2009-12-18 / Front Page

CBB Rebate Threatened Again

By Nicholas Briano

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) voted on Wednesday to approve the 2010 budget that includes another threat to eliminate the resident rebate program for Rockaway and Broad Channel residents who travel across the Cross Bay Bridge.

The Veterans Memorial Cross Bay Bridge resident rebate program is on the MTA proposed budget cut list for the second consecutive year. The Veterans Memorial Cross Bay Bridge resident rebate program is on the MTA proposed budget cut list for the second consecutive year. The MTA says the newly discovered $383 million deficit became evident when $143 million worth of state funding was cut, payroll taxes generated $100 million less than expected and $91 million was lost from a failed arbitration appeal with the Transit Workers Union Local 100; all this within the past two weeks, MTA says.

The other changes proposed by MTA include cuts to student Metrocards, as well as ending the W and Z subway lines and two dozen bus routes.

But no change affects Rockaway and Broad Channel residents more than the resident rebate program, which has enabled them to traverse the Cross Bay Bridge free of charge since 1998. It has been a little more than a year since the MTA first proposed to cut the program. That battle was won when the MTA was bailed out by the state in the final hour.

MTA officials have told The Wave that the rebate program for Rockaway and Broad Channel residents is the only such program in the city and that it costs the MTA $3.6 million yearly, less than one percent of the $383 million deficit. If the MTA has its way, residents will have to start paying the discounted E-Z Pass rate of $1.13 each way, starting July 2010.

Jonathan Gaska, longtime district manager of Community Board 14, is just tired of fighting for something he believes might be a constitutional right.

"Every time you think you win the battle they take the money away," he said. "Frank ly this is getting tiresome to fight for an unjust toll that shouldn't be there in the first place. Hopefully they [MTA] find the money; if not we as a community need to get together for a legal challenge."

Gaska believes this toll is unconstitutional because it would require Broad Channel residents to pay a toll to go to their area hospital, post office, police precinct and school, among other places, to perform their basic civic duties.

State Senator Malcolm Smith says he is also ready to battle in court if it should come to that.

"We have to be aggressive, un - yield ing and stand firm from the state standpoint to make sure this does not happen," Smith said. "I don't know if it is [unconstitutional], but that could come into play if we went into court. Clearly that is something we are willing to explore if it could yield positive results."

Democratic District Leader Lew Simon, who was arrested and briefly held at the 100 Precinct for leading a march across the bridge in the late 1990s, claims he is ready to be arrested again if it means saving the resident rebate program.

"It is just a repeat of what happened last year. We must again pack the public hearing like we did last time," Simon said.

Simon also commented that he is upset with newly appointed MTA CEO Jay Walder, a Rockaway native, whose father, Bernie, was the editor of The Wave from 1977 to 1994.

"I am very upset with our own homebred Jay Walder to even consider putting this on the table, when he grew up here," Simon continued. "I am embarrassed that he can't do better for our community. If Bernie was still alive, he'd give his son a good kick in the butt."

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer believes that much of what the MTA has proposed is designed to convince the state to restore their funding. Therefore, she remains optimistic that the resident rebate program will once again be saved.

"We have until July and hopefully the economy will get better," Pheffer said. "We will have to do what we did last time and we will work on the budget and see how short they really are and work to get them to reinstate the rebate program."

Councilmember Eric Ulrich says the MTA's budget proposals prove how inefficient the agency really is.

"I think that the vote is an absolute disgrace and proves the MTA has hit an all time low and are out of touch with working men and women of this city," Ulrich said. "Rather than operating with greater efficiency within the MTA by cutting spending within their own departments they choose to balance the books on backs of people that rely on services they provide everyday. This budget is despicable and hurts everyone across the city."

Residents and elected officials will attempt to save the plan by holding rallies and testifying at several MTA board hearings to be announced, just like they did last year.

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