Saving the M.T.A.

Unlike the New York State Senate, we are not at all shocked, shocked, that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has a $400 million budget gap that it’s looking to close with severe service cuts to the subways and buses. When Albany approved its “Save the M.T.A. Plan” seven months ago, it was clear to all commonsense observers that it was a stopgap measure that could not last more than a year or two.

Now cuts are threatened throughout the city, including Lower Manhattan, which is slated to lose the W and Z subway lines and the M6 and M8 buses. Waiting times will shoot up all over, and many other Downtown bus routes will lose weekend or nighttime service.

Maybe senators were on reasonable ground assuming they had put away enough capital and operating money for ’09, and maybe the M.T.A.’s operating budget shortfall was an unexpected surprise. But it has been clear for at least a few years that the head-in-the-sand attitude of the controlling minority in the Senate has kept the subway — the city’s lifeblood — on shaky footing. Yet another day of reckoning was surely coming soon.

The Assembly has its own problems, but Speaker Sheldon Silver would have been able to get his bridge toll plan passed in the Assembly earlier this year if there was majority support in the Senate. A small toll on the East and Harlem River bridges would have provided a stronger, steadier revenue source to fund expansion — not cuts — to mass transit. Mayor Bloomberg had an even better plan last year, congestion pricing, which would have raised capital money and cut down on traffic at the same time.

We were pleased to hear the mayor say this week that he thinks traffic pricing is likely to return as an issue in next year’s state budget negotiations. Conversing with forward-thinking leaders at the Copenhagen climate summit has perhaps given Bloomberg hope that all is not lost in Albany. His traffic plan was soundly rejected by both houses and he is not going to take the lead again, but he could be the key to passage if the Senate’s Democratic leaders begin thinking more about the state’s well-being, rather than petty partisanship.

On traffic pricing (and same-sex marriage), the leadership has proven itself to be shamefully unable to secure the votes of Republican senators who are silent allies. Bloomberg, the Senate Republicans’ biggest financial benefactor, had G.O.P. support for his traffic plan. John Sampson, the Senate’s relatively new Democratic leader, should work with the mayor and Silver to secure Assembly passage, as well as the 32 Democratic and Republican votes needed in the Senate.

Outer-borough senators who oppose traffic pricing display utter contempt for their working-class constituents, who deserve better mass transit. A vocal, wealthier minority should not be given a free ride to pollute as they drive over the rivers while straphangers pay to ride under them.

The two basic ways to close budget gaps — cutting services or raising taxes — cause pain. Traffic pricing is so much better because in addition to raising money it leads to good things — cleaner air, less traffic, better mass transit. Fares could actually be stabilized while service could be expanded.

Silver and others are suggesting using a little federal stimulus money to prevent the pending cuts. That may be a good short-term plan, but we’ll all suffer until Albany starts thinking beyond the next budget, beyond the next election.