Skelos Ascension Clouds Prospect of Pricing Revival

skelos.jpgYesterday, retiring New York State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno handed the reins to Deputy Leader Dean Skelos, Republican from Nassau County. Though some see this unforeseen development as an opportunity to move on much-needed reforms in Albany, it’s not great news for advocates of congestion pricing.

If Governor Paterson looks to revive pricing via the Ravitch Commission, as is being reported today, he could very well lose the support of the Senate under Skelos, who, unlike Bruno, is an avowed opponent of the concept.

Skelos voted against the formation of the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission in 2007, though Bruno supported the move, which was widely seen as a concession to lawmakers who were skeptical of the city’s original proposal. (Even ardent pricing foe Assemblyman Richard Brodsky voted to go ahead with the commission.) As late as April of this year, Skelos had this to say at a "virtual town hall" meeting:

I am … opposed to congestion pricing and have already voted against
it once in the State Senate. It’s another form of a commuter tax and
will place an unfair burden on middle-class Long Islanders who are
already struggling to make ends meet.

Ironically, pricing’s chances in the Senate could improve if Democrats assume the majority in the fall. Though he didn’t make much noise about it, Minority Leader Malcolm Smith reportedly favored the plan.

The Assembly, of course, is another matter entirely.

  • I keep hoping the Ravitch Commission will find a way to implement CP (or something that has the same effect) without the need for approval from the state legislature. I also believe in the Easter Bunny.

  • Max Rockatansky

    How does congestion pricing in NYC put an unfair burden on middle-class Long Islanders? Last I heard there was a popular railroad that ran from Long Island to the city which many people use to commute.

  • I’m sick and tired of suburban politicians citing “hurting the middle class” as their mantra against good policy that actually helps the middle and working class – i.e. those who commute by another other means than driving in the Central Business District (and somehow afford to park!) everyday for work.

    What’s Skelos’ position on East Side Access for LIRR?

    I’m assuming also that he supports avoiding fare hikes and increased parking fees at LIRR stations too…

  • Larry Littlefield

    “What’s Skelos’ position on East Side Access for LIRR?”

    Another benefit for the freeloaders of New York City, he would probably claim. But I’m sure he’ll allow it in exchange for slashing NYC’s state school aid while increasing it for the rest of the state, as in the two previous recessions.

  • No, congestion pricing is not a commuter tax. It is a CAR commuter tax. Distortions and false populism make me sick to my stomach.

  • rlb

    Seems like pricing advocates should start weaving some sort of Oil Savings argument into their pitch. I’m sure there are a lot out there, but for example: Less traffic means less idling, less money on gas. etc
    Don’t know Skelos’ constituents’ statistics, but I’d imagine a big number of the drivers aren’t even commuting into the zone. That’s a demographic that would definitely get behind any gas related savings.

  • rlb – I highly doubt more than even a third of CBD commuters from Long Island drive there. I know these numbers have been produced, but it’s shockingly low given the level of resistence and perceived impact.

  • vnm

    Pricing would help the vast majority of middle class Long Islanders who travel regularly to NYC. Probably 80% of more of Long Islanders who commute to work in Manhattan ride the LIRR, which would receive funding from congestion pricing.

  • rlb

    Here’s the line I was looking for:

    “A passenger vehicle burns between 0.15 gallons of gasoline (in small cars) and 0.4 gallon (in pickups) per hour of idling, according to estimates by the Argonne National Laboratory, and car gurus “Click and Clack” of National Public Radio fame.”

    My point is that the argument that most people take transit into the CBD and will thus benefit from CP did not work. Since then oil has become an issue of gargantuan proportions. The new argument could be that if CP passes, drivers will sit in less traffic, reduce the gas they burn through less idling, and save money.
    Or it could be some other way in which CP will reduce how much gas somebody has to buy.

  • Shemp

    Skelos has served as the Senate’s point person on mass transit for the past 6-7 years. He has supported LIRR E. Side Access, which of course has many benefits for Long Island, but has been opposed to on-the-fence regarding the 3rd track for the LIRR Main Line. That project mainly benefits Long Island as well (capacity for more service) but there is a fierce NIMBY campaign against it in western Nassau County (not his district but he has been the leader of the L.I. Senate delegation).

  • JK

    Passing congestion pricing is not rocket science. It needs to be tied to saving the fare. For example: “Voters, would you rather have a 50% fare and toll hike or congestion pricing?” There has to be an immediate pocket book benefit to off-set the pocket book cost. Funding fan plants and a small piece of 2nd Ave subway is not going to push pricing over the top. Skelos or not, the legislature will go for pricing if the alternative is a huge fare hike.

  • rlb

    Since a fare hike on March 1st – in the midst of the Congestion Pricing blitz – wasn’t enough to get it to pass, I’d be curious to see the effect of one now.

