If Albany Lawmakers Don’t Go Back to Work, NYC Loses

denny_farrell.jpgSounding frustrated, Mayor Bloomberg said in his radio address this weekend that it would be "absolutely ridiculous" for state lawmakers to leave hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds to another city by rejecting New York City’s congestion pricing plan.

Opponents of Mayor Bloomberg’s plan, like State Assembly Member Denny Farrell, a Democrat from Northern Manhattan, have suggested that federal funding doesn’t actually hinge on approval of congestion pricing by the state legislature.

Farrell and friends are wrong.

The federal Transportation Research Board is holding its summer meeting in Chicago right now, with members of the nine finalist cities vying for federal funds in attendance. Patrick Decorla-Souza is co-chair of TRB’s congestion pricing committee. Roger Herz, a TRB member here in New York City sat in on a meeting of the pricing committee, Sunday afternoon. Herz reports:

Decorla-Souza reiterated that for New York City to win federal funding for its congestion pricing pilot project, state approval is essential. The U.S. DOT has given the city a deadline of July 16 to submit a legislatively
approved plan. The federal DOT has receved 25 applications
for federal grants for congestion pricing pilot projects. Nine semifinalists, including New York City, were invited to make presentations directly to Transportation Secretary Mary Peters. A maximum of five finalists will be chosen to divide up one billion dollars in grants. New York City’s application is considered likely for federal approval since it is so different than other proposals, most of which involve using the federal funds to build new toll roads and HOV lanes rather than de-congesting existing city streets. The federal DOT plans to announce the five finalists by August 8 and there is very little flexibility on these deadlines.

In other words: If New York State Assembly Members do not return to work and find a way to approve the Mayor’s congestion pricing
plan within the next week or so, hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants — funding that
would be used for immediate mass transit improvements throughout the
five boroughs — will go to other cities.

Photo: Herman "Denny" Farrell Jr. (Suzanne Plunkett/Associated Press) via CityRoom

  • momos

    CALL SHELDON SILVER. Set the Assembly dinosaurs straight.

    NOW OR NEVER.

    Sheldon Silver District Office: 212-312-1420

  • Spud Spudly

    Better luck next year — those Assembly dinosaurs aren’t going back to Albany in the next week. Forget it. Is anyone even answering Shelly’s phone this time of year?

    Why is it now or never? Bloomberg isn’t going anywhere yet. Is “now or never” supposed to make everyone overlook the fact that many of the details for CP haven’t been hammered out?

  • Ed Crotch

    Oh, it’s inconvenient for the politicians to help the people! Get back to work you lazy fat cat a-holes!

  • alex

    Spud,
    The argument is simple.
    $500 million from the federal government doesn’t grow on trees and will not be around next year. If we want to have a dumpload of money up front to help pay for mass transportation improvements to precede the implementation of congestion pricing, then it is “now or never”. I doubt the state would be able to spare $500 million for mass transportation at some undetermined point in the future…

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    You wish the arguments were so “simple” Alex. The Federal money argument is not working, simply. People who take political economy seriously know how the Federal money hammer has been used to drive through transportation policies that won”t stand on their own. It is in “The Power Broker”. In the end the Federal money is just allocations that would have come our way anyway from the Fed gas tax. Once it is given out the Feds will short us when those gas tax revenues are allocated. Wake up and smell the coffee.
    Also, those transportation captial improvements were sold to the citizenry last time with the Transportation Bond Act. How many times can you go back to the voters with the same threat/promise before someone takes advantage (Brodsky, Weiner, Weprin)?
    And the $500 Mill the state and city can’t spare? Every Mayor since Koch and the Governor (Pataki) managed to short the MTA of $100Mil+ per year for 15 years. You do the math and don’t forget the interest. If Bloomberg, Giuliani and Pataki can cut MTA Capital funding for that long, why stop now, and why use this particular plan as a way to resolve these long-term problems?
    “Now or never” is a way to force decisions that would otherwise not be made. Time pressure changes everything, but when you make a threat of time pressure it should be real. There will always be another Transportation Bill (ISTEA whatevah) from the Feds, what our cut is remains to be seen.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Good points as usual, Niccolo. I disagree with this one:

    Also, those transportation captial improvements were sold to the citizenry last time with the Transportation Bond Act. How many times can you go back to the voters with the same threat/promise before someone takes advantage (Brodsky, Weiner, Weprin)?

