It is odd when a member of Congress injects him or herself into local debates, but as the MTA bailout plan edges toward a resolution, that is exactly what happened late on Monday.
Congressman Anthony Weiner, a Democrat from New York’s 9th District and a potential mayoral candidate, threw a wrench into the molasses-like pace of discussions in Albany when he presented his own plan via a letter to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith. The plan would include $4.15 tolls for non-New York City residents and a paring down of the MTA similar to Richard Ravitch’s plan. How this all adds up to the nearly $2 billion the MTA is going to need to close its deficit is well beyond me.
City Room, The Daily Politics and Streetsblog reported on this rather half-baked idea from someone trying to impress New York voters ahead of November’s mayoral race. Let’s go with Elizabeth Benjamin’s reporting. Weiner, the Daily Politics scribe says, expressed his support for five Democratic tolling holdouts but voiced his support for his own plan:
The mayoral hopeful sent a letter today to Smith and Silver telling them that the “time has come for a sober discussion about how to create a plan for the MTA that is sustainable and affordable.” To that end, he proposed:
– Cutting MTA overhead by 10 percent a year for four years.
– “Sensible” tolls on the East and Harlem river bridges to the tune of $4.15 – slightly less than Ravitch called for, but more than Silver’s $2 – but, and this is a big but, ONLY on non-city residents. (Weiner says this would generate an estimated $391 million annually – exactly the same as the commuter tax used to bring in before it was eliminated in 1999).
– Giving control of the MTA to the city by giving four more votes on the board to the mayor, taking away two from the governor and three from the surrounding counties.
– Opening the MTA’s books, which to Weiner means making every dollar “contained in a digitized, searchable form.” Weiner said he does not support the payroll tax Ravitch proposed.
So Weiner wants to fill a budget gap that, when last reported, was at around $1.8 billion with a plan that will draw in $391 million annually while cutting another 10 percent off of the MTA’s overhead each year. I wonder if he passed third grade math. One Streetsblog commenter wondered if “a scheme that privileges one set of residents over another would be unconstitutional.”
Outside of the main purpose of the MTA ballout tax-and-tolls plan — to fund the MTA — Weiner’s plan also doesn’t reach another aspect of the toll plan. People should be paying for the resources that they’re using. Bridges aren’t free. Driving exacts a social and environmental cost on society, and municipalities have to expend a lot of resources to maintain roads and bridges as well as other vital transportation networks. Those who use the bridges — either by choice and luxury or by necessity — should shoulder the costs of doing so. I ride the subway, and I pay for it. So should drivers.
Weiner’s plan simply shifts the burden to those outside the city, and it does so in a politically infeasible way. While city represented may prefer this plan to a blanket toll, no one from outside of the five boroughs would be caught dead supporting what is a commuter tax in sheep’s clothing. This is just another dead-in-the-water diversionary contact designed by a politician to make headlines. Meanwhile, the MTA’s Doomsday date draws ever nearer.