Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Recongestion Tax: Mayor's Ferry Tale

The NY Daily News continues its campaign for a congestion tax, and does so with such vigor that one could expect that Mort Zuckerman holds the contract on all of the street cameras. In today's editorial the paper tells us; "In voting to endorse congestion pricing, the City Council recognized the plan for what it is: the biggest boost for New York mass transit in decades. The Legislature must show the same wisdom. Albany lawmakers - notably Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assembly Democrats - should approve pouring the billions of dollars that would flow from congestion pricing into transportation improvements."

What is the News saying? Wisdom at the city council? Stop the presses! Seriously, this is the paper that hands out knucklehead awards to council members. As for the "biggest boost" for mass transit, the News should show more Missouri than it does-you know, "Show me!" Never has so many promissory notes been issued by a billionaire with so little chance for redemption at anything nearing face value.

Listen to the litany in the paper's editorial: ferries in Brooklyn and the Bronx; express buses for Throggs Neck, improvements on the G line yadda, yadda, yadda. All of Wimpy's hamburgers to be paid for at a later date. Here's the take on Domenick Recchia: "With congestion pricing, we are going to have ferry service from 58th St. in Sunset Park, and they'll look at a new ferry from Coney Island," Recchia said. "There will be express buses from Gravesend and Bensonhurst. The subway stations are going to be renovated. They will study ways to bring express subway trains into Coney Island."

And the lions will lie down with the lamb. What a wonderful example of wishful thinking-and from an agency that has already demonstrated with its fare hike for transit improvements reneg that it simply can't be trusted. In the midst of all of this pie-in-the sky, the NY Times chimes in in this morning's editorial exhorting Speaker Silver to do the right thing with this tax in Albany: "Now it is Mr. Silver’s turn. He needs to schedule congestion pricing for a floor vote this week while there is still time to meet the federal deadline. Congestion pricing is primarily viewed as a way to reduce traffic and pollution, but the fees it would produce are also vital to the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which has found its existing revenue stream undependable and inadequate. If congestion pricing is defeated, New Yorkers can look forward to higher taxes, higher fares and worse transit service."

This is the same paper that told us this summer that the MTA simply can't be trusted. Talk about a collective willing suspension of disbelief; it reminds us of a mass psychosis if all of the motivation behind this wasn't so tawdry and mundane. Arm twisting and political pork barrel politics at its best. As Metro points out this morning: "Last Friday, Brooklyn Council member Lewis Fidler believed the plan couldn’t pass — he counted 29 votes against it.
Horse-trading is expected, he said. “The ‘we’ll do a project in your district,’ that’s politics,” Fidler said. “But without these deals, there were not 26 votes in favor of this plan. Albany understands that, too.” Fidler claimed Bloom­berg had offered to hold a fund-raiser for one Council member in exchange for switching sides. “If other people did that, the U.S. attorney would be called,” he said. “I’m not suggesting it’s criminal, but it’s hypocrisy that can't be waved off with a Bloomberg-esque wave of the hand.”

Which brings us back to the mayor and the influence of money-mainly his-in politics. Here's someone who wants to limit what folks can give to candidates while he himself spends like a drunken sailor. And when it comes to congestion taxes the mayor had some interesting allies among those who voted for the council home rule and some who will support the measure in Albany-not including the $500,000 check to the Senate majority. As we said before, all roads lead to 79th Street.

All of this is captured clearly in Juan Gonzales' column this morning: "No one could recall such a naked combination of arm-twisting and pork-barrel handouts to pressure City Council members to approve the huge tax increase known as congestion pricing."City Hall offered more in goodies this week to get this tax passed than the federal government is giving us to do it," said Brooklyn Councilman Lewis Fidler, a leading opponent of the plan that passed by a 30-to-20 vote."

All that's left here is for some enterprising reporter to do the accounting; and the full accounting needs to include all of the money spent on ads for poverty stricken environmental groups suddenly awash in cash. So much for the will of the people hypocrisy on display at the city hall press conference the other day, And they called the Bush-led Iraq coalition, "Bribed, bullied and blind,"

All of which makes the continual chatter about getting money out of politics quite disingenuous, don't you think? When we let billionaires dictate campaign finance laws that make it easier for billionaires to run successfully, and when we let these same kinds of folks utilize their economic power to dictate policy through check writing on an order we've never seen in NYC politics, what we've done is turn good government on its head and let one man's private obsession dominate the political system-with the help of scores of check-cashing enablers and an editorial amen choir.