De Blasio’s Excuse: There Shoulda Been a Brooklyn Lock Box

de_blasio.jpgYesterday, a reader sent along City Council Member Bill de Blasio’s letter to constituents [PDF] explaining his "Nay" vote on congestion pricing. Plenty of campaign fodder here, should someone who really believes in funding transit, bike, and pedestrian improvements challenge de Blasio in the 2009 race for Brooklyn Borough President. (His known opponent, Charles Barron, also voted no.) A few choice excerpts:

This plan, sadly, does not ensure that we will see mass transit improvements and expansions where they are most needed — in the outer boroughs. The "lock box" attached to the congestion pricing plan only guarantees that the funding is used for transit improvements in general — not for improvements in Brooklyn or the other boroughs.

So BRT on Nostrand Avenue, increased capacity on the C train, and dozens of new buses on the B41 line — those transit improvements don’t count? What about the 28 station rehabilitations Brooklyn is slated to receive in the MTA capital plan? According to the logic of this letter, the plan isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on unless every borough has its own transit lock box.

Besides, take away $4.5 billion in funding, and every subway rider in all five
boroughs will feel the pinch. If fares go up in the next 18 months,
let’s see de Blasio try to pull off the same type of grandstanding he
performed in December, when he unveiled a "Subway Riders’ Bill of Rights" during the run-up to the last fare hike. Did we miss the 11th Amendment — "Free trips for motorists over East River crossings"? You can’t claim the mantle of straphangers’ champion after voting against the best chance to stave off a huge funding gap at the MTA.

Brooklyn’s share of the promised improvements in the MTA capital plans pales in comparison to Manhattan’s. 

Again with the Manhattan-centric argument. Never mind that the mass transit system is a network, and people from all over the region rely on subways in Manhattan [disclosure: I live in de Blasio’s district].

At this time, I am just not prepared to ask cops, firefighters, teachers, and the working people of Brooklyn to shell out $2,000 a year for false promises that aren’t going to be realized.

Aside from the fact that this phrasing is a rather naked expression of beholden-ness to public sector unions, 55.8 percent of households in de Blasio’s district don’t even own a car, according to the 2000 Census. Those households earn, on average, about $47,000 a year. Households that do own a vehicle have an average income of more than $84,000, and only 3.7 percent of workers commute by car to the central business district. Way to stick up for your constituents, Bill de Blasio.

  • Mark

    Linking Manhattan to outer borough nabes was always the crux of the matter. Depicting CP supporters as Manhattan-centric was tactically successful but not grounded in reality.

  • d

    Di Blasio could have been a hero and proposed tax breaks for teachers, firemen, and police officers who NEED to drive to work. Instead, he used them as cover for special interests against congestion pricing.

    I live in his district and will not vote for him. I rely on subways and the stations I use regularly are disgusting. Every time I see peeling paint or dangerously deteriorated stairs, I’ll think of all the money Di Blasio helped give to another city.

  • Larry Littlefield

    So Spud, do you think Bloomberg, Quinn etc. should proposed fare increases to stave off a financial crisis at the MTA, so DeBlasio, Weiner, Brodsky, Russianoff et. al can “fight for the people” by opposing them?

    Or propose tax increase to stave off a financial crisis at the MTA, so DeBlasio Weiner, Brodsky et. al can “fight for the people” by opposing them?

    Or call for cancellation of all the major system improvments, and the use of the borrowed money to keep the system running for a few more years, so DeBlasio Weiner, Brodsky et. al can “fight for the people” by opposing that?

    It’s a losing game, and I’ve surrendered to the inevitable. Their generation will leave little but debt and pension obligations for those coming after.

  • Lars

    This letter from DeBlaiso is even more insulting then him voting against the pricing plan. I guess I’ll be getting it in the mail soon.

    Bill – GREAT JOB voting against an idea that would have benefitted at least 96% of your constituents. Your laundry list of excuses is sad. Most ridiculous is that 2K cost mention RE: union personel – Bill they don’t have to pay that, they can make a choice to get on the bus, train or subway like the REST of us. Way to make them more important, talk about elitism.

