Monday, June 11, 2007

Post Taxes Credulity

Stop the presses! In today's NY Post the paper comes out in support of the mayor's congestion tax, which has got to be a first for the news outlet that didn't even think a reduction in cancer was sufficient to support Bloomberg's "Bodega Tax" on smokes. So, how does the Post rationalize this about face? (aside from the fact that Shelly Silver is on the other side).

It does so by saying, "...the plan comes with a huge plus: It stands to throw off big bucks for desperately needed mass-transit projects." How can the paper say this with a straight face. After all, we come to depend on the Post for the kind of skepticism that laughs in the face of claims from elected officials that tax money will be dedicated to this or that specific good works project. It knows from experience how fungible tax money really is.

So why the suspension of disbelief for this tax? Especially so, when the astute Nicole Gelinas points out in the same pages of the Post today how Albany is salivating over the potential windfall; with a looming fare hike as the reason for the surge of political support for the mayor's scheme. As Gelinas indicates, "'s hard to improve mass transit without fixing the MTA."

The Post should know better, and it apparently does when it points out that, "Make no mistake: Tolls are a tax dressed up in top hat and tails-and normally the last thing the city needs is yet another tax." The paper then goes on, however, to cry out that the city needs to fix its mass transit infrastructure, justifying this exception to the paper's tax cutting consistency.

Is the mayor's transit tax the right way to go? Does the Post really believe the following: "The Bush administration said that New York was poised to win hundreds of millions of dollars in Federal aid if then state passed the plan by August"? Apparently it does, since at the end of the editorial it outlines the risks that the money will be siphoned off, or that the costs of the system would eat up the lion's share of the revenues generated. Risks that the paper says are worth taking.

We don't think so, and we think the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers who disagree on this are right on target. As is Jacob Gershman in his op-ed in this morning's NY Sun. Gershman praises Speaker Silver and points out that he and Richard Brodsky are asking the right questions and are standing righteously in the way of the attempted mayoral stampede.

Gershman rightfully questions the euphoria over the London experience and sees the congestion tax as an ever-ratcheting upward regressive levy that will do little to relieve the congestion it's imposition is supposed to fix. He goes on to point out that this is the same mayor who dismissed all of the critics of the West Side stadium when they worried over the congestion it would generate (not to mention the malling of the city that we have been harping on).

The Post has all but forgotten the editorial that it wrote on June 3rd ("Gridlock Mike") that called on the mayor to do something first about all of the government permitted drivers clogging Manhattan streets. Gershman mentions this as well, and goes on to cite Gelinas' warning about giving more money to the dysfunctional MTA. This entire enterprise cries out for more scrutiny.

Congestion is a serious issue, but it is not a crisis that obviates the need for careful deliberation. There are not only other ways to ameliorate congestion, there are also better ways to raise money for needed mass transit. As for Bloomberg's pledge to not implement the tax until the mass transit improvements are made; well, we might have a bridge overlooking the East River that we can sell to you fairly cheaply.