Corzine Ratchets Up Interstate Bickering

For months, New York legislators have insisted that New Jersey drivers pay a bigger chunk of the congestion fee than the pricing plan called for. Now that the pricing bill includes such a provision (which still doesn’t satisfy Speaker Silver), New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine is crying foul. The amendment he objects to stipulates that the Port Authority contribute $1 billion to the MTA capital plan, or else drivers who
cross Hudson River tolls pay a bigger portion of the congestion fee.

As the Times, Post, and Star-Ledger reported this morning, Corzine is threatening to sue:

"I am dismayed at the attempt by the New York City Council and New York
State lawmakers to politicize the selection of Port Authority capital
projects," Corzine said. "Unless this plan treats all drivers fairly, I
am prepared to pursue legal action to protect New Jersey commuters from
this outrageous action."

Transferring funds from the Port Authority to the MTA requires Corzine, the Port Authority board, and New York Governor David Paterson to all give their consent. While Corzine seems unlikely to sign off on such an agreement, the door is ajar, according to the Times:

One Port Authority
official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said that the issue
could be resolved if Mr. Corzine, Gov. David A. Paterson of New York and the Port Authority can resolve the $1 billion contribution.

In a perfect world, the public discussion about Hudson River tolls would also consider the traffic associated with toll-shopping and what can be done to prevent it. Instead, it looks like we’re in for more posturing about "fairness" this week. Might we suggest taking this opportunity to revisit Carolyn Konheim’s proposal to raise the congestion fee to $10?

  • uSkyscraper

    The whole NJ factor has to be delicately handled. I feel that there is a possible solution:

    One could argue that NJ commuters already pay a CP charge via their PA tolls and the whole plan is just the NY side catching up. Good point. However, this presumes that current traffic levels from NJ into the city are acceptable, and they are clearly not. If the goal is to reduce congestion, making the out-of-pocket cost invisible to current users will make no difference. Plus there is the issue of “change” – NJ commuters bought their homes and planned their lives with the river tolls already in place. NY’ers did not. The CP plan could be gradually phased over many years to smooth this but even then the lack of congestion deterrence still applies.

    So, one could argue that the plan should deter all drivers and force all drivers to contribute to mass transit while spreading the disruption to real estate values, etc. equally. Because the PA toll is already at $8, this can only be done via taking money from the PA or adding a surcharge. However, this is also not acceptable as there should be a uniform charge regardless of geography; it is patently unfair to make NJ pay more than NY.

    The culprit here is the PA, who knew exactly what they were doing when they recently raised tolls to $8. Had they kept their toll at $6, all would be happy. NJ drivers would pay a little more, but no more than they are paying with the current toll and no more out of pocket than a NY driver. NY’ers would then see that NJ drivers were doing their part in terms of deterrence and MTA mass transit (Let’s set aside independent PA activities for the moment as that is a whole other discussion).

    Therefore, the solution is for NY and NJ to force the PA to roll back their ridiculous toll increase and then implement CP at $8. In a couple years, CP will no doubt rise to $10 and the PA can raise their internal toll back up to $8.

    Can this be done? A toll rollback is likely impossible, though it would save face all around. If the two governors want it, the PA will comply.

    I strongly encourage all to work on this constructive plan of action rather than battle over the two unfair scenarios outlined above, thereby jeopardizing the whole beneficial scheme.

  • Dave

    Let me say this one more time: the PA toll is $4 each way and needs to be compared on that basis to the $5 MTA toll.

  • uSkyscraper

    Yes, given the MTA base tolls perhaps Carolyn Konheim is right – just raise it to $10 now and be done with it.

  • If the Port Authority rolls back the “ridiculous” $8 toll, which would you like to see defunded, Uskyscraper? The Trans-Hudson tunnel or the PATH train upgrades?

  • Hilary

    Rolling back the PA tolls is not an option as I understand it. They are obligations to the bond holders.

    Anyone know if the MTA tolls have similar obligations?

    Some intelligence about the financing of both authorities would be helpful.

  • uSkyscraper

    Neither, of course. I’ve read the $5.9b PA budget and understand that it is entirely contingent on the toll increase. But should the PATH be the only subway system in the country that does not receive federal subsidies? Should the GW bridge be the revenue source for airport improvements? Perhaps the PA should not be spending money on WTC retail development that could go to transit. You greatly oversimplify the complexity of the PA’s empire just as I oversimplify what the tolls pay for.

    I will agree that meshing the PA into CP is darned hard. This whole setup would be much easier in a clean-slate city like Toronto, where there are no existing tolls or multi-state agencies to complicate matters. Draw a line around the city, charge a toll, and you’re done.

