Editorial: Nassau’s stake in congestion pricing

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Nassau County residents already paid high taxes before President Trump and a Republican Congress capped the deduction for state and local taxes at 10 percent to help pay for tax cuts for large corporations and the very rich.

Taxes were raised even further for half the taxpayers when County Executive Laura Curran correctly ordered the reassessment of all properties in Nassau. (We’ll skip, for the moment, the half of taxpayers who will actually see their taxes go down following the reassessment).

And now Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have come up with a plan to raise revenues for long overdue subway repairs that includes congestion pricing – a toll to enter the central business district south of 61st Street in Manhattan.

Should Nassau County residents and their representatives support this new expense to the many commuters on Long Island who drive to work in the city?

Well, yes. In fact, hell yes.

The income of many county residents – and all the good things that pays for in Nassau – is tied directly to the economy of New York City.

And the economy of New York City is directly tied to a transportation system that carries more than 1.4 million people to work each day.

And that transportation system is a mess.

State and city officials said the $1.4 billion a year raised by the plan could be used to back bonds of $20 billion to $22 billion over five years.

The money, according to a release from the governor and mayor, would be dedicated to MTA capital needs “with priority given to the subway system.”

This, combined with other funding sources, would be a step toward creating a well-funded and well-managed MTA.

For Long Island Rail Road riders, this would mean new train cars, upgraded switches, improved stations and modernized technology and communications.

That would be in addition to a reduction in traffic on Manhattan streets, cleaner air and a safer place for pedestrians.

The tolling plan would feature higher tolls at peak times – a format that has enjoyed great success across the globe. What the actual cost of tolls would be is still up in the air. A task force created by Cuomo proposed last year that drivers pay $11.52 to enter Manhattan south of 60th Street.

The plan drawn up by Cuomo and de Blasio also calls for additional sources of revenue and changes to the MTA.

The new sources of revenue proposed so far would come from an internet sales tax and the planned sales taxes on marijuana, which the Legislature is expected to soon legalize in the state.

We assume Nassau residents and legislators who oppose the sale of marijuana for recreational use by adults in the county would accept this money —  as long as it was generated outside of Nassau County.

Other revenue ideas include reinstating the 0.45 percent commuter tax on the income of people who live in the New York suburbs. Republican legislators, along with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, succeeded in abolishing the tax in 1999.

We expect that there would be little appetite among Long Island representatives for the tax, which would cost $450 for a person making $100,000 a year.

Although Long Island residents and representatives might want to keep in mind that former MTA Chief Joseph Lhota noted in 2012 that the authority subsidized the Long Island Rail Road by $7 per ride compared with $1 per ride for the subways.

Opposition to congestion pricing has generally come from lawmakers who represent the borough outside Manhattan and the suburbs.

Long Island lawmakers say they now back congestion pricing, but want LIRR commuters to see some money from the new tolls and for drivers paying bridge tolls not to be double charged.

That seems reasonable.

These lawmakers could play an even more important role by pressing for changes needed to ensure that the money collected for both the subways and the Long Island Rail Road is better spent.

A New York Times investigation in 2017 found that the estimated cost of the East Side Access project to provide a stop at Grand Central Terminal for Long Island commuters had ballooned to $12 billion, “or nearly $3.5 billion for each new mile of track – seven times the average elsewhere in the world.”

This, as the Times noted, was at a time when the MTA had cut back on core subway maintenance.

The Times also found that trade unions closely aligned with Cuomo and other politicians have “secured deals requiring underground construction work to be staffed with as many as four times more laborers than elsewhere in the world.”

Cuomo’s plan does call for consolidating the MTA’s six entities, which could cut costs and make the authority more efficient.

But the biggest savings probably would entail renegotiating union contracts to change work rules and consolidating the workforces of the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad.

Renegotiating union contracts ought to be easier than it sounds, thanks to the ridiculously wasteful rules that have been in effect for many years.

Due to those rules and other mismanagement of capital projects, there is such a backlog of what needs to done in the MTA system that union members could be guaranteed all the work they want – as long as they agree to actually work.

The plan put forward by Cuomo and de Blasio also calls for the creation of a six-member oversight board for capital construction and congestion.

Long Island’s legislators must ensure that this board must be structured to add accountability, not more bureaucracy.

New Yorkers deserve a modern transit system on par with the best around the world.

Building one is crucial for the future of the New York Metropolitan area, including Nassau County.

 

 

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