Monday, June 18, 2007

Voice of the People: Congestion Tax

The NY Daily News continued its crusade yesterday in behalf of the mayor's congestion tax. In its lead editorial the paper took critics of the congestion tax to task for their failure to come up with any alternative ideas. As it opined: "If there's a smarter way to tackle congestion...we haven't heard it from the naysayers in the legislature."

Let's take a moment to analyze this position. For the past two months-not really a great deal of time to evaluate a grandiose $600 million a year scheme-various elected officials have been asked to support a complex and radically innovative plan that will heavily tax their constituents. They've been asked within the context of what amounts to little more than a policy bum's rush-with the mayor trying to panic everyone to act swiftly before a federal windfall is no longer available to the city (A windfall that is $100 million less than a single year's tax collection under the mayor's plan).

The complex plan is being reviewed and legislators are now being asked by the News to put up an alternative to the mayor's scheme or simply shut up and go along with the plan that they have found to be flawed. This is not a tenable position; and it is why the entire plan needs to be subjected to a full environmental review? Within the context of a review there will be opportunity to devise alternatives to the mayor's taxing proposal.

Demonstrating its lack of responsible journalistic oversight, the News goes on to cite the poll that was done by the supporters of the mayor's plan as proof that, "most New Yorkers support the plan when fully informed about how it works..." This is sheer nonsense. The Queens Civic Congress, a grass roots umbrella group that represents scores of local community groups, has just picked up additional support from the Queens Coalition for Parks and Green Space, as well as CAGE (Citizens Against Graffit Everywhere), which means that the grass roots belong to the opponents of the mayor's plan-and we've just begun to organize.

We can get a real glimpse of the voice of the people in yesterday's NY Post, where letter writers inundated that paper with criticisms of its support for the Bloomberg's tax. Most of the respondents hit upon the theme that the pricing scheme was simply another way for the city to take away hard earned money from its citizens.Given the fact that New York's tax burden has reached a record high, you'd think the folks at the Daily News would be a bit less eager for another levy-no matter how worthy the alleged cause.

Universally, the Post letter writers expressed complete skepticism over the assertion that the money raised would even go to mass transit; As one savvy New Yorker wrote:"This will be just like when they said that lottery proceeds were going to help the schools...Whose pockets are going to get lined with this new tax on an already overtaxed city?"

And another New Yorker really hit it square when he told the paper; "Only in New York would people believe that the money generated from the commuter tax will be spent responsibly on improving mass transit." He goes on the correctly call the tax measure a "feel good" effort that "only works in people's minds."

With the numerous and serious kinds of questions that the Bloomberg tax raises, and the all speed ahead approach from the mayor's side, it is quite funny to see the Daily News criticizing the legislature for giving the scheme a "quickie" hearing. Hey, wake up there on 33rd Street. Was the legislature given more time for proper deliberation? The time frame here is all because of the mayor's inappropriate pushing of a plan that has not been given proper due diligence.

Put simply, the mayor's plan is a flawed approach that raises more environmental and fiscal issues than it answers. Will congestion be significantly reduced by the $8 and $21 tax? Will those taxes rise if the congestion remains at or about current levels? Can congestion be reduced in a comparable way without taxing certain New Yorkers $600 million a year? What guarantees exist that transportation infrastructure will be upgraded significantly enough, and in a reasonable period of time? What about the "hot spots" that exist in other parts of the city where asthma rates are really much higher than in the CBD?

So the News is right. This plan deserves more than a "quickie" hearing." However, we trust the letter writers to the NY Post a lot more than the bien pensants of the permanent government; and a mayor who wants to use a "feel good" measure to boost his national political ambitions.