There’s a half-billion dollars sitting in Washington with New York’s name on it. But thanks to Democratic State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and some small minds in the State Legislature, the money will likely stay right where it is.
The $500 million is funding the Bush Administration has earmarked for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s congestion-pricing plan to reduce traffic and air pollution at a time when the city is bracing for an influx of one million new residents over the next 25 years. The offer of the money expires on Monday, and barring a miraculous, last-minute outbreak of common sense and good government in the State Assembly, the money will vanish back into the national treasury.
The plan—which would charge drivers an $8 fee to enter the busiest parts of Manhattan between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.—has the support of labor, business and environmental leaders, as well as Gov. Eliot Spitzer, State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. The fees would bring in about $500 million annually, to be spent on large-scale improvements to the city’s mass-transit infrastructure. London, which inaugurated a similar plan four years ago, has reduced traffic congestion by 17 percent and carbon-dioxide emissions by 20 percent. Stockholm and Singapore have similar programs. City Hall projects that congestion pricing would reduce the daily level of 800,000 cars in Manhattan by 100,000.
Unfortunately, this cost-effective plan, which would speed the city’s traffic—and thereby boost the business climate—while significantly improving the quality of the air New Yorkers breathe, seems to have ground to a sputtering halt. Thanks to the outdated system of state control over matters of city policy—a relic of periods when the city was viewed as a reckless and corrupt spendthrift—the State Legislature is giddily poised to derail the Mayor’s plan. You might think that Speaker Silver, who represents Lower Manhattan, would use his considerable influence to help pass a plan which would significantly benefit his constituents. Alas, then you don’t know Shelly Silver. Back in 1999, he stood by as suburban and upstate legislators killed the commuter tax, depriving the city of hundreds of millions of dollars in yearly revenue.
So the next time you’re stuck in Manhattan gridlock, coughing on exhaust fumes and late for a business meeting or doctor’s appointment or dinner with your family, you have Shelly Silver and his cronies to thank.