Deconstructing the MTA, Round Two
As the fight over congestion pricing heats up in Albany, a duo of familiar Long Island voices are taking on the argument against the plan to toll Manhattan’s central business district.
Former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy is leading the charge, through his Center for Cost Effective Governance think tank.
Joining him in the anti-congestion pricing fight: William Schoolman, who previously led the battle against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority payroll tax when he filed the first lawsuit arguing the tax was unconstitutional back in 2009. Schoolman used to head three bus lines that transported people to the Hamptons to Manhattan, but the companies went out of business in 2016.
This time around, Levy and Schoolman are focused on the MTA itself, arguing that the authority should go bankrupt rather than find ways to increase its revenue pot.
“It’s clear to us that the problems with the MTA revolve around their spending. It’s not a lack of revenue,” Levy said in an interview Wednesday. “You’ve got to blow it up and start from scratch.”
Levy said his criticism was mostly directed on how the MTA handles union work rules, overtime, salaries, and other spending decisions. But he also told The Point he doesn’t see congestion pricing as the answer to solving traffic issues in Manhattan. Instead, he’d argue for a way to lower existing tolls at off-peak hours -- without an increase during peak travel times, he said.
Perhaps showing his suburban bias, Levy suggested that congestion is mostly due to city officials’ focus on adding bike lanes, bus lanes and pedestrian plazas.
“You’re now forcing commuters to pay for [officials’] bad planning decisions,” he said.
For now, the Center for Cost Effective Governance is sticking to a strategy of “educating the public,” Levy said, and isn’t planning to take its fight to Albany as lawmakers hash out the budget during the next few weeks.
Levy told The Point the fight against congestion pricing will not, as of now, include a legal challenge like the MTA payroll tax lawsuit, because the same constitutional argument doesn’t exist.
“It doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen but we’re not making that allegation at this point,” Levy said. “This is about policy.”
Randi F. Marshall
The battle for Queens
Yet another referendum on the future of the Democratic Party is being fought. This one is in Queens, where the retirement of Richard Brown paves the way for the first open-seat district attorney race in decades.
Some half-dozen Democratic candidates are in the swing of things ahead of the June primary, largely embracing the recent spirit of prosecutorial reforms, such as fewer prosecutions for possessing small amounts of marijuana.
The contest includes established politicians with big warchests like City Councilman Rory Lancman and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who has the county Democratic endorsement.
One of the candidates who wants to do major reforms is Tiffany Cabán, a public defender, who is endorsed by the NYC Democratic Socialists of America and argues not just for more open discovery laws and an end to cash bail but also for different metrics to evaluate staff: including the ability to prevent recidivism and apply the law fairly.
Cabán tells The Point that she got more politically active during 2018 state races, contributing policy help for candidates who took on Independent Democratic Conference members in NYC (and won).
She has been compared to fellow young left-leaning Latina Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents parts of Queens and also had DSA’s organizers behind her in her surprise congressional win over Joe Crowley.
Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t endorsed in the race, but can her brand of politics win borough-wide, beyond progressive, Manhattan-adjacent precincts where organizers stoked anger about Amazon?
There are also large swathes of the borough where law and order might be more popular than reform. Former judge and prosecutor Greg Lasak has raised tens of thousands of dollars from law enforcement unions and could appeal to centrist voters.
Another potential complication: What happens to the Working Families Party if fusion voting is outlawed in Albany? The party hasn’t made an endorsement yet. But if the party is barred from putting the Democratic candidate on its line in November, or if the candidate the party prefers loses in the primary, Cabán or another candidate on a third party line could extend the intra-party debate into the fall.
Drinking the Kool-Aid
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Today in history
March 6 is one of those wonderfully eclectic days in history.
It was the day the Alamo fell to Mexican forces in 1836, and the day Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1964.
It was the day the radical Weathermen group accidentally exploded a bomb they were building in a Greenwich Village townhouse and killed three of their own in 1970, and the day the Oreo cookie was introduced in 1912.
All of which makes one wonder: What will happen on this March 6 that will take its place in history?