Monday, July 09, 2007

Traffic Congestion Tax Jammed

"It ain't easy being green," that old lament from our Sesame Street favorite Kermit the Frog, must be resonating in Mike Bloomberg's ear just about now. With just one week left in the mayor's self-imposed deadline for action, (as the Albany Times Union reports) it is appearing less and less likely that the legislature is going to genuflect to Mike Bloomberg's national extreme makeover as an environmentalist.

The reason for the skepticism-a new report just issued by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky that raises some very serious reservations about the disparate impact of the congestion tax. As the NY Times reports this morning, the Brodsky evaluation of the mayor's plan highlights the extent to which the proposed "fee" would hit middle income city residents the hardest; "The new report characterizes the plan as a regressive tax that puts most of the burden on poor and middle-income drivers, and cautions that the charges would need to be raised substantially to have the desired effect of easing congestion."

Just so! And in issuing the report Brodsky took umbrage at the charge levelled by the mayor that those opposed to the plan were not concerned with the public interest: "'We're interested only in the public interest, and the first thing that the public requires is someone to actually look at the mayor's plan, fairly and thoroughly."

And look Brodsky did. As the NY Sun reports, Brodsky found that the actual bill that was submitted to the legislature differs substantially from the rhetoric that Bloomberg has used to sell the idea. For instance, there is no provision in the legislation that would guarantee that the money generated from the tax would go to mass transit; or that drivers simply moving their cars in the zone to comply with alternate side parking regulations would not be charged the tax.

In the case of congestion taxing, the devil is really in the details-and when the details haven't been thoroughly examined it usually means that there is a great deal that isn't going to be pleasant for NYC tax payers. As the NY Daily News tells us, the Brodsky report underscores that, "Brooklyn, Queens and Bronx drivers make about 24% of the trips into the congestion area, but would pay 47% of the fees." These New York City residents have an annual salary of $46,ooo, while Manhattan commuters (earning roughly $74,000 a year) who make 72% of the trips, would pay only 42% of the fees.

All of which means that the mayor needs to take a deep breathe and put this plan into a proper review process; and not one done by one of the usual consulting suspects. While he's at it, he can cease and desist in his asthma huckstering, something he continues today in the NY Post with a tendentious Op-ed piece.

NYC does need a rational traffic congestion plan. The mayor's proposal, however, is not-and should not- be the final word. It might also be a good idea if the crafting of the plan is done in consultation with the legislators that will be called on to approve it; and not in the current "make way for the lord" fashion.