It’s Alive. It’s Dead. It’s Three Men in a Room!

Erik Engquist at Crain’s says a potential deal is in the works that would nix Gov. Spitzer’s call for campaign finance reform and give Albany legislators a long-sought pay raise in return for congestion pricing approval.

An Assembly Member that I spoke with this morning, however, says that congestion pricing is totally dead or, as the Assembly Member put it, "There’s no legislation to vote on, no one is planning on returning to Albany, it’s in ‘Nowheresville.’" Mayor Bloomberg’s political people, the legislator says, are "in denial."

Meanwhile, Chad Marlow at the Public Advocacy Group reminds us of the awesome powers of Three Men in a Room and how these powers may render moot the objections of dozens of state legislators. Marlow’s 30-second civics lesson is as follows:

In almost every other legislature in the country, when a bill is
proposed, only the original sponsor of the legislation has the ability to pull that bill and prevent it from coming to a vote. In Albany, the original sponsor can pull his or her bill but so can the Assembly Speaker and the Senate Majority leader. So, regardless of how many of a legislator’s colleagues support the bill, if
the leader doesn’t support the legislator, it will never come to a vote. This gives the Silver and Bruno "veto plus" powers.
When the governor vetos a bill there’s an opportunity for the legislature to override the veto. But when the Leader pulls your bill,
that’s it. It’s done. That’s why Albany legislators are, essentially, forced to fall in line with Silver and Bruno. If they don’t, they may never get to pass another piece of legislation.

  • New York City will continue to be short-changed by the state unless we change the system in Albany, and good luck with that. The city continually suffers at the hands of suburban and upstate legislators pandering to their constituents at the expense of the city. A few exanples:
    – School funding. The cash flow from NYC to NYS is billions, yet we can’t get our fair share of education dollars?
    – Commuter tax. Bruno ought to have been impeached for such a blatant example of pandering to win seats. The loss to the city was enormous and a commuter tax is commonplace in many other large cities.
    – Tolls on East River Bridges. Perhaps easier than the entire congestion pricing scheme but this died in Albany as well.
    – Congestion pricing. We who live in the city suffer the most from traffic (asthma rates, cost of business, slower emergency response times) but we are unable to address it without goign to the rubes upstate.

    It’ll never happen but it would be nice if city residents were able to determine the best for their own city without the intereference of upstate interests. Succession is an idea….

  • Dave

    Of course I meant secession.

  • Anon

    I’m new to the site, and fully support congestion pricing. While the site has a lot of news on it.. there isn’t much on WHAT WE CAN DO to help it become reality. I myself am not sure who and how to contact the correct people to voice my opinion.

    I suggest a section on the right with links / pages giving information on what regular residents can do to help influence and get this passed.

  • Psynick

    In the grand scheme of things, Dave is right. The combination of the ridiculous 3 men in a room system and a home-rule structure that cripples NYC efforts is a major problem in the governance of the city. However trotting out the commuter tax as an illustration of this doesn’t exactly support his point. Remind me again, what has happened to NYC finances since the repeal? Surpluses for, what, 8 of the last 14 years and greater financial stability than at any other time in the City’s history? Damn, we sure need that commuter tax.

    There’s a similar problem with the argument that we need congestion pricing to save all the poor kids from asthma — it’s inconsistent with the plan itself and makes for a poor justification. These kids almost all live outside the the congestion pricing boundaries. These areas are are swamped by vehicles that are not going in and out of Manhattan. Remember, you DON’T pay the fee if you stay on the Brucker/Cross Bronx/Van Wyck/BQE. It’s not at all clear what this congestion pricing plan is going to do for all the people suffering from the effects of this traffic.

    And to be ruthlessly cynical, poor people in general (and, obviously, poor children) don’t vote and don’t make political contribitutions, so this argument is both factually and politically non sequiter.

