19 Comments

Another sad fact is that the city has already spent $500 million purchasing and installing equipment to enforce congestion pricing. Additional monies that are simply down the toilet. There really is something to the conservative narrative that government doesn't care how it spends the taxpayer's dollars - because you're legally obligated to give it to them and there's always a never-ending supply of it. If this debacle doesn't clearly illustrate that problem then I don't know what would.

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I feel like there's competing narratives "if you give the government more money, it will do more stuff" and "if you give the government more money, it will do the same stuff but it will cost more". It really does feel like some places like NYC and California are hellbent on proving the second narrative applies to them. I also worry that the "tax the rich" mentality that I encountered when I lived in California meant people were just very tolerant of wasting money. Who cares if we waste some money, we can just tax the rich some more! Republicans for all their problems have a greater incentive to worry about efficiency.

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California initiatives are always designed so the top 1-2% pay 100% of that particular tax. The authors of such initiatives know it makes it more likely they'll pass but on the other hand - it makes budgeting in our state extremely difficult as the fortunes of the wealthy rise and fall with the markets. And then so do the fortunes of those particular programs.

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Yeah, and with the highest marginal income tax in the country, there's going to be diminishing returns for each tax hike, people will move out or find sneaky ways to establish residency in other states etc. The only reason California can set the rate as high as it has (13.3%) is that none of its population centres are within commuting range of other states.

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Reading all of these takes about NY and NYC makes me chuckle until I realize that I live in Chicago.

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Congestion pricing is a good idea from an economics standpoint as price discrimination. But people hate it. They hate when you’re Wendy’s and want to implement congestion pricing on your lunch hour rush, and they hate it when you’re the government imposing on your rush hour bridges.

Maybe New York can convert it into the world’s most expensive bike path.

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They don't hate it after it gets implemented, ask London or Stockholm.

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It still has plenty of haters there though it's obviously not unpopular enough to repeal it.

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I know this sounds a bit like “aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” but East Side Access aside (yes, I know, you can stop laughing), the LIRR has actually been doing a pretty good job on their recent capital projects, like adding a third track on the main line, removing grade crossings etc. These have been coming in at or under budget and in some cases under schedule as well. I think the real political failure has been within the city proper, and failing to do further expansions in the outer boroughs. That would get more of those folks much more invested in transit. IBX is promising, but why don’t we have Utica Ave? Why doesn’t the 7 go to College Point? Why aren’t we re-activating old existing rail lines on Staten Island? It goes on and on.

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Making the 7 go to College Point would be interesting as I grew up there and my parents still live there but think the local opposition to it would be immense, as there was when building a new train to LaGuardia was vocally opposed by people in Astoria/Ditmars.

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Not to be overly reductionist, but the problem is public sector unions.

Most statewide NY elections are essentially over the day after the the Democrat Primary. This gives a huge advantage to unions that can throw early money behind favored candidates and organize turn out among their rank and file. The long term affect has been the decay of both effective state capacity (public institutions can't remove bad teachers/cops/civil servants or pay effective ones enough to retain them) and the looting of massive tax receipts to pay inflated salaries and retirement benefits.

There is no appropriate counter-party to the tell the public sector unions in NYS "no". Any infrastructure project has to be snuck past (or bribed past) unions that otherwise demand any new revenue goes to more union jobs or exorbitant wages. Money that could deliver world class public transportation instead ends up in Florida paying for the $250k retirements of 55yr old MTA workers and NYPD officers. Hell, part of the reason congestion pricing failed was relatively affluent public sector unions (NYPD, MTA, etc) organizing against it.

FDR was right about this. The modern DNC needs to realize that their friends in the public sector are often the reason why their transformative agenda sputters and stalls out in deep blue states.

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The political power of public sector unions is definitely a problem for MTA operating costs. For capital costs, there is also a large labor element, but it's the building trades rather than public-employee unions. Even so, a huge problem for the MTA's capital costs is bad design. The projects are far larger than necessary -- like literally, station caverns that are 4x as many cubic feet as they need to be -- which leads to excessive spend on both materials and labor. Since the labor is already too expensive on a per-hour basis, requiring way more labor than you should is catastrophic for cost. And while it's very hard to take on the unions in New York, the MTA should be able to do more cost-effective design without needing to fight the unions.

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Jun 7·edited Jun 7

Unions in France are even more powerful than they are in New York and yet somehow the Paris metro keeps expanding at a fraction of NY prices.

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It seemed like they were getting better on this? I thought the new designs for Second Ave Phase 2 were significantly cut back?

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Connecting congestion pricing and how efficient the MTA would be in spending money seems kinda weird. I get that the congestion pricing was proposed as a means to increase total MTA funding but presumably the state legislature could just vote to implement congestion pricing and then cut the taxes that fund the MTA proportionality if they wanted.

At least at a policy level it seems like there are two independent questions:

1) What is the optimal funding level for the MTA.

2) Is congestion pricing a better way to generate revenue for the MTA than taxes that provide most of its current revenue.

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There's a way to make congestion pricing far less unpopular: instead of handing it to a transit agency, distribute it out to the residents of the metro area in the manner of the Alaska Fund dividends. $1 billion a year would fund distributions of $50 per year per person to everyone in the metro area, $200 per year for a household of four. If it could be confined solely to residents of New York state within the metro area, the payout to a family of four would increase to about $300 per year. Many people would love getting that money in their bank account, and all the benefits from decreased congestion would still accrue.

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Yes, I think connecting the congestion tax revenue to the MTA was a huge mistake and sort of made it seem like reducing congestion was secondary to providing revenue for the MTA.

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Geez Josh, don’t let Ken hear you talking like that, he’s going to think you are a libertarian.

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Josh, do you think one answer to cut through all this regulatory morass and governmental inefficiency is to elect New England-style Republicans or Democrats who are more aggressive in making government work well?

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