The Dysfunctional Death of Congestion Pricing

“Shelly just came out of our conference and said our conference does not have the support to bring this to the floor,” Democratic Assemblyman Mark Weprin yesterday told reporters after a meeting with Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assembly democrats about Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion-pricing bill. “I want to be clear that the conference was overwhelmingly against it,” he further said.

To say that congestion pricing died because the Assembly members were against it is of course true, but not the point. When items are important to Speaker Silver he has this habit of “leading” his conference. He will maintain that his style is to engage his members and compromise, and his ability to bully the legislature is overstated. That is, of course, ridiculous—the Speaker usually gets what he wants. The bottom line is that Shelly Silver killed congestion pricing.

The fact that it didn’t even come up for a vote tells you that this is isn’t about democracy and accountability, but more of the dysfunctional, disingenuous politics we’ve all gotten used to in Albany.

At least here in New York City we had a vote and 30 council members voted for the bill while 20 voted against it. Even the State Congestion Commission that Mr. Silver helped create managed a vote on Jan. 31, when they stood 13-2 in favor of congestion pricing. In the legislature, they don’t bother to vote in public, they just pronounce the bill dead and move on to the next item of business.

While Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal was far from perfect, and he and his people obviously failed to make the sale with the legislature, what comes next? Do we just ignore the congestion and hope that the million people moving to the city in the next twenty years decide to go somewhere else? Is that the Assembly’s idea of sound economic development policy? Are they trying to make sure that downstate starts to depopulate like upstate? I’ll be interested in seeing Speaker Silver’s proposal to fund mass transit and reduce traffic in New York City. Obviously, solving the City’s transit problem is less important to the Speaker than playing politics. Using his typical rope-a-dope style, he let this bill die the death of a thousand cuts. Why was there no effort to develop an alternative that might still manage to move the process forward and allow the city to receive the $354 million dollars of federal aid? Why was the alternative to the Mayor’s creative proposal … nothing?

Perhaps some time soon we’ll start to wake up and decide that New York State really needs a government. We need to take on the issue of economic and environmental sustainability—which are really one and the same. We need to invest in green jobs and start attracting business and people back to New York State. Instead of a government in Albany we have this pork-laden, patronage-packed, unethical joke of a legislature. It’s a government that can’t pass a budget on time, has us all in hock to special interests and can’t even manage to vote on an issue as important as transportation in Manhattan.

New York City is growing because it is an exciting place to be and because business and government are slowly learning to work together. The city succeeds in spite of the mess in Albany. Unfortunately, the communities up state are faring less well. They need a state government that comes up with creative new approaches to attracting business and people. Instead, they’ve got a state government that seems better at killing creative ideas than coming up with them.

Yesterday’s non-decision on congestion pricing shows that Governor Patterson has a real challenge on his hands. Can he turn the place around and create a state government that is up to the challenges of the 21st century? Judging by the congestion pricing debacle, it doesn’t look promising.

The Dysfunctional Death of Congestion Pricing