Monday, August 04, 2008

Obsessive Congestion Disorder

The mayor can't seem to let his pet compulsion go. As Liz reported last week, Bloomberg's apparently looking to resurrect his congestion tax plan: "The Bloomberg administration is continuing its efforts to keep the idea of congestion pricing alive following its defeat in Albany earlier this year."

Just how does he plan doing this? As Liz told us: "I'm told that the mayor won't likely seek to personally bring back his pay-to-drive plan, but believes it will likely be resuscitated by the Ravitch Commission, the 13-member body created by Gov. David Paterson (who did support congestion pricing) to review the MTA's financing and recommend strategies to pay for its operating needs and capital projects over the next decade." That's great, but it still doesn't guarantee legislative approval even if this commission supports the congestion tax concept.

A better idea would be the one we have suggested: use the Indian cigarette tax monies to create a dedicated fund for support of mass transit. The estimates run as high as $600 million a year, and would put the congestion tax revenue to shame; without the cameras and tax impositions of the mayor's silly scheme. In addition, it would be the biggest boost to local convenience stores, bodegas and newsstands, businesses that have been hard hit by the tax avoidance scam of the Indians.

Still, as the NY Times reported yesterday, the congestion tax has a particular resonance for what Assemblyman Richard Brodsky terms, the"political class:" “Clearly I think that on many levels of the political class, this has support that other taxes, for example, the millionaires’ tax, doesn’t,” said Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat who was a leader in opposing the plan. He was referring to a Democratic proposal, opposed by Gov. David A. Paterson, to raise taxes on the wealthy. “It’s an issue of fundamental fairness,” Mr. Brodsky added. “The millionaires’ tax raises more revenue solely from the super rich. Yet the political class in New York City, the mayor’s office being the head of it, comes back with congestion pricing again.”

"The mayor's office being the head of it!" Just so. It's the most obvious manifestation of special interest politics at work-a commission of the swells. Here's the mayor's world view with some clarity: “Unless the commission, which is actually made up of some very smart people, unless they can discover the fountain of youth, I think that that’s exactly what is going to come out of it,” Mr. Bloomberg added." Smart is usually used to connote, in this type of context, folks who see the world the way you do

Which brings us inevitably back to the mayor's support of the proposal to build a Costco store on the West Side (and can his support for two new Brooklyn BJs Warehouse Clubs be far behind?). The idea of allowing for the construction of an auto dependent box store in the CBD is crazy, even if the person cheer leading wasn't busy styling about the evils of congestion. The same holds true for the two Brooklyn stores.

PlaNYC 2030, a slick PR effort to convince the world of Bloomberg's environmental bona fides, is missing a key ingredient when it comes to the neighborhoods of the city. Environmental sustainability needs to be inexorably linked with the preservation of local neighborhood-based shopping. Much of the shopping is not car dependent, and the ecology of local shopping strips should be advanced as part of the mayor's putative environmental agenda-but it is not; and the continued chain store malling of the city threatens all of the vibrancy of the local neighborhood commercial strips.

The supermarket is the linchpin of the local shopping strip-driving traffic into the other stores and building up the strength of the neighborhood economy. For the mayor to support the box stores, is to put him into direct contradiction with his professed environmental principles. These stores suck the business from local supermarkets and erode neighborhood shopping, while insuring that people will have to drive to take care of their shopping needs.

Bloomberg, however, simply can't help himself. When a big business comes to the fore the mayor's right there shilling on its behalf, even if some other desirable goal he has articulated must be jettisoned. In this case, both of his faces need better make up.