    If Bill just knew how insulted some of the people in his district are he’d scramble and make this his top issue. This letter shows he is out of touch, he just doesn’t get it. My $$$ will go elsewhere for the BP race.

  • disgusted

    Let me explain MY nay vote: deBlasio voted against congestion pricing and came up with lame excuses for why–that’s why I didn’t vote for him for Borough President. It hurt me to vote for a Republican, but whatchagonnado?

  • Geck

    I too will be looking elsewhere in the BP race. What a load of crap.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “DeBlasio could have been a hero and proposed tax breaks for teachers, firemen, and police officers who NEED to drive to work.”

    Fearing exactly that, back in the progressive era a provision was added to the New York State Constitution prohibiting the exemption of public employees from taxes that others have to pay.

    Not that the NY Constitution matters. Retirement income is exempt from NY State and local income taxes at 65 for private sector workers, but at any age for NY public employee retirees.

  • kmc

    The Bush administration is seeking to end Federal funding for mass transit. Their plan is to have it paid for with local and state government tax revenue. Hence the Bloomberg congestion pricing plan. The $354 million was the carrot to bait politicians and citizens to support it. Also, the Bush administration wants to privatize highways and roads.

    Mary Peters hates bicycles.

  • kmc

    Supporting congestion pricing is supporting the Bush agenda.

    We need to save the Highway Trust Fund. The HTF pays for mass transit. The Bush administration wants to see it go away.

  • I had a hard time with Liu proclaiming this “bill of rights” on the one hand and then complaining about bridge tolls on the other. I didn’t know deBlasio was just as bad.

  • Heffron

    Bush Administration has less than a year left, at some point Democrats will need a new boogey man.

    Also, there’s no reason why we couldn’t have the money from congestion pricing and increased federal funds for transit. The majority of NYS House of Reps are Democratic and both our Senators are, Democratics currently control both the Senate and the House. They could get us more money for transit if they wanted. I doubt Bush would have vetoed a budget with increased money for NYC transit with all the other issues he’s trying to force on COngress.

  • Kmc, you’ll have to do a lot more than that to explain to me why preserving billions of dollars in road funding is worth preserving a few million for bikes.

  • Spud Spudly

    I just saw this LL. I don’t know exactly what they should do, but maybe it should be whatever they were planning to do to fill the other two-thirds of the capital budget deficit that was never going to be addressed by CP anyway.

    And don’t think that Weiner, Brodsky and the rest are going to oppose everything. Even if they wanted to (which I doubt) they understand that to be obstructionist would be poison. Bloomberg got the snowball rolling downhill.

  • Larry Littlefield

    If all federal transporation funding disappeared, it would be fine with me — we’ll pay for our transit and let other state’s pay for their roads. A rise in the gas tax to infrastructure is also fine with me — as long as NY doesn’t get ripped off in its distribution.

    But as it is, it’s nice to know that Anthony Weiner has guaranteed that if CP is passed the $8.6 billion in federal funding the MTA was counting on will in fact be $13 billion or more, because without CP we need to have it or else.

    Hey Weiner, are the additional funds going to be in this budget or in the one that starts October 2009? Don’t tell me in October 2009 that it is coming later. And don’t blame Bloomberg and Quinn if the money doesn’t come. That’s your promised share of the MTA Capital Plan. Go get it — without giving up anything else.

    BTW, do we really need the A train to run past Howard Beach?

  • Larry Littlefield

    Of course I meant that if CP was not passed Weiner promised additional federal funds in its place. Well, it didn’t pass. When is the money coming?

  • Larry Littlefield

    (And don’t think that Weiner, Brodsky and the rest are going to oppose everything).

    Not good enough. They (and Silver) have to PROPOSE, accept blame from those made worse off, AND get it passed over that opposition. When they do it, hurray for them — as long as I don’t have to pay.

