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.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

From the Communist Party: Solutions to the MTA crisis

Below is the text of a flier, produced by the People's World, that is being distributed at the MTA hearings:

Solutions to the MTA crisis: United we can win!

The MTA cuts are completely and totally avoidable. They hurt the people of our city, and they also an assault on transit workers, and their jobs: at least 400 station agents are being cut, and the authority is pushing now to reopen the contract with TWU Local 100.

City Council Plan – The right direction!

Our city council has put forward a realistic plan to stop the most egregious of the cuts, the ending of free Metrocards for students:

• 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. Firstly, it doesn’t solve the problem of stopping all the transit cuts. Secondly, 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.

We can go further: Reverse sweetheart deals with big developers

If the City Council plan is the best we can win for now, it has to be supported. But we should, while supporting that, be fighting for something more as well. Reversing and stopping future giveaways to the big developers (who, unfortunately, control the MTA’s Board of Directors and count Mayor Bloomberg among their friends/partners) would be a huge start.

Forest City Ratner, a multi-billion dollar developer that has found hundreds of millions of dollars in public money to finance a private for-profit project called Atlantic Yards has benefited greatly from the MTA: they are selling the Vanderbilt Yards in Brooklyn to Ratner for $100 million, but accepting a down payment of only $20 million and allowing the developer to pay the rest over more than two decades.

Further, in a shady (the most polite term possible) deal, when it decided to sell the property, worked exclusively with Ratner and sold the property well under value. In fact, another company, Extell, actually offered the MTA a full $50 million per year more than Ratner, and offered to pay up front. (We shouldn’t trust the MTA in general: everyone remembers the scandal in which they were found to be keeping two sets of books: one for the public, one that reflected reality! Also, the recent scandal around services never rendered is surely not atypical.)

The MTA should scrap the deal with Ratner and do one of the following (in worst to best order)

• At the very least, demand $100 million upfront from Ratner, or
• Sell the land to Extell for $150 million upfront, or
• Put the property back on the market for what it is currently valued: $271.5 million (by MTA estimates; according to an independent estimates: $900 million)

There are deals like this across the city. Why should we suffer cutbacks while rich developers take millions of dollars of our money?

Tax the rich

First, we have to keep the Fair Share Tax that was won in a recent struggle. Paterson, who may or may not be governor when this flier is being read, has said he would allow the law that increased taxes a tiny bit on the rich to sunset. That simply isn’t fair.

Also, there is going to be a tax increase no matter what happens. The question is who will pay it, millions of working New Yorkers, who are struggling to make ends meet, or the rich and superrich? Eliminating the student Metrocards means each student must spend an extra $2.50 each way to and from school, five times a week, four weeks or so per month, bringing the total to $100.00. Students are in school for about nine months per year, so the cost for one student is $900.00. A family that has two kids in school would spend an additional $200.00 per month, or $1,800.00 yearly—a huge “tax” increase!

Why not increase the tax those who really can afford it? There are sixty billionaires in New York alone (including, of course, our mayor, one of the top 20 richest people on Earth). Taxing them could bring in enough money each year to stop the cuts and even reduce fares.

Why not a tax on all stock transfers over a certain amount (in order to avoid taxing 401k benefits, etc.)?

Bloomberg’s not-yet-presented budget will almost certainly call for slashing education and other important services—and, consequently, jobs. The same goes for Paterson’s current budget proposal.

All of the budgetary problems of the city and the state could be fixed with a permanent or temporary tax on the super-rich, of whom New York has more than virtually anywhere else.

Unity for victory

But, given the dominance of Wall Street and the big developers over the city, the MTA and the state, none of this can be done without uniting all of the forces—TWU Local 100, the UFT, 1199 and the rest of the labor movement; the big churches; progressive elected officials, who have successfully put both the city council and the state legislature up as road blocks to the most egregious service and job cuts; the students, the Working Families Party and the rest of New York’s working people—in a big struggle, the same kind that was victorious just over a year ago in passing the Fair Share Tax.

If we stay divided, we’ll most likely lose these battles.

United, we’ll surely win.

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