Friday, March 21, 2008

Congestion Tax's Last Gasp

With only two weeks left to go before the deadline for the state and city to give the green light to the mayor's congestion tax, things aren't looking rosy for the mayor and his traduced minions. In this morning's NY Daily News the paper's Juan Gonzales takes aim at the regressiveness of the entire concept: "Bloomberg calls it a bold effort to ease traffic and pollution and said it will raise hundreds of millions of dollars yearly for mass transit improvements. The plan's leading critic, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester), labels it "class warfare at its worst." He says it's a huge new tax that "hits middle class residents of the outer boroughs while exempting far wealthier commuters from New Jersey." Despite fierce lobbying from Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn, few lawmakers are eager to back a new tax just for the right to drive on certain city streets."

One point that bears repeating here is how the complexity of the camera/E-Z Pass/fine system will disproportionately wallop the less affluent: "Even worse, those who do not use E-ZPass must pay their tax to the city within 48 hours - or they will be slapped with a $65 penalty. The fines for just one infraction could go up to $140. Since lower-income people are less likely to subscribe to E-ZPass, the mayor's plan virtually guarantees millions of dollars in new fines to those drivers least able to afford them. Meanwhile, a black car limousine that takes some Wall Street executive to work in the morning will pay only $1 extra for driving into the congestion zone."

And that's not even pointing out how the truck tax of $21 dollars will hit the small distributors and independent contractors-without doing a thing to reduce congestion since these folks are still going to have to earn a living. So, given the fact that so much opposition exists is the plan truly dead?

Not if you believe Gonzales' analysis that the mayor could perhaps get the plan included in the state budget, and through this sleight-of-hand sneak the plan into effect. Here's his take: "WITH SO MUCH strong opposition, you'd expect Bloomberg's plan to be doomed, but the word in Albany is that City Hall might avoid a vote on congestion pricing and try to get a version of the plan slipped into the overall state budget. That would force legislators to oppose the whole budget to stop congestion pricing. The mayor could only pull off that maneuver if the big three in Albany - Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Gov. Paterson - allow it."

Perhaps. But we don't think that this will be done unless there's really something juicy in it for Speaker Silver-and we don't envision the mayor having anything of enough magnitude to trade. So we're left with the tinkerers; the people looking to get some traffic mitigation done in the absence of any grand scheme.

As Crains Insider reports this morning, "While the fate of congestion pricing, the central item in PlaNYC, hangs in the balance in the City Council and Albany, a more modest anti-congestion proposal from the plan is getting traction. Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, D-Manhattan, has sponsored a Don’t Block the Box bill that would allow traffic agents to treat the offense as a nonmoving violation. Not only can parking tickets be written more quickly (no need to get license and registration), 2,800 more traffic agents in the city can write them, Kavanagh says."

From the grandiose to the picayune; how the mighty have fallen. Can the bicycle brigade be far behind?