    The Transportation Bond act borrowed the money; congestion pricing should be used to pay it back.

  • rhubarbpie

    You don’t win big policy changes on the promise that you’ll pay back borrowed money, I’m afraid.

    It’s easy to blame the Assembly, and they are always a ripe target. But don’t forget a mayor whose aides claim he’s ready for the presidency: he introduced his plan late in the session; he didn’t bother to take his argument out to the boroughs; he arrogantly believed that all the legislators would immediately buy his point of view (and did not send skilled negotiators to Albany to convince them); he presented a plan that, while many of us may support it, has at the very least some unanswered questions.

    So much for the master politician. But maybe he got what he wanted. He’s on the cover of Newsweek (or was it Time) as Mr. Green (not that Mr. Green) and can boost his attempt to buy the presidency.

    His missteps may have killed the idea for good. But I hope not. Time to regroup, or it soon may be, at least.

  • alex

    Niccolo,

    The argument really is that simple. Why do most people insist on receiving a large tax return every spring rather than just save the money in their own savings account throughout the year? Legislatures act no different. Money, regardless of its source, is easier to manage when it comes in lump sums rather than a slow trickle. The problem with the slow trickle is that one never knows what other “necessary” expenditures will arise over time. So, although I have yet to hear of such a reduction in gas tax distirubtion as a result of federal funding, if such a scheme were in fact true, it still seems reasonable to make a serious effort to attain the $500 million in federal funding. It is somewhat more difficult to convince the public that mass transportation will be improved with future gas tax revenues (according to Niccolo this is where this $500 million would come from) compared to holding up a $500 million check from Washington.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Maybe I just didn’t develop that position too well or make myself clear. And, I’m not saying that there is any sort of explicit quid pro quo going on with future gas tax revenues. However, if you have followed the progress (or regress) in Federal transportation funding through the last couple clycles you will notice a relative loss of New Yorks share. During the glory days when Moynihan and D’Amato tag teamed the Senate distributions we were at a high water mark relative to the other states. Since, each round the so-called “donor states” have increased their resistance to funding other people’s mass transit systems. The donor states represent places where gas is guzzled. We, believe it or not, use fuel more efficiently and therefor donate less gas tax revenue to the Feds. Having the revenues distributed on a per capita basis rather than according to who guzzles the most gas favors New York and the other urban areas.

    Now Bloomberg pulls out the “you can’t waste the Federal money card” at the last minute of the Assembly session. New York politicians have been down that road and know they are being played. The real question is how the public perceives this play after the media frenzy takes them on.

    It turns out that this Federal money is not a quid pro quo for congestion pricing at all, just that CP would conceivably qualify New York for a shot at these, what are in effect, grants. My feeling is that if we get that money that will weaken our claim to gas tax revenues. And, as I understand his position, that is Weiner’s point as well (he used to sit on the transportation committee and has been involved in the fight for more Federal Transportation dollars for a long time, making it all the more ironic that he is in this case leading the charge against the Mayor’s program (same can be said of Brodsky on the state level)). The “donor states” will simply grab more of that money when the time comes to make up for the grant.

    I, for one, will be watching the distributions closely even after CP goes down, the gas tax is the only tax where NY gets back more from the Feds than it puts in on a per capita basis.

  • stuart sokol

    ever since Bloomberg took office the dot has done things that are bad for ny traffic.The thru streets cause everybody to drive on many more blocks than they have to.The pedicabs take up lanes of traffic at 5 mph.taking away rwo lanes on broadway in times square c=reate a constant traffic jam.I can go on and on but the reality is constant idling vehicles stuck in fabricated traffic jams all day create pollution not solve it.This plan is to correct a situation that shouldnt exist in the first place.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Stuart, this situation has existed for years. I remember trying to drive a U-Haul across Sixteenth Street in 1997 and it took absolutely forever. Don’t try to put the blame on pedicabs and thru streets, when it rests on the RPA and its henchman, Bob Moses. This should have been addressed a long time ago.

  • dave

    RPA proposed tons and tons of regional rail as well as highways, but since the federal money was mostly reserved for highway expansion – and also because Robert Moses et al, due to social circumstances at the time as well as their own male engineer biases – preferred them. At least theyre trying to make up for it now 🙂

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