Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Cautionary Tale of MTA Math

Yesterday, the Times ran a story with the ignominious headline, “Math Appears Faulty in Senate MTA Plan.”

It does indeed.

The problem, as it turns out, is twofold: first, the plan added the cost of buses to be subsidized by the payroll tax to the MTA’s income, rather than removing the cost from the balance sheet; and second, the plan accounted for four quarters of payroll tax revenue in 2010, even though it will only have access to three quarters of tax revenue (fourth quarter payroll taxes are not available until the following year).

Both are easy enough mistakes to make, but this is exactly why the Senate rules require a fiscal note prepared by a Budget Division analyst to be attached to any bill before the bill is reported from committee. As we wrote in our most recent report, bill sponsors do not always submit fiscal notes when they should and the quality of the notes is highly variable.

We have yet to see the legislation that would enact the Senate Majority proposal, and when we do, the mathematical errors will in all likelihood be corrected. But given the March 25th deadline for the legislature to pass a rescue plan, it’s frightening to think about how close the Senate may have come to swiftly ushering a deeply flawed bill through the legislative process.

Rules - as they say - are there for a reason, and when the legislature is operating under a tight timeframe, the Senate’s own rules may prove more important than ever.

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