MTA board members can kiss perks goodbye

Battle bruing over MTA board members' perks
June 25, 2008 4:18:30 PM PDT
NY transit agency votes to end personal use of free toll and transit perks for board members. Board Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger called the issue a distraction.

"It takes the focus off of real important issues facing the MTA, which is how are we going to do a better job for the 8 1/2 million people who use our services every day," he said after the meeting.

Board members voted unanimously with one abstention to restrict their own use of the passes to official business and to rescind the perk from former board members and family members of current board members.

Board member James Sedore abstained.

The policy applies to passes for MTA trains, buses and subways as well as to EZ Pass tags for toll crossings.

The issue arose last month when state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo charged that giving lifetime passes to board members violated a law that says they must serve without compensation.

The board initially vowed to fight Cuomo but later agreed to change the policy.

Cuomo applauded the board's action. "In taking this step, the MTA board now recognizes that no one, including government agencies and officials, is above the law," he said.

But MTA Executive Director Elliot Sander said the free passes had not violated the law.

"There's no admission of guilt or illegality in the past," Sander said. "It's just more important to just get past this issue and deal with what's most important to us ... which is the future of the MTA and the future of this region."

Sander said the agency was facing a shortfall in real estate tax revenues because of the economic downturn.

He said a letter would go out to former MTA board members within 24 hours asking them to turn in their passes.

At least one former member will not do so willingly.

Warren Dolny, who served on the MTA board from 1989 to 1996, threatened to sue to keep his free ride, which he said was promised to him for life.

"How can you take away something you gave to somebody?" he asked.