Thursday, July 12, 2007

Congestion Tax Poll-axed

As the NY Post is reporting this morning, the just released Marist/WNBC poll on congestion pricing finds that-well, just what all the other polls found, with the exception of the Schoen push poll-most New Yorkers think the idea is a dumb one. So what we have here is the elite-both business and environmental-lined up against average city residents, as well as the expected opposition from commuters outside the city.

Even in Manhattan we find that the supporters of the mayor's tax can't get enough support to break 50%, and interestingly enough, the Bronx opposition to the plan is the highest in the city, with a 68% disapproval rating (we guess that the asthma hysteria is falling on deaf ears here, and the elitist nature of the proposal is getting the deserved Bronx cheer). Today's NY Post letters section gives a very clear glimpse into the sentiment of the majority of rank-and-file New Yorkers ("Indigestion pricing" is the heading).

All of this comes at a time when it appears really unlikely that the mayor's plan will be entertained in a timely fashion up in Albany next week. As the NY Times is reporting today, "unlikely" is the adjective that is most descriptive of the plan's prospects. There is, however, some talk of setting up a commission to devise a proposal that would be more politically viable. As Speaker Silver told the paper; he had "a hundred questions" from law makers about the workability of the mayor's plan.

The NY Sun reports on the efforts to set up a commission and tells its readers that it is probably the only way to keep the mayor's proposal alive since, "Assembly Democrats said they were doubtful that lawmakers would pass any version of congestion pricing." Clearly, as the Sun points out, any program that would be approved, "would give lawmakers broad latitude to change fundamental components of the plan, such as shrinking the zone boundaries, reducing the daily fee rates, and adding more exemptions to the road tax."

What the Assembly folks are doing, and kudos to Silver, Brodsky and Lancman here, is legislating-something that should have been done before the mayor tried to bogart everyone with his tax blitz. There has always been scores of discrepancies between the mayor's description of his plan and the language of the bill that was submitted-and confusion, sometimes intentionally sowed, about the details of the proposal even among the plan's supporters.

Which is why our friend Matt Schuerman shouldn't have looked to poke fun at Latino Restaurant head Louis Nunez at our press conference (see Hoy's Spanish language coverage) yesterday because of Nunez's less than perfect understanding of the mayor's scheme. What Schuerman did get right was that, "...if the mayor's congestion pricing proposal does go down, it will be partly thanks to many details that are easy to misunderstand-and misrepresent."

And who's fault is that? What's clear, as entrepreneur Ruben Levine pointed out yesterday-and more and more reporters are doing so as well-is that the truck portion of the plan is nothing more or less than a business tax that will have a zero impact on congestion-but it is still being used by supporters as if it did (misrepresentation Matt?).

It is time for this plan to get a careful and comprehensive airing so that all of the details can be understood-and altered so that fairness and equity can be assured. The entire scheme needs to be put through as city wide ULURP, just as was the mega store proposal in the mid-nineties. Everyone in the city will be affected, and all of us need to be part of a proper review process.