  • kmc

    Heffron – You are too naive. Or you’ve got your head up your ass.

  • jmc

    Please do not confuse KMC for JMC. We have no affiliation. Thanks.

  • Mark

    I’m with the Cap’n (#12). To fund mass transit, you must first defund the automobile.

  • PayingItNow

    “Not that the NY Constitution matters. Retirement income is exempt from NY State and local income taxes at 65 for private sector workers, but at any age for NY public employee retirees”

    Public empolyees in NY pay state income taxes based on their gross income; pension contributions aren’t treated as pre-tax the way they are for Federal income taxes. When a NY public employee retires, his pension income is federally taxable (but not State taxable) because he hasn’t paid tax on the income yet to the Feds, but has to the State. Also, if the employee moves out of state (as a great many do), the pension is fully taxable in the other state. It’s nowhere near the boondoggle you seem to be making it out to be.

    Also, I’m not sure what you mean by “at any age”, but the vast majority of white-collar City and State workers can’t collect their pensions until they’re 62. Gee whiz, 3 more years of “favorable” tax treatment (on income that I’ve already paid taxes on) than the private sector. That’ll make up for 30 years of crappy public-sector salary.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Public empolyees in NY pay state income taxes based on their gross income; pension contributions aren’t treated as pre-tax the way they are for Federal income taxes.)

    You mean to tell me that the 50% of payroll that NYC is contributing to police and fire pensions is counted as taxable income by the policemen and firemen? Come one.

    If you are talking about their own contributions, under the 2000 pension deal there aren’t any for those hired before 1995. So that’s more disinformation.

    Ah, but for the first 10 years under the 1995 DC 37 deal, general city employees pay 5.85%, and under the more recent UFT deal FUTURE teachers will pay 4.5%. That will be taxed, you say? How does that contradict my sense that this is a “screw the newbie flee to Florida” state.

  • PayingItNoq

    I’m not disputing that the current tiered approach to salary and benefits gets in the way of hiring and retaining workers. I am disputing your contention that tax treatment of public employees’ pensions is a) unconstitutional and b) the boondoggle for all employees that you seem to think it is. I also don’t agree that it’s as much of a financial timebomb for the future finances of the state as you do, given that most civil servants on the payroll today can’t collect their (small) pensions until they’re in their 60s. The deal for cops and firemen is different; they get 20 and out regardless of age. Not so for everyone else.

    What I said about state tax on pension contributions is not disinformation. People who contribute pay taxes on their contributions. People who don’t contribute pay taxes on their full salaries. That’s not special treatment. As far as not paying taxes when collecting what the employer contributed to the fund, you come on. In the grand scheme of things, most public sector employment is poorly paid compared to similar work in the private sector, and the tax treatment you’re bemoaning does little to close that gap. I’d be glad to take a higher salary today in exchange for paying more state taxes in the future. Wonder why that deal’s not on the table? Because the current approach gives the employees and unions the illusion of getting a better deal than they really have (Hey! no state taxes on that shitty little pension! Whoop-de-doo!) and saves current dollars for the employer. The City is more than happy to trade potential future tax losses after I’m 62 for paying me on the cheap today.

    With uniform services (who get to retire much younger than the rest of us), I agree that there’s a real cost, though. In any of these discussions, though, it’s very important to make that distinction — Cops and Fireman ($25K starting salary not withstanding) get a much better deal than most other civil servants.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I don’t know about engaging Larry in this pension debate PIN, he writes a lot of this stuff. This thread started out with some deserved politician bashing and thats what I came here to read.

    The one point about Federal funding needs to be developed more. That is a big factor in the let “someone else pay” politics. Highway Trust Fund $ is one of the few tax resources that flows to NY relative to the rural areas. There are plenty of politicians in both parties who favor their states regaining 100% of what they contribute to fuel tax revenues. Presently it is limited at 90% which allows for the transit flexing that big cities do. Bush is one of them.

