of millions of dollars to a private developer.

We should demand that this deal be canceled.

Why should some private business be given tens of millions to make hundreds of millions, while our brothers and sisters, especially the oldest and youngest, are made to suffer?
Put the burden on those who can afford it

We should demand that the Fair Share Tax, won only recently, not be allowed to sunset, and that it be increased. Instead of essentially taxing students' families a huge percentage of their income by cutting the reduced-fare Metrocard, why not tax the wealthiest few, those who can afford it, directly? For the same reason, there should be another surcharge on the wealthiest New Yorkers.

The fight is not over. We have until June before these cuts are scheduled to go into effect. On our side is the City Council, tens of thousands of students who are organizing, a number of state senators and Assembly members, Transport Workers Union Local 100 (which itself would share a special pain if these cuts go through) - in short, the vast majority of New Yorkers.

We can stop these cuts and put the whole progressive movement in a better position. The question is how big of a victory we can achieve.

Friday, January 8, 2010

City students on Facebook, in the streets over MTA cuts

Public high school students, as well as teachers and parents, are organizing in new ways against a proposal by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the city's buses and trains, to take away free-and reduced-price Metrocards currently issued to students.

"Yeah, this is insanely crazy," reads a message from high school student Aleize Jarrett-via Facebook. "I go to school from Bronx to Brooklyn everyday, two fares per day. I don't want to spend $4.50 or whatever just to get to school. It's already worse, since teacher's jobs are getting cut."

People from across the city are in a rage, but young people have taken the lead in organizing. A number of new Facebook groups have sprung up in the past few weeks, including one, "Protest the MTA getting rid of STUDENT METROCARDS," which currently has nearly 100,000 members.

Out of that group, one successful protest of 200 students has already taken place and more are planned.

"The student organizing has been incredibly impressive," Working Families Party spokesperson Dan Levitan told the World. "You've got students using the tools that they use every day in their own life to really organize a rapid response."

"They've used the tools that connect to them to organize themselves," Levitan continued. "They had a protest with hundreds of people that was put together in just a couple of days."

The WFP is fighting the cuts via a more traditional route, through a petition drive. Launched in December, it already has about 10,000 signatures.

Levitan noted that, were the changes to go through, there would be a huge disparity between city students and those in the rest of the state, where, like in the rest of the country, students are picked up by yellow buses and brought to school for free.

While cutting free rides for students has drawn the most attention, the MTA is also drawing riders' ire by pushing other cuts: two subway lines and dozens of bus routes are also on the chopping block.

After a demonstration, New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn called the cuts "a slap in the face to hard working people across our city."

Also slated to go are services for the disabled and the elderly.

"They're going to significantly scale back Access-a-Ride for the disabled. Right now you can call Access-a-Ride and they'll take you basically anywhere you want to go. Under the new thing, they'll just take you to the nearest accessible subway station, and then it's just like, ‘good luck.'"

The MTA voted on the cuts in December, but they aren't slated to take effect until June, giving New Yorkers time to organize.

The students are planning another demonstration on January 11, and the city council is vowing to continue the fight, starting with their own petition drive.

Levitan says that he is optimistic: "This fight continues, and as it gets closer to the time when these cuts get implemented, I think you're going to see that really take off."

By Dan Margolis