  • I agree JK – linking CP to the capital fund was a dumb political move. Link it to the fare (operating budget) and you have winner. However something definitely needs to be done about the capital program’s funding. Calling Congressman Weiner….Calling Assemblymember Brodsky…

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Mainline 3rd Track is the touchstone, watershed issue. And, the Democrat (Johnson, DINO) that won the seat from the Republican’s Ditzy Maureen O’Connel has been a direct obstructionist on the Mainline 3rd Track issue which makes Skelos’ fence straddling actually pretty progressive by comparison. However, I don’t think it is entirely fair or accurate to project Main Line 3rd Track as a suburban issue since it is a prerequisite to the development of the reverse commute market and a critical need of lower wage people in Queens who seek work in the Burbs. The reverse commute market, as I have often pointed out, is the fastest growing segment of the commuter market. Metro North has radically expanded this market and done great things for capacity utilization and farebox recovery numbers. Also, the reverse commute market gives the lie to the argument that poor people don’t need or use commuter rail, quite the contrary. Take a look at who gets off the outbound trains in Brewster some morning, enjoy the conversation with them if you speak Spanish or Quechua. The reverse commute will become more important to the people in Queens as it becomes increasingly possible. If Nassau is ever successful in building the “Hub” out of its mass of parking lots in central Nassau it will be even more so.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Niccolo is right about who the third track is for. But just remember, the deal is Long Island wants working poor people to cook their meals, clean their buildings, tend their yards, and wipe their rear ends, but they don’t want them living on Long Island and attending their schools.

    The reverse commute allows Long Island to use their labor, but if they get unemployed or sick the local share of the welfare or Medicaid burden hits residents of NYC.

    Moreover, Long Islanders don’t want city residents who work out there driving and congesting their roads. I was told this by someone from the Long Island Regional Planning Commision, which worked with DCP on a commuting study while I was there. Just like NYC’s attitude toward in-commuters, they want the people but not the motor vehicle traffic.

  • Skelos, a Rockville Centre native, has spent most of his career in politics.

    Hopefully he’s in favor of cool downtowns, then.

  • This is exactly why we need to throw all our collective weight behind Roy Simon, the Democrat running to unseat Skelos in November. It’s a big underdog effort, to be sure, but the district has flipped Democrat since the last election

    And what’s best–Simon has gave public testimony in support of congestion pricing at a City Council hearing in March.

    It’s a nascent effort–his website and campaign are still pulling into shape, but let’s give him some serious attention and when the time comes, stand up, speak out, and give generously to his campaign. An underdog victory could be a true game-changer in Albany.

  • dbs

    1)
    MILLION-DOLLAR INTERESTS ARE ZEALOUS FOR SKELOS
    http://www.nypost.com/seven/06262008/news/regionalnews/million_dollar_interests_are_zealous_for_117210.htm

    2)
    New G.O.P. Leader Says Mayor Has Pledged Support
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/26/nyregion/26skelos.html
    (Interesting though: Farrell Sklerov, a spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg, said the mayor declined to comment on his conversation with Mr. Skelos.)

    3)
    Skelos comments in March 29 Newsday…his last on-record statement on the matter before the State Legislature’s April inaction:

    Asked if congestion pricing would pass the Senate, Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), a critic of the plan, said, “Right now, it’s 50-50.”
    Skelos, the deputy majority leader, downplayed the danger of Bloomberg distancing himself from Senate Republicans if many defy him on congestion pricing. “The mayor is a friend because, as he has stated, we’ve done a lot of positive things for the city. … I don’t see a loss of friendship if that occurs.”

  • dbs

    A NEW BOSS’ OLD PALS

    Joe Bruno is gone – long live Dean Skelos!

    That’s what every special-interest pleader in the state must be shouting today, now that the Long Island Republican has ascended to Senate majority leader after Bruno’s startling resignation this week.

    And why shouldn’t they cheer Skelos? They’ve got a fortune invested in him, via assorted campaign donations going back years…

    http://www.nypost.com/seven/06262008/postopinion/editorials/a_new_boss_old_pals_117260.htm

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Joke of the Day: Dean Skelos “Concerned” About MTA Debt

|
In a letter to MTA Chair Joe Lhota, State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos writes that he’s withholding approval for $770 million in MTA capital funding and a hike in the agency’s borrowing limit because “a staggering $42 billion bonding debt level is of great concern.” (Hat tip to Dana Rubinstein at Capital New York.) […]

Livable Streets Progress in Albany Will Have to Go Through a GOP Senate

|
Andrew Cuomo may have won re-election, but New York was no exception to the national Republican wave in yesterday’s elections. The GOP regained control of the State Senate, weakening its bond with the Independent Democratic Conference and keeping mainline Democrats in the minority. With last night’s results, the landscape for transit and livable streets legislation […]

Queens Pricing Opponents Push a Fantasy Commuter Tax

|
Last week the Queens Civic Congress held an "MTA Capital Plan Forum," where members peddled their commuter tax revival plan to transit chief Elliot "Lee" Sander as an alternative to congestion pricing, which Sander says is vital to the future of his agency.  To be fair, the QCC has promoted this idea for several years, […]

Congestion Pricing: What’s the Deal?

|
Nobody knows whether the convoluted and difficult congestion pricing "deal" reached by political leaders yesterday will actually result in anything. The deal is complex even by Albany standards. A few things, however, are clear: Mayor Bloomberg does not have a "green light" to move forward with congestion pricing, nor has he been granted any new […]