Thursday, June 14, 2007

From Congestion to Political Gridlock

From the very beginning of the congestion tax fight we have been emphasizing the fact that the grandiose plan of the mayor's needed to be subjected to careful deliberation. The reason for our warning devolved from the far-reaching, yet not fully examined, impacts that the plan would have-not only on traffic, but on the city's economy as well. Given these concerns, we felt that it was incumbent of elected officials to demand that the proposal be given a full environmental as well a socio-economic analysis.

Instead we witnessed an unprecedented rush to embrace the plan-from business people with no previously acknowledged concerns about the environment, to politicians who appeared to be more interested in currying support from the mayor than in examining the impact of a congestion tax. The one sole major political figure that stood out against this stampede was Speaker Shelly Silver.

Silver's opposition, derided on the editorial pages as "obstructionism," was grounded on many of the principle objections that opponents of the congestion tax had been raising. The most important concern in our mind was Shelly's insistence that the plan not move forward without a more thorough review. Given their leader's strong stand, the Assembly's Democratic caucus began to rally against the rush to judgement.

In an article in today's NY Post, it now appears that the opposition has coalesced and the Assembly appears ready to put the entire idea on the slow track. At a meeting of the body's Steering Committee, the concerns expressed by the members were too great to allow the mayor's plan to go forward in its "current form."

The concerns expressed ran the gamut, with Ruben Diaz the most eloquent in his defense of the average New Yorkers: "...people feel uncomfortable charging hard working middle-class families extra dollars to come into the city." Assemblywoman Roann Destito simply-and eloquently as well-said that the plan, "is not well thought out."

The younger Diaz is not alone in his family's skepticism. In an editorial in the New York Press, Ruben Diaz, Sr. lashes out against the mayor's plan: "As a State Legislator who is faced with deciding whether or not to approve the Congestion Pricing Plans proposed by the mayor of the City of New York, I must ask: who is really going to benefit from these plans, and who is going to suffer from their impact?"

He further asks, "How can we be assured that these plans won't increase traffic congestion in the Bronx and add more pollution to our already polluted community and further increase the serious and ongoing asthma and respiratory problems that cause our children and families to suffer?" Diaz goes on to raise questions about who will be in charge of the plan's implementation, clearly showing concern about the Carte Blanche nature of the mayor's proposal.

Where this leaves the plan is uncertain, but at least we have a situation developing that will hopefully allow a more deliberative process to unfold; one that is not suborned by the influx of suspect dollars from even more suspect supporters of the mayor's plan. Shelly and his stalwart crew will see to it.