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MTA Bailout Deal Falls Through As Budget Deadline Passes

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TWC News: MTA Bailout Deal Falls Through As Budget Deadline Passes
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A tentative deal to rescue the MTA through a 50-cent surcharge on all taxi fares has fallen through as Albany lawmakers failed to meet a midnight deadline to pass the state's budget.

Earlier on Tuesday, Governor David Paterson promised to not have tolls on the East and Harlem River bridges be part of any MTA bailout plan, and to make sure that the state Legislature agrees on the final plan.

"This is an emergency. I don't even like the fact that New Yorkers are feeling anxiety over the fact that there could be 23 and 30 percent fare and toll hikes in the next couple of months," Paterson said. "Therefore, I insist that the Legislature work this out in the budget today or immediately and will summon them back here if necessary."

Should the state not pass a bailout, the MTA would operate on its so-called "doomsday budget," which would eliminate several subway and bus lines and raise the cost of a one-way trip to $2.50.

Unlimited ride MetroCards will also see a steep increase.

Meanwhile, all 32 Democratic state senators would need to vote for the budget to counter the 30 Republican senators' opposition. But one of the Democrats suddenly fell ill Tuesday, complicating the situation.

Bronx Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson was hospitalized after she felt ill on the Senate floor, and a Senate spokesman says she was diagnosed with "walking pneumonia."

As the Democrats have a narrow majority in the Senate, the spokesman said Hassell-Thompson was expected to return to the evening session.

At least some of the bills were expected to pass by the Tuesday deadline.

The spending plan includes an increase of less than one percent in state spending. However, factoring in the federal stimulus money, the budget grows to nearly $132 billion.

In addition to an income tax hike on the wealthy, taxes being introduced in the budget include a five-cent fee on bottled water; a 30-cent fee on a gallon of wine, up from 19 cents; a 14-cent fee on a gallon of beer, up from 14 cents; a 46-percent tax on cigars and tobacco, up nine percent; and, a one-percent increase on the car rental tax, up to six percent.

Lawmakers say the bill promotes good environmental policy and unclaimed deposits would bring in about $115 million to the state.

Republicans are crying foul about being left out of the closed-door process, a sentiment being echoed by good government groups.

Critics also say the Legislature should be using stimulus money to offset some of the budget cuts, as opposed to spending most of it.

On Tuesday, community leaders in Highbridge, Bronx protested the plan to impose a fee on bottled water.

Advocates for grocery stores and consumers also say now is not the time for more fees, and that the proposal impacts those who can least afford it.

"We're totally against this because it affects our bottom line in a way that people's jobs are going to be at stake if this law goes through," said Nelson Eusebio of the National Supermarket Association. "And also, the consumer's going to be paying for this."

"We don't have enough room to take back all those empties. We have limited space. We're not big, big stores," said Willie Rodriguez of the National Supermarket Association.

Community advocates also say there is no proof that the bottle bill promotes recycling.

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