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New York: Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Politics: Congestion Pricing Is A Bad Idea, Raising Taxes Is

POLITICS: Congestion pricing is a bad idea, raising taxes is even worse

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Gov. Hochul says she’s going to make the MTA good for its loss of congestion-pricing-toll income, but Albany needs to find the money within the record-breaking budget it already has.

State leaders always seems to find a spare billion or two for boondoggles in Buffalo; rather than add a dime in new taxes or fees “to fund the MTA,” they can go pound sand.

Increase the MTA-region “mobility tax”?

That’s basically an added tax on employment, and thus a downer for the metro-area economy — exactly what Hochul realized the tolls would mean.

Replace the income from the state’s reserve funds?

Maybe, but the MTA’s plan was to use the expected $1 billion-a-year funding stream as leverage to borrow billions upfront, and so fund its capital spending — including vital maintenance. Unless it’s a guaranteed funding stream, it can’t fund borrowing.

Until this issue is worked out, the agency needs to put all major projects into deep freeze, including any plans to extend the Second Avenue Subway as well as any new changes to Penn Station.

To pass any permanent new funding stream, Hochul will not only need to call the Legislature back for a special session, she’ll need to sell both the Assembly and state Senate on it.

But lawmakers’ reluctance to devote a dime more of “their” money (meaning: what they bleed the taxpayers for) to the MTA is what got them to agree to then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s congestion-pricing scheme in the first place.

Yet the state’s $231 billion budget has plenty that could (should!) be cut, from the cash burned on local school districts whose enrollment is collapsing (the Legislature insists on “holding them harmless”) to vast giveaways to state hospitals and their unionized workers.

Heck, nearly every dollar Albany spends in the name of “economic development” is just political pork and/or payoffs to the connected.

The $700 million a year now dumped on Hollywood via subsidies for radio & TV productions could cover most of the nut all by itself.

Then, too, the MTA could benefit big-time from real political support: For starters, its huge overtime bills are driven largely by union-contract perks that the pols won’t let management insist on eliminating.

And farebeating bleeds the mass-transit system: If Hochul announced that she’d remove any district attorney who refuses to prosecute these cases, and the NYPD followed up with a major enforcement drive, the MTA’s revenues could jump $500 million or more a year — and the subways would get a lot safer, too, further boosting paid ridership.

So far, Hochul’s “pause” on congestion pricing could be simply a dodge to keep voters from feeling the pain before the November elections.

If she wants the public to know it’s not, she needs to keep drawing horrified screams from the crowd that’s denouncing her eminently sensible first step.



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