Monday, March 31, 2008

Healthy Skepticism on Congestion Tax

As we rapidly approach the hour of legislative decision-the City Council may vote today on a home rule message that will send the mayor's congestion tax up to Albany for the final approval stage-many are wondering once again: can the MTA be trusted? As the NY Post editorializes, "New Yorkers are wary of congestion pricing - and they found even more reason to be last week. No sooner did a poll show New Yorkers guardedly supporting Mayor Bloomberg's plan to charge $8 for passenger cars driving below 60th Street in Manhattan - if it could be guaranteed that the funds would be targeted toward capital improvements in the city's mass transit system - than the MTA abruptly announced a halt in solemnly promised plans for such improvements."

If we remember back, the recently passed fare hike was designed for just that purpose, another indication that New Yorkers should be very wary of giving this dysfunctional public authority carte blanche with our money. Recognizing the danger in the Authority's about face the mayor tried to reassure us: "I think the public has every right to be skeptical," he said. "I can just tell you that I am giving the public my word that these monies will be used for mass transit for the next 646 days I am in office and that I will do everything I can after that as a private citizen to make sure that . . . the MTA lives up to its commitment."

And just how much clout does Mayor Giuliani still have? Which brings us back to the essence of the argument that we have made all along: no matter how you slice this baloney, it remains once and for all just another tax.

Which is why, absent incredible political pressure, the congestion tax would have almost no support. As Councilman Lew Fidler has pointed out, his 29 "no" votes may be eroding as the MTA, the mayor and the speaker all inveigle the lawmakers with goodies. AS the NY Sun reports this morning: "According to one congestion pricing opponent, Council Member Lewis Fidler, Mr. Bloomberg met with another city legislator to offer fund-raising help in the 2009 elections in exchange for support on congestion pricing. Mr. Fidler said the council member came to him to say he turned the mayor down. Mr. Gallagher declined to comment on the allegation."

How well this works may depend on the fact that this is a term limited council, and that the public doesn't want this tax increase because the pols and the MTA can never be trusted. Still, once again, the power of the mayor's check writing is not to be underestimated.