Manhattan beep and mayoral candidate Scott Stringer says he has a “bold plan” for the MTA. But beneath the fancy talk of an “infrastructure bank” and “dedicated revenue,” it’s the same old plan: more taxes.

MBP Scott Stringer

That’s a shame, because without real change, the MTA won’t be able to pay for the other good ideas Stringer has.

At a speech before the Association for a Better New York (ABNY), Stringer said that the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)’s “fundamental problem is a lack of reliable funding streams.”

To fix this problem, Stringer proposes a “New York City Transit Trust” to follow Rahm Emanuel’s “visionary” example in Chicago in “leverag[ing] private dollars.” At least some of these private dollars, he says, would come from union pension funds.

But a trust is worthless unless it has money. Moreover, investors, whether they’re from the private sector or the public sector (which gets its investment dollars from the private people who buy municipal bonds, anyway, making the distinction odd), want to get repaid. And how do you repay investors? With money.

So Stringer’s leveraged trust relies on “a dedicated revenue stream.” To wit, he would take the $400 million that the MTA gets every year from the downstate mortgage-recording tax and put that money toward capital spending rather than operating spending. Stringer’s reasoning is that the mortgage-record tax is volatile and unsuitable for operating spending.

Moving $400 million from the MTA’s operating budget creates a new $400 million deficit. Not to worry. Stringer has a plan for that: a new tax, one that would raise at least $725 million a year (which experts say is more than $400 million).

He says that New York should restore the commuter tax, or failing that, think about congestion pricing (now called “fair plan” pricing) or a new tax on the number of miles people drive.

Such a new tax would create a challenge for the MTA. For the past three years, it has been collecting $1.8 billion annually in what it calls “new state taxes and fees,” including $1.2 billion from the new tax on downstate payrolls. Perhaps the MTA could call Stringer’s tax a “new new tax”?

All joking aside, though, the problem with Stringer’s plan is that he doesn’t address the cost side. Yes, yes, he says the MTA should cut out waste, and he criticizes the Fulton Street transit extravaganza (a pet of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver). But he doesn’t acknowledge the fact that the MTA will spend $2.6 billion in health and pension costs this year, nor does he acknowledge that the MTA could shave out $307 million in annual savings in three years’ time with a solid labor contract.

Moreover, Stringer’s rationale for moving the mortgage-recording tax is a red herring. The problem with the tax is not volatility. The problem is that at the height of the property bubble, it brought in $1.5 billion — something that was never supposed to happen. The MTA could have put the extra funds aside, but instead spent them on ballooning labor and debt costs.

Stringer is missing an opportunity here — and that’s a shame. For some of his actual transit ideas are not so bad.

He wants more dedicated bus lanes. That’s a fiscally solid idea. By bringing some riders above ground, such lanes reduce pressure on the subways without the MTA having to build more subways. Dedicated bus lanes also take space away from cars — showing that Stringer is brave enough to face off against one special interest, drivers (one that’s obviously not as strong as the city’s labor unions).

In the same vein, Stringer suggests a light-rail line (basically a bus on a track) for 42nd Street, another good idea, although a dedicated bus lane there might do the same trick for cheaper, at least for a while.

But blueprints are meaningless without $$$, and Stringer is proving to be another knee-jerk pol whose first solution — before considering anything else — is yet another tax on New Yorkers.

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