    This brings to mind what I see as the four biggest flaws of the mayor’s plan:

    1. It actually is too Manhattan-centric. This isn’t just a red herring raised by disingenuous opponents. It’s true. Here’s a news flash for Manhattanites: Traffic is WORSE in many other parts of the city. Neither PlanNYC’s sales pitches nor the highest profile elements of the plan address enough to win the support of non-Manhattanites.

    2. It’s too cheap. This is the water cooler/stoop talk I keep hearing. One of the centerpiece claims is that CP will only affect people who are by and larger relatively wealthy, so the rest of us shouldn’t get all bent out of shape. If this is true, $8 bucks (discounted by Port Authority tolls and offset by employer subsidies) isn’t going to change the behavior of enough people, but it will in fact piss off enough of the working/middle class drivers to mobilize effective opposition.

    3. You can’t just put out a “plan” and expect it to succeed without talking directly to opponents and without engaging their arguments with a tone other than just contempt.

    4. Michael Bloomberg and Dan Doctoroff sure are lousy political tacticians. I hear the weather’s great in Idaho.

  • jrivero

    1. the city’s two central business districts are in manhattan, so there is no way of getting around the fact that if you want to alleviate traffic, that has to be your first priority. and yet the plan is not manhattan-centric in that it would reduce traffic elsewhere by a) eliminating “toll shopping”, b) reducing the number of CBD-bound trips that originate in the outer boroughs, and most importantly c) providing a funding source for improvements to our city-wide and embarrassingly underfunded public transportation system.

    2. That’s a detail that can be adjusted during a Pilot program. If it’s too cheap to have the desired effect, you make it more expensive.

    3. I have yet to hear an argument by the opposition that has been neither a detail or ill-informed or disingenuous idiot political claptrap. as far as i’m concerned the opposition has not been treated with contempt enough.

    4. right you are.

  • anon

    #1. Last I knew Shelly Silver’s district is in Lower Manhattan. We can’t always default to blaming “suburban” and “upstate” legislators; the City’s certainly suffered at the hands of Silver. As for something to do: find a decent candidiate and donate lots of money to unseat self-serving Silver. He could move the bill if he wanted to.

  • Psynick


    1. Sure, the two “central” business districts are in Manhattan, but there are a whole bunch of other ones around the city that have major traffic problems, many of them as bad as Manhattan’s. CP isn’t doing much for people driving between or within places outside the fence. When you add upp the residents of these places, you have a population that sigificantly exceeds the popluation that is going to _directly_ benefit from CP. At the same time, these people are also going to be hit with the fee when they do come into Manhattan.

    As for the supposed benefits to transit, come on who are we kidding here? The plan estimates $200 million a year in operating surpluses, to go to transit and other transportation improvements. Are you telling me that in a budget of almost $60 billion a year, CP is the only way to raise this amount? Put it in the context of Bloomberg’s prior record on transit funding, and it smacks of bad faith.

    I’m not saying that CP per se is a bad idea. I’m saying that the plan as conceived invites exactly the opposition it’s getting because it it’s all stick and no carrot to a fair number of people who vote and contibute to political campaigns. That’s a pretty big flaw in the plan, IMHO

    2. The price is not a detail to be adjusted later. It’s a major component of the plan. The sales pitch can’t be “$8 (nudge, nudge, wink wink, for now)”. The fee structure in the plan has to make sense, and people have to have confidence that it’s offered in good faith, not as a bait and switch. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who think it’s too cheap, and think the toll offset is a disaster.

    3. Here’s an argument I’ve heard: Forget CP; toll the East River bridges instead. Same effect, technically much simpler and cheaper to implement, and it removes the perverse incentives created by the current mix of toll and non-toll crossings. I have not seen this argument engaged at all by the administration. To the extent that Bloomberg has engaged [even fatuous] arguments, it has been with a degree of snottiness that is totally counter productive. Even if an argument is wrong and stupid, if the person making it has some power over you, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to just say that he’s wrong and stupid.

