Today’s news:

MTA does not call for fare hikes, service cuts in reworked budget

The MTA has again revamped its budget for 2010 without calling for a subway and bus fare hike or cuts in service, although MTA Chairman Jay Walder said the agency’s finances remain “very fragile.”

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s financial officials said the $11 billion budget could be threatened by many factors, like Albany drastically cutting the money it furnishes for the MTA.

“I think overall the MTA remains in a very fragile financial situation,” Walder said. “The ongoing economic crisis presents a very stressful challenge to this organization.”

The final budget would cut 279 jobs from the MTA, which has a workforce of nearly 70,000.

The MTA board is expected to approve the budget at its final 2009 meeting next month.

“The bottom line is that there is no more money for us in Albany and we will learn to do more with the funding we have,” Walder said.

Gov. David Paterson has proposed cutting $115 million from direct state aid for the MTA.

Walder has also suggested drastic changes in the MTA’s operation.

“I think we have to take a serious look at overhauling the way the MTA does business,” Walder said. “We’re far from being out of the woods.”

Although no fare hike is planned for next year, the MTA said it will increase transit fares by 7.5 percent in 2011 in an every-other-year system of increases based on the cost of living.

The current economic recession has drastically diminished tax receipts that are vital for the operation of the city’s mass transit system, but the agency’s financial straits are also the result of prodigious borrowing.

The MTA borrowed $24 billion over the past few years and sometime next year financial experts have predicted that interest payments on the loans would consume up to 25 percent of its revenue.

The borrowing has necessitated a cutoff of state money for the MTA’s Capital Program under the administration of Gov. George Pataki.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com or phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.

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