    The debate was focused on pricing the urban core, now the debate has shifted. The forces of the automobile economy have won the day. Expect that calls from both sides of the aisle for 100% of guarantee will increase accordingly as these forces have been empowered. But the sentiment is not limited to Bush or the Republicans.

  • Dave

    As I said before the final vote, I will be starting a foundation to collect funds to run ads in every major paper asking the CP-opponents for their contribution to make up the $354 million loss in Fed Funds. Of course given Shelly’s wimpy non-vote it will be tough to identify them but we’ll try to oust Shelly as well.

    As soon as I find a way to make it 501c3 I’ll let you know (a tough fight I know given political contributions law). But when I figure it out this boob from Brooklyn will be highlighted as one to go. Whose interests does he think he is representing?

  • Larry Littlefield

    (I’d be glad to take a higher salary today in exchange for paying more state taxes in the future.)

    It sounds like we are in agreement. By having pension costs soar to 27% or payroll or more, the bomb has already gone off. Having $25k cops mean the bomb has already gone off. Paying new new DC37 members 15% less means the bomb has already gone off. Having property taxes 11% higher without new services, just new debt service and retirement spending, means the bomb has already gone off — with more to come.

    Paying people more (later not to work rather than paying them decently to work means bad public services. That’s why I’m so outraged by the screw the newbie flee to Florida deals, with the recent teacher deal perhaps the worst of all.

    (Wonder why that deal’s (more pay now rather than later) is not on the table?)

    Because they unions represent those cashing in and moving out, not younger or (God Forbid) future members, that’s why. It’s been on “screw the newbie and flee to Florida deal” after another, in every administration. I’ll write yet another historical post on this on Room 8 over the weekend.

    Getting back on topic, the point is that those who have only followed this one issue seem to believe that the actions of the State Assembly on congestion pricing are somehow undemocratic.

    The reality is that even with the failure to vote at the end, this has been the most open, fair and democratic consideration of a public issue by our state government in a generation (any such would have been before my time). EVERYTHING ELSE THEY HAVE DONE HAS BEEN WORSE. No fact finding with facts public, no public debate, no debate in the legislature. And the votes, when they happen, are 212 to 0.

  • PV

    I support Bill De Blasio for doing the right thing. I wasn’t opposed and still am not opposed to the concept of some kind of pricing charges for entering Manhattan by vehicle. The neighborhoods just outside of the proposed area would be having the congestion switched to their neighborhoods. And I thought that there were already too many people who were going to be excused and that the money itself was peanuts compared to what was needed and not going to do the things promised. The whole scheme of congestion pricing is linked to the Bush Administration’s concept of privatizing roads. Where would it end up? Meanwhile the MTA is a bloated agency and the first thing they do is give raises to management for doing the same thing over and over. I know. I used to be one . . . And when you do the same thing over and over and expect different results that is called insanity.

  • Styrofoam Warrior

    Guys, guys, guys, remember, Bill is GREEN!

    Since there’s no anti-styrofoam lobby, he’s fighting night and day to ban styrofoam in NYC! VMT of our NYC Sanitation halfs overnight!

    That makes me so proud. And that’s why I’m going to vote him right back to Washington DC, where he can get an internship with either of our 2 New York Senators who didn’t come out in favor of Pricing either. (I hear they’ve got really smart meters and great mass transit bike/ped access at the ballpark there in DC.)

    P.S. Mr. Bill, if you are running for Borough President in NYC, why the heck do you keep sending me emails to do volunteer work for HRC? You KNOW I’m a McCain guy cuz Arizona is ALL about the open road!

    Oh, and here’s the platform, AGAIN, in case you missed it.
    Issue #4 (aka not the top priority)

    On the City Council Bill has been a leader on environmental issues. As Brooklyn Borough President, Bill will work to maximize recycling opportunities in schools, offices, and homes.

