Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Check Please!

In all of the hullabaloo over the feds ponying up the $350 million, it was somehow lost that there is a big monetary gap here. With only $10 million earmarked from Washington for the paraphernalia and technology of congestion taxing, the city's going to have to find a way to make up the difference. This is going to create an inevitable battle where some council members who have signed on to the mayor's plan, will now be really forced to put their money where their mouths are.

If the council folks have any second thoughts about all of this, they can take solace from today's NY Times editorial which envisions a borrowing scheme in order to make up for the shortfall: "The city could borrow against future fees to pay for the mechanisms, including traffic cameras, needed to collect the congestion charge, which is a fair deal." Really?

If, let's say, the congestion tax is an 18 month pilot, how does any borrowing scheme get to pay off the money owed within this period? It won't, and the city will be obligated in Robert Moses fashion to pay the money off-and to continue to charge until the Twelfth of Never; with never-ending escalators built in, as the city gets a new taxing mechanism.

In addition, as the Daily Politics blog is reporting, there is some question over whether or not the US DOT has actually committed the $350 million-and Richard Brodsky has written to Mary Peters to try to get a clarification of this key point. Without an ironclad commitment, the whole fiasco could turn into a giant game of three card monte.

Which is why we agree with Metro's take here: "Not So Fast," screams today's headline. And its story reflects Speaker Silver's severe skepticism of this grand plan, quoting Shelly on how the mayor's proposal wasn't on "easy street." Indeed it isn't, but it will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the coming months.