Today’s news:

Panel of judges to hear appeal on MTA hikes

A panel of State Supreme Court Appellate Division judges was scheduled to hear arguments June 10 in a lawsuit brought by transit activists to force the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to roll back the $2 transit fare.

It is the latest round in the litigation following a decision by State Supreme Court Justice Louis York, who ordered the MTA to rescind the 50-cent fare hike. The MTA immediately appealed his ruling.

The transit watchdog agency Straphangers Campaign sued on the grounds that the MTA misled the public by making it appear the agency was facing a severe deficit to justify the 50-cent fare hike on public subways and buses, a 25 percent increase in commuter rail tickets and a rise in bride and tunnel tolls.

In another lawsuit, the Automobile Club of New York has taken the MTA to court to try to overturn the increase in bridge and tunnel tolls. The deadline for filing of supplemental court briefs in that suit was Tuesday.

The appellate court judges were to hear oral arguments at their courthouse on lower Madison Avenue in Manhattan.

The Straphangers Campaign brought suit after city Comptroller William Thompson and state Comptroller Alan Hevesi said the MTA misled the public about their finances.

Hevesi, who said the agency kept two sets of books and hid $512 million, accused the MTA of arrogance and contempt for the public.

Both comptrollers agreed a fare hike likely would have been necessary in 2004 but not yet. Neither accused the MTA of any criminal wrongdoing.

MTA officials angrily denied the statements by Thompson and Hevesi and said they were politically motivated.

While admitting no wrongdoing in its fare hike process, the MTA last week made public a new plan of financial disclosure.

Katherine Lapp, MTA executive director, said the plan would allow the public to more clearly understand the agency’s budget process.

Gene Russianoff, attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, hailed the MTA’s announcement.

“It offers an opportunity for reform,” Russianoff said. “It provides the opportunity for the MTA to be more open and transparent.”

In ordering a fare rollback, York had ruled that 10 public hearings held by the MTA in February were invalid because they were based on the MTA’s claim that it faced a deficit of $2.8 billion over two years, which he termed “fictitious.”

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

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