Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Those Myriad Benefits

Last week we were discussing the dispute over the accuracy of the polling data on the mayor's congestion taxing plan. We were particularly peeved when Azi at the Politicker argued that, when a poll described the "myriad benefits" of the mayor's proposal, it elicited a more favorable response from the respondents. Our dispute over this issue was related to the way in which a push poll can be used to influence a poll's result.

On Friday Liz at the Daily Politics Blog posted a range of reactions to the Q-Poll results, with those folks in favor of the plan returning to the theme that, once New Yorkers were able to discern the benefits of the scheme-"reduced traffic, better mass transit and cleaner air"-they would undoubtedly be more supportive. If it were only that idyllic.

What has been missing is an honest discussion of the issue of MTA governance, and how a congestion tax will be implemented in the context of an already dysfunctional oversight structure. If, for instance, the system is already deeply in debt, with a capital budget seriously in arrears, how will a congestion tax function as a real remedy?-especially since so much of the proceeds are eaten away by the management of the pricing system (all hail Parson Brinckerhoff!).

In addition, with existing tolls defraying a large percentage of the cost for many commuters, will the $8 fee really generate sufficient funds to really make a difference to the system? The more likely scenario is that this variable is already being accounted for by planners eager to really sock it to commuters with a $16 or $20 tax to enter the CBD. Because if $8 isn't enough to generate funds, it's also insufficient to deter motorists. In any case, as we have stated before, this entire proposal desperately needs a forensic accountant.

Which is something that Staten Island State Senato Diane Savino grasps inuitively. She's not buying the "myriad benefit" pitch. As the SI Advance reported last week, "In keeping with a common sentiment that the Island is neglected, particularly insofar as transit projects are concerned, Ms. Savino believes the potential revenue would fund pet projects in Manhattan and not benefit her constituents.

All of which, when combined with the fact that the commission is stacked with "homers," leaves opponents both skeptical and angry; concerned with a plan, packaged as a magic elixir, that will hit their homeowner constituents hard without providing any where near the "myriad of benefits" that the acolytes allege. We leave the last word for Councilman Lew Fidler (as cited by Liz): "This appointed panel, which by the way does not include anyone from the Bronx or Staten Island, is rigged from the beginning," Fidler said. "Its appointees have overwhelmingly taken a public position on this issue which is inconsistent with the public’s position." And, as he told City Hall, "There may be great minds on the commission, but I doubt there's an open one."