  • You greatly oversimplify the complexity of the PA’s empire just as I oversimplify what the tolls pay for.

    I didn’t mean to oversimplify. I was just trying to accept the things I cannot change.

  • Anyone know if the MTA tolls have similar obligations?

    Oh yes. You read The Power Broker, didn’t you, Hilary? The bondholder obligations play the most interesting role in the book, after Moses himself.

  • Ray

    PA raised its toll after it contributed billions additionally to THE Tunnel, the elaborate rebuild of lower Manhattan and committed to purchase an entire fleet of PATH cars. And didn’t Senator Schumer just ask the PA to take over Moynihan Station from Empire State Development? Are Hudson River drivers – NY’s piggy bank?

    The Bi-State agency’s capital plan should not be paying for the Second Avenue Subway or additional bus service for Brooklyn. How do residents of NJ benefit from that? Time for East River commuters to start funding projects they will directly benefit from.

    Are we serious about reducing NJ driving? Well guess what, so is NJ. Let’s ask Bloomberg to fund NJ Transit’s capital plan. There are plenty of worthy projects on the drawing board. Northern Branch, Lakawana Cut-off, further increases to the Pascack Valley line’s capacity. Electrification of Hoboken division lines. Heck even Cross county light rail (Bergen). You’ll see drivers disappear.

    If anything, NJ has been short-changed in PA outlays. Garden State drivers have been paying into NY projects for decades via the PA (and without complaint!). This is all a bit disingenuous.

  • ParkSlopeBob

    “I am dismayed at the attempt by the New York City Council and New York State lawmakers to politicize the selection of Port Authority capital projects,” Corzine said. “Unless this plan treats all drivers fairly, I am prepared to pursue legal action to protect New Jersey commuters from this outrageous action.”

    I think Corzine is right on both counts:

    1~ The Port Authority has nothing to do with this. They shouldn’t have to pay out of their budget to compensate for New Jersey drivers to enter NYC. They should charge in tolls whatever it cost to build and maintain their tunnels.

    2~ New Jersey drivers should be treated exactly like New York, Connecticut and North Dakota drivers. THEY SHOULD PAY $ 8.00 to drive a car onto Manhattan like everybody else!!

  • Larry Littlefield

    For those of you who do not know the history of PA finances, the 1962 deal had the organization taking over the PATH and building the WTC, with the latter subsidizing the former.

    In the early 1990s, as falling revenues forced the MTA to cut service and raise fares and tolls, the Port Authority kept fares and tolls low by using money from the WTC, and all the excess toll revenue, and the profits from JFK and LaGuardia to pay for the PATH and buses. New Jersey kicked in nothing for the PATH, and still kicks in nothing.

    To do this, the PA was forced to scale back the Airtrain proposal, for which it has been collecting a passenger facility charge, to a fraction of what has been promised.

    Now in some good years cross-harbor transportation breaks even, with the tolls paid mostly by people from NJ offsetting the transit used mostly by people in NJ. But in other years, and given big bucks for that tunnel, the profits from NY airports are also spent for the benefit of people in NJ.

    So the way this could be couched is not to have the Port Authority use NJ CP money for NY. It is to have the Port Authority use JFK and LaGuardia profits for NY instead of NJ.

  • jmc

    I think it’s funny that people in NJ are against raising the Turnpike tolls. It’s a way to get out-of-state residents to pay 1/2 the revenue!

  • Larry Littlefield

    (I think it’s funny that people in NJ are against raising the Turnpike tolls. It’s a way to get out-of-state residents to pay 1/2 the revenue!)

    People in NJ want everything and don’t want to pay anything, and that’s what they have gotten paid for by debts and deferred pension contributions. As if their own state was some separate entity that could be milked. The result will be a fiscal collapse.

    I used to look down on that.

    But we pay far higher taxes for in many cases (their schools vs. ours) worse services, and yet we are going to end up with the very same collapse. The more we put in, the more the insiders take out. Maybe NJ, which didn’t put anything into the pension funds for years and years, is the smarter state.

    The voting down of CP given the financial hole and other problems would merely confirm what I have already concluded — it’s hopeless. There are not elections, and they’ll keep grabbing until there is nothing left.

  • ManhattanDowntowner

    What has not been discussed here is that the $1-billion money shuffle will have NO deterrent effect on the actual amount of traffic going through the tunnels and GW bridge.

    Unless NJ drivers actually pay MORE – there is no reason for them to not use their cars.

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