  • jrivero

    1. 57% of morning rush hour traffic in LIC is manhattan bound. 43% of morning rush hour traffic in downtown brooklyn is manhattan bound. so reducing the amount of traffic flowing into manhattan would indeed have very substantial impact on traffic in outer boroughs. not the least because it would eliminate toll shopping.

    as for people who are commuting outside the congestion area, they would benefit to whatever extent by the decrease in traffic, plus they would be paying nothing for it. if they are commuting outside the congestion area, after all, they would not becoming into manhattan during the congestion hours.

    i do not know how the MTA’s capital budget is determined. and i myself am concerned about the possibility that their annual budget might be reduced by whatever amount is raised by congestion pricing (which would be a backdoor way of putting the revenues of CP into the general fund)

    2. the 8 dollar fee makes sense for two reasons. it was the amount set in london, where it had the desired effect. and it would make all inbound crossings cost exactly the same. my point is that you can always find people who will think that it’s too much or not enough. until you run a pilot program, you can only speculate about the answer based on other cities’ experience. and that, in fact, is what they’ve done.

    3. of course, that would be ideal. and the admistration did try it during the beginning of its first term. but legislation seeking to reinstate the east river tolls (like legislation seeking to reinstate the commuter tax) is considered dead on arrival. it would never pass albany.

    i agree with you that it tactically makes sense to engage the opposition more obsequiously. but that’s probably a bit hard to do when their objections are grounded not in fact, but in naive intuition, political calculus, and fantasy.

  • MrManhattan

    Silver is hosting a meeting of AWOL Assembly members at 2pm on Monday, July 16 downtown at 250 Broadway.

    Maybe he needs his employers to tell them all to get back to work !!

  • Psynick


    “the 8 dollar fee makes sense for two reasons. it was the amount set in london, where it had the desired effect.”
    It’s not at all clear how that’s relevant to New York.

    ” and it would make all inbound crossings cost exactly the same.”
    In effect, though, it’s only a $2 hit to the people coming in via PA crossings. Is that enough to reduce their numbers? Given that there’s no proposal to beef up NJTransit or PATH from CP numbers, that seems pretty unlikely. It’s “equitable” in the sense that everybody pays the same total amount, but that’s a political point in response to an economic question “is $8 enough”. Non sequiter.

    “my point is that you can always find people who will think that it’s too much or not enough.”

    A lot of people in this case.

    “until you run a pilot program, you can only speculate about the answer based on other cities’ experience. and that, in fact, is what they’ve done.”

    Are you kidding? “well folks, after 3 months of a pilot, we decided that $8 isn’t enough. We’re bumping it up to $11.50” Good thing Bloomie’s term limited; so much for Doctoroff’s mayoral campaign, though.

    “of course, that [ERB tolls] would be ideal. and the admistration did try it during the beginning of its first term”
    Not really. They floated the idea in the context of budget cuts (as did Giuliani, Dinkins, and Koch) as a means of firming up funding for bridge repair, not as a traffic measure. In the same (budget) context, each mayor has reduced the City’s contributions to mass transit.

    “but legislation seeking to reinstate the east river tolls (like legislation seeking to reinstate the commuter tax) is considered dead on arrival. it would never pass albany. ”

    And CP is different because …?

    You’re not helping the cause much.


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Paul Newell on Congestion Pricing and Reforming Albany

This is the second installment of Streetsblog’s interview with Paul Newell, candidate for State Assembly in the 64th District, who’s challenging Speaker Sheldon Silver in the Democratic primary this September. In this segment, Newell addresses some of the issues that are fresh in the minds of everyone who followed the death of congestion pricing in […]

Pricing Round-Up: Dems Conference in Albany

Assembly Democrats met behind closed doors last night to gauge their collective sentiment on congestion pricing. According to the Post, only seven of the 36 legislators who spoke during the meeting expressed support, but the one who matters most, Shelly Silver, remains uncommitted:  Silver, who has not voiced a public position on the issue, said […]