Monday, April 07, 2008

Shelly, You Can Drive Your Car

Tonight Betty and Bimbo are disappointed and depressed by the fact of another dream deferred. The silent death came today to the idea of congestion pricing in New York City -- the plan that would charge drivers $8 to drive into Manhattan during peak hours, and use the money to improve and extend public transportation. The proposal passed in New York City, but never even came to an open vote in the New York State assembly.

The plan would raise the cost of entering Manhattan on the bridges by only a few dollars. The first priority of the money raised by the initiative (and by a generous federal grant for the project -- also lost today) would be to extend the subway line into parts of Queens that are currently underserved by NYC's public transportation system.

While some analysts will (predictably) blame the death of congestion pricing on Mayor Bloomberg's unpolitic style, the real culprit is one of the most craven power-hungry and morally bankrupt politicians in America: State Rep. Sheldon Silver.

Rep. Silver, of course, "represents" the interests of Lower Manhattan in Albany. Even the most no-nothing opponents of congestion pricing grasp that this area would benefit dramatically were a congestion pricing plan to pass.

Our one hope is that Speaker Christine Quinn, if elected New York City's next Mayor, will carry the torch that Bloomberg lit in the name of environmental and transportation justice. Our job is to continue fighting to realize the dream of better public transit and improved air quality in New York City (where asthma rates are above the national average, of course). Further, we must hold accountable the politicians who quashed at the state level a plan that many New Yorkers would have benefited from. The major culprits are: Sheldon Silver, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, Assemblyman Mark Weprin, City Council Member David Weprin and Westchester State Rep. Richard Brodsky.

Throw the bums out!

***UPDATE***: Today's New York Times scorches Sheldon Silver:

Without congestion pricing, the public can expect to pay in other, less equitable ways: additional taxes, higher fares, reduced transit service or all of the above. Mr. Silver now owes it to New York to come up with an alternative plan to provide a steady source of new funds for the financially strapped Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

We’ve seen Mr. Silver’s style of leadership before. In 1999, he cavalierly killed the commuter tax, costing the city, so far, more than $5.5 billion. It’s always difficult to pinpoint the motivations of the opaque and narrowly political Mr. Silver. Certainly, the speaker has made little effort to disguise his personal dislike for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who proposed congestion pricing. But there is no place for personal grudges in leading the state and city of New York.

The congestion-pricing plan was not perfect, but it improved over time. Mr. Silver did not seem to put any effort into addressing the concerns of its opponents or into moving his members to do the right thing.

He failed to put New Yorkers’ needs before his personal agenda. That makes him unworthy of his office.

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