Today’s news:

MTA fare hike may not cover new state budget gap: Sander

Metropolitan Transportation officials are planning an 8 percent transit fare hike next, year but New York Gov. David Paterson’s grim financial report has raised speculation that it might not be enough to keep buses and subways running.

The MTA, facing a $900 million budget gap next year, had been counting on serious money from the state and city.

Those hopes appeared to have been dashed by Paterson, who went to Washington, D.C. last week to ask for help. On that occasion, Paterson said his state budget deficit had reached $12.5 billion. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has long insisted the city does not have the cash to help.

Can the MTA get by with its present plan for an 8 percent raise in fares?

“We are extremely concerned about what has occurred with the state’s revenues,” said MTA chief Elliot Sander.

“It certainly looks like the situation will be more problematic than we thought before,” Sander said after the monthly meeting of the MTA board Oct.29.

In any case, MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger has called an emergency meeting of the MTA Finance Committee for Monday to get a more current look at finances and talk about what to do about the situation.

The MTA’s revenues began dropping months ago when the real estate market began tanking, diminishing the millions of dollars in realty transaction fees that had kept the agency in good shape for years.

Tax receipts from New York state provide much of the aid for the MTA and they have been falling, Paterson reported.

The MTA is also in financial straits from prodigious borrowing to pay for capital projects such as the Second Avenue subway and the East Side Access to bring Long Island Rail Road trains into Grand Central Terminal. The borrowing was the result of a cutoff of state money for the Capital Program by the administration of former Gov. George Pataki.

A commission appointed by Paterson and headed by former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch is expected to release a report Dec.5 on ways of financing transit operations.

As if to ease an atmosphere of gloom at the MTA board meeting, Gene Russianoff, attorney for the transit activist agency Straphangers Campaign, handed out transit−theme Halloween fortune cookies and pumpkins to board members.

The fortune cookies carried such messages as:

“If you cut transit service, this cookie will give you heartburn” and “If you propose a fare increase, Mr. X will attend all your hearings.”

Mr. X is a Brooklyn transit activist who regularly scolds and berates MTA board members for what he sees as shortcomings in transit service, frequently using the term “unacceptable.”

Reach reporter Philip Newman by e−mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 136

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