    Recycling Electronic Waste: Bill has sponsored multiple electronic waste (e-waste) recycling events throughout Brooklyn, giving members of the community an opportunity to dispose of toxic electronic equipment in an environmentally sound way. Bill has introduced legislation in the City Council, Intro 104, that would require manufacturers of electronic equipment, such as TV’s and computers, to set up a free system to collect and recycle these goods. This would help ensure that toxic materials like lead and mercury – commonly found in computer monitors andTV’s– don’tend up in our air and water.

    Say No to Styrofoam: Bill has introduced legislation, Intro 609, that would ban the use of Styrofoam in New York City. Styrofoam is the widely used term for Polystyrene foam, a substance which doesn’t biodegrade and essentially has no expiration date. Bill’s legislation would prohibit city agencies and city restaurants from using Styrofoam. As Borough President Bill will continue to encourage the use of green products and cut down on unnecessary waste.

  • Brooklyn Dad

    The neighborhoods just outside of the proposed area would be having the congestion switched to their neighborhoods.

    No, PV, that’s not correct at all. The neighborhoods immediately outside the pricing would be some of the biggest beneficiaries. You can look up the numbers or just use your brain and think about it. If it’s not free to drive over the East River Bridges anymore, isn’t that going to mean less AM rush hour traffic smashing its way down Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, Adams and Clinton Streets — all streets, btw, in Bill’s district? Isn’t it somewhat intuitive that if it costs to travel over the bridges a certain number of driverfs are going to stop going out of their way to avoid the Battery Tunnel or, my god, maybe even get their ass on a subway train? I don’t think you need to be a transpo planner or economist to see that.

    Look, I actually like Bill de Blasio on a personal level. He’s a good guy. But as a politician, he’s been selling out his district for his own ambitions for quite some time now. He sold us out on Atlantic Yards when he was running for the Council Speaker’s job. And he sold us out on congestion pricing b/c he’s running for Boro President. He’s been willing to step forward on the small, relatively meaningless and easy “green” stuff — bike lanes, styrofoam, recycling. But on the big stuff, when it counts? It’s not his constituents he’s representing.

    I’m sure Bill would say, Well, I’m thinking what’s best for the city as a whole, not just repping the narrow interests of my district. But districts in south Brooklyn and Westchester had their selfish interests very well represented in the pricing debate by their elected reps. Bill and Joan Millman’s districts didn’t. Our neighborhoods continue to be crushed by traffic on daily basis. It’s the worst part of living in District 39 and the neighborhoods around Downtown Brooklyn. It’s the thing that makes life most miserable here.

    Bill stopped repping me a long time ago and I, for one, am done voting for Bill.

  • Gargamel Tralfaz

    Amazingly I can’t believe Bill did this to us. I mean, some of the strongest activists and volunteers are in his district, and he just lost a ton of them. He’s a nice guy, sure, I always have thought so. But nice and playing it conservative on almost every issue he is a part of is not what we need in a BP. We’ve done that already. I’d even vote for Barron just because….or maybe a Republican or Green…who else is running?

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Amazingly I can’t believe Bill did this to us.)

    Don’t be amazed. When the consequences come due, don’t be amazed when he is out front blaming someone else, too.

    Something for nothing is the game for winners. When the system collapses as a result, if you’ve got your kid in a special deal school, a placard, and guaranteed health care, what do you care?

  • Hilary

    Do you mean there are no New York State taxes on NYS pensions? Because my mother – a retired NYS teacher – lives in Rhode Island, where she pays a hefty tax on hers. Of course you’d die to know about the health benefits she and my father enjoy for as long as either lives. It’s the best I’ve ever seen. Grrrr.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Do you mean there are no New York State taxes on NYS pensions? Because my mother – a retired NYS teacher – lives in Rhode Island, where she pays a hefty tax on hers.)

    That’s right. They are subject to federal taxes, but not state and local. The same is true for all retirement income, even private sector, after age 65.

    If you want to know what is going on with taxes, I suggest that your read this post and download the spreadsheet.

    In fact, any Streetsblogger should.


Photo: Crain's New York

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