Congestion Pricing Inquiry Rebuts Bloomberg Proposal
Assemblymember Richard L. Brodsky (DWestchester), chairman of the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, along with a number of his Assembly and City Council colleagues, on July 9 released "An Inquiry into Congestion Pricing Plan in PlaNYC 2030 and S.6068", or "The Interim Report". The Interim Report is the latest in a long record of investigative and policy reports issued by the chairman focusing on the use and misuse of public finances by governmental bodies including the MTA, Port Authority of NY/NJ, Empire State Development Corporation, and many others.
The Interim Report is the first thorough, independent, and fair-minded review of the congestion pricing proposal Mayor Michael Bloomberg set forth in PlaNYC 2030 and in draft legislation submitted to the legislature. It is the culmination of two months of investigation and analysis by the committee, which included public hearing testimony, written and oral submissions, independent and academic research and a wide variety of citizen and organizational opinion. The Interim Report raises questions about the philosophical and policy underpinnings, and the practical and possible negative consequences for average citizens of congestion pricing, offers a series of conclusions and recommendations, sets forth questions needing answers and suggests a procedure for answering them.
The Interim Report reaches 12 conclusions that include:
• The congestion pricing legislation offered by the city is inconsistent with the public description of the plan. It is not now in a form which can be enacted.
• There are serious questions of fairness, effectiveness and precedent about the use of pricing mechanisms to distribute public goods that have not been thought through or debated.
• The elimination of existing environmental and public health reviews is not necessary or desirable, and would set a dangerous precedent.
• The use of congestion pricing revenues must be set forth in law. The mayor's stated preference for mass transit capital expenditures, although not in his proposed statute, is the best use of such funds.
• Strict privacy restrictions can and should be required.
• The revenues raised by the mayor's proposal disproportionately and unfairly target people of low and moderate income, especially those who live in The Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn.
• There is a substantial likelihood that the fees currently proposed will have to be at least doubled in order to have the effect on congestion that is needed.
• The city has no plan to improve mass transit prior to the implementation of congestion pricing. This is a serious, if not fatal, defect in the proposal in the opinion of both supporters and opponents of congestion pricing.
There are four recommendations outlined in the Interim Report that are important and reasonable steps that must be taken if the mayor's proposal is to continue to be considered. These recommendations are:
1. The proposed statute must be amended to reflect the actual policies the mayor wishes to see enacted. It is unreasonable and destructive to the legislative process to submit legislation that is broadly inconsistent with the public description of congestion pricing. The responsibility for these amendments rests with the mayor.
2. There needs to be a systematic, public and fair process to consider the policy and practical issues raised during the Assembly's examination of congestion pricing.
Although there have been suggestions for the creation of a separate organization for that purpose, the legislative committee process is intended to deal with such issues, and does so well. The committees of the Assembly, joined by appropriate senate committees and working with the governor and the mayor, should continue their inquiries, list the issues that should be addressed, and issue a final Report and Recommendation within a reasonable time
3. Supporters of congestion pricing need to cooperate in an analysis of alternatives that address the separate problems of congestion and mass transit funding, and to accept those alternatives that improve the fairness, practicality, and effectiveness of the existing proposal.
4. Opponents of congestion pricing must offer fair, practical, and effective alternatives to congestion pricing rather than merely oppose the mayor's congestion pricing proposal. If nothing else, the mayor has correctly identified problems that must be addressed. He deserves partners in the search for solutions.
"The mayor deserves great credit for thinking seriously about the problems of congestion and inadequate mass transit funding. His congestion pricing plan, however, does not stand up to careful and fair-minded scrutiny. It is a regressive tax on middle-income New Yorkers that is targeted at residents of The Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens and lets suburban commuters off the hook. It is a major government invasion of privacy. It eliminates important environmental and public health protections. And, for all that, it improves traffic speed by only 0.6 miles an hour.
"Disturbingly, the statute the mayor seeks to have passed in Albany is significantly different than his description of his 'Plan'. It is not a 'pilot program'. The revenues are not dedicated to mass transit capital improvements. There are no privacy protections. Alternate-side-of-the-street parking results in a fee. There are no mass transit improvements prior to congestion pricing. There is no requirement for residential permit parking.
"These and other problems make the proposed legislation unpassable [sic]. While we should continue discussions with the city, the mayor's legislation is not in the interests of New Yorkers. But those of us who oppose this plan have an obligation to work with the mayor to solve the problems of congestion and mass transit capital funding. The mayor deserves partners in that effort, even as his proposal deserves opposition.
"We recommend four things. First, the mayor must present us with legislation that includes what he has described. Second, the legislature should continue to address the issues raised in the Interim Report. Third, proponents of congestion pricing must be willing to look at and accept alternatives. And fourth, opponents of the Plan must come forward with those alternatives," Brodsky said.