What Will It Take for Assemblyman Kellner to Vote for Pricing?

Two weeks ago, State Assemblyman Micah Kellner submitted a report to the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission [pdf] detailing his concerns about the two pricing plans in the TCMC’s interim report. Kellner’s district encompasses both of the congestion zone’s proposed northern boundaries, running from 60th Street to about 90th Street, and from 3rd Avenue to the East River, including Roosevelt Island. He has consistently said that he and his constituents support "the concept of congestion pricing," while objecting to several of the specifics in the actual plans.

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The report is based on residents’ responses to a detailed survey; 64 percent said they supported pricing (I highly recommend the survey data, which begins on page 12). Reading it feels like a quick whiff of fresh air if you’re used to choking on the fumes spewed by Anthony Weiner, et al. But the sensation doesn’t last long. Even though Kellner declines to dismiss pricing out of hand, he requests so many adjustments that it’s fair to ask whether any real-world plan could secure his support.

The report states that "none of the five options outlined in the [TCMC] report constitutes a viable plan," then goes on to suggest alterations that would make pricing palatable. A satisfactory pricing plan, it says, would:

  • Guarantee all revenue goes toward the MTA’s capital budget
  • Include a residential parking permit program
  • Deduct tolls on MTA or Port Authority bridges from the congestion fee for New York State vehicles (out-of-state drivers would pay in full)
  • Set the northern boundary at 72nd Street, not 86th Street (because it’s a major commercial corridor) or 60th Street (which would lead to a park-and-walk effect)
  • Add exemptions for disabled people and those making trips to the hospital
  • Dump the "regressive" taxi surcharge in favor of one on "black cars" (luxury livery vehicles)

The full list is quite long. Some of the concerns have been subsequently addressed. Other objections seem like the same type of straw man argument advanced by the most ardent foes of pricing. Given a likely scenario in which the TCMC’s final recommendations incorporate some but not most of these suggestions, how will Kellner and others straddling the fence cast their lot?

  • Jonathan

    Thanks for posting the link to this informative document. But Ben, is there any indication that Assemblyman Kellner may not follow Assemblyman Silver’s line?

  • rhubarbpie

    Seems to me that Assembly Member Kellner is doing what any assembly member might do — trying to get the best deal in exchange for his vote. Wouldn’t you try to get everything you want if you were in his position?

    My sense is that he’s not an ideologue on this, and is willing to vote for the program. But because of the mayor’s fumbling and the fierce opposition by other assembly members, votes like Kellner’s have become much more valuable.

    I’d prefer that Kellner take a leadership position in favor of the plan, but if I were a constituent without a strong point of view on congestion pricing I’d probably be perfectly happy with where he is right now.

  • Ben Fried

    Point taken, but the report itself seems like an elaborate step to take if he’s just going to get in line in the end.

    Then again, it also gives him some outs no matter what decision he makes.

  • rhubarbpie

    How Speaker Silver ends up on this will depend to some extent, believe it or not, on whether certain key members are comfortable with the plan. So Kellner may be able to get something in exchange for supporting congestion pricing.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Still his constituents are the big beneficiaries of the decongestion component of CP. If all you get from him is tepid support what hope can their be other than having Shelly drag along the entire Assembly?

  • rhubarbpie

    If we’re depending on the speaker, then I susepct we’re in trouble, Niccolo. What’s more likely to happen is a fair amount of horse-trading in exchange for support from Kellner and others, including the speaker.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The key question here is how loyal is the MTA Board? They have always been very loyal, even as their agency’s financial future has been seriously compromised.

    The preferred political solution to the MTA’s capital needs from the point of view of the state legislature is cutting back on reinvestment in the system, saying that reinvestment is adequate when it really isn’t, and allowing the transit system to fall apart in a future you don’t care about.

    But if the MTA Board rebels, some real anger might be mobilized against the legislature, which would then have to claim that were it not for “waste, fraud and abuse” the MTA would have plenty of money and be able to offer free transit with no government support. Would they be believed?

  • Josh

    I know this is irrelevant, but does anyone else think Assemblyman Kellner looks like he’s about 17?

  • Nicolo Machiavelli

    Well Rhubarb, we are really depending on everybody to pass this. And, everybody is taking a piece. The Assembly won’t vote on it until the City Council supports it. They want political cover. There has to be some horse trading to get through the City Council. And its not like the Senate will not get their beaks wet too. What will be left after all the bargaining takes place? Who knows? Chi sa?

    What is problematic for me with regard to Kellner and the other Manhattanites is the giver and taker part of the alignments. They are the big benficiaries of the reduced traffic, if they are holding their chits on the upper east side for bargaining purposes imagine what it will take to move the electeds from the former two-fare zones.

    Anyone who’s vote is in play could flip for CP at any time for any reason. What would it take for John Liu to declare victory for Flushing and vote for CP? What would it take for Bill DeBlasio trying to run for Brooklyn BP? Anyone who could conceivably flip could be made an offer they can’t refuse.

    However, the Weprin’s and the Brodsky’s of the political world are wired in and not subject to the horse trading. To the extent you are known a committed no you have no opportunity to bargain a better deal for your peeps.

    It still remains to be seen what Bloomberg can pull out of his bag to bring around the City Council, term limited as they are. Lots could conceivably be done in the Assembly since they are more subject to the party discipline that Mr. Silver brings to the table and Mr. Silver has a comfortable majority.

    Figuring in the Senate piece may be more problematic as the Bruno majority is sooo thin. Maybe they need some favors done too, though Bruno’s support has so far been sort of assumed.

    That may be where Larry’s point about the loyalty of the MTA board may play in. The board is still Pataki’s board, the Pataki who dug the debt hole CP pretends to fill. The Senate conrols the appointments to the Board should Mr. Spitzer at some point have the opportunity to put some of his people in place.

  • rhubarbpie

    The MTA board is irrelevant to winning this, as it happens, because that is the nature of the MTA board. As you point out, Nicolo, its members were appointed largely by Pataki (and Bloomberg). The board has never been seen as politically important on its own, which is a fair characterization.

    In the Council, it’s up to the speaker to decide that she will stick with the mayor, as she almost always does. The mayor’s role may be to dole out favors for a few council members, possibly using his own money, as he sometimes does. Someone like deBlasio is definitely in a funny spot; we’ll see how he plays this one.

    The Senate also is a challenge, because Bloomberg lost much Democratic support there with his holier-than-thou attitude and his continued financial support for Republicans. So much for his vaunted ability to carve a new b-partisan path, which those pushing his presidential campaign think is a selling point!

    In the Assembly, obviously the Brodskys in that house are lost causes, though no one is immune from a deal, I suppose. This makes Mr. Kellner (who does indeed look young, though he may look 20 now — I think that was his high school yearbook photo or perhaps his photo for the chess club — just kidding!) and his ilk in a position to get something for their support.

  • rhubarbpie

    Note: In paragraph 3, above, I obviously meant “bi-partisan,” though I sort of like the idea of “b-partisan” for “Bloomberg-partisan,” meaning someone who is loyal only to himself and joins and leaves political parties when it is convenient for his own political career.

  • fdr

    When Kellner was campaigning last year I saw him at the subway one morning with a neighbor of mine who was escorting him. I said to the neighbor, “They keep getting younger, don’t they?” She laughed.

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