Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Congestion Tax Support Drops: Right on Q

More follow up on the just released Q-Poll on the proposed congestion tax. As the NY Post reports this morning: "Mayor Bloomberg's efforts to make the case for congestion pricing seem to be having the opposite effect - as nearly two thirds of New Yorkers now oppose the idea, according to a poll released yesterday." Familiarity does seem to breed contempt here, and we believe that much of this disdain is related to the controversy over the MTA's fare hike proposal.

Apparently, the ire at the transit agency is spilling over into an overall skepticism about any plan that taxes the folks and earmarks the funds for an MTA that has lost the trust of New Yorkers. As the NY Daily News points out: "Congestion pricing support fell even if the money it raised would help forestall MTA fare hikes, the poll found." That's because, as the Q-Poll's Mickey Carroll said, "Big problem: New Yorkers don't trust the MTA. Two thirds doubt that, whatever is promised, the money really will keep transit fares from rising. More than half want an MTA guarantee to hold fares down for a specific length of time."

This underscores what we've been saying-and Melinda Katz's testimony reinforces the point: the entire governance system needs to be overhauled before any new taxes are implemented for any transit project. Here's the relevant Katz passage: "THE MTA, IN CONTRADICTION TO ALL OF THEIR PUBLIC EXPRESSIONS ABOUT THE USE OF CONGESTION TAX REVENUES, IS PLANNING ON USING THESE DOLLARS FOR OPERATING EXPENSES. IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT WE HAVE A FULL ACCOUNTING OF HOW CONGESTION TAXES ARE MEANT TO BE SPENT, AND THE METHOD FOR UTILIZING THESE FUNDS SHOULD BE MEMORIALIZED IN A PUBLIC DOCUMENT."

All of which leaves us somewhat bemused by the reactions of a few of the congestion tax supporters, folks who could see the silver lining in the eye of a hurricane. As Newsday reports, "Some of congestion pricing's staunchest advocates chose to view the Quinnipiac poll as a positive, but incomplete, snapshot of the city's attitude toward the plan...'Today's poll demonstrates, yet again, that New Yorkers support congestion pricing when revenues are reinvested into the mass transit system," O'Laughlin said in a statement. 'Of course, New Yorkers want reasonable transit fares; we also want better bus service in all five boroughs, a full-length Second Avenue subway and other much-needed investments.'"

Who to believe? O'Laughlin, who represents something called the Campaign for New York's Future (and can we get an accounting from these astro turf groups?), wants us to think that the people are really on his side-all they apparently need is better worded questions. On the other hand, wily Gene Russianoff, a congestion tax supporter gets it.

As Gene told Newsday: "It doesn't make sense to deal with these financial issues piecemeal," said Gene Russianoff, a staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign and a member of the state congestion pricing commission that will recommend a plan to lawmakers in January. He supports the mayor's plan, but thinks some of the money should be used to subsidize fares."I think the public is ahead of the mayor, the governor and the MTA," he said. "They've earned their rocket science degree and figured out that these two political realities are related."

So we are apparently headed for, well, we think an Albany style train wreck, one that leaves the mayor with egg on his face. It appears that, once again, when confronted with having to deal with a complex political process, the mayor's coming up short on policy seychel. Congestion relief, we believe, will have to come from a different direction.