Andrew Yang needs to seize control of Gotham’s subway and bus system from Gov. Cuomo — one thing that may by no means occur. There is nothing incorrect with suggesting issues that received’t occur. But the manner Yang goes about it’s a reminder that although it’s good to have a recent face in politics, “fresh” shouldn’t imply “ignorant.”
Last week, Yang re-unveiled one in every of his signature proposals: “The plan is to take the case to Albany and the people of New York that the mayor should have control over the way that most New Yorkers get around.” The good arguments for this are acquainted, as a result of City Council Speaker Corey Johnson proposed them whereas considering his personal mayoral run.
It makes democratic sense for officers closest to residents to be accountable for a crucial public service. Former Mayor Mike Bloomberg made the similar level 20 years in the past, in taking over the faculties. And it makes sensible sense for the similar company that controls bus lanes(the metropolis Transportation Department) to management the precise buses. But Yang’s proposal makes no sense on a fiscal and political airplane.
The subways and buses don’t fund themselves with passenger fares. In a standard yr, they take in about $4.4 billion, practically half their revenues, from a slew of state taxes. There’s a petroleum tax, a tax on downstate payrolls, a gross sales tax and on and on.
The state Legislature and varied governors have authorized these taxes over 40 years, and so they’ve performed so as a result of the state maintains management. Why can’t the metropolis levy these taxes itself? Yang’s transit adviser, James Rubin, mentioned final week that’s what would occur. “The point is not to unwind the operating revenues,” he mentioned. “The actual flow of revenue is not gonna change one bit.”
But this will get to the basic pressure between metropolis and state.
The metropolis (when it isn’t in a historic pandemic that has price it a whole lot of 1000’s of jobs) has a number of financial energy, because it has the jobs and the individuals. But the state maintains political and financial energy. Aside from the property tax, the metropolis can’t impose any tax itself; it wants Albany’s permission.
The state would by no means give the Big Apple autonomy over an enormous swath of taxes, as a result of then the metropolis, mixed with its pure financial energy, can be much more highly effective than the state.
The mayor actually can be extra highly effective than the governor, which no governor needs.
Then there’s what would occur to the MTA’s $49.4 billion in debt, most of which is for metropolis tasks. Would the metropolis assure it? The metropolis then wouldn’t have cash for its personal necessary tasks, like rebuilding the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
A candidate hellbent on taking over transit regardless of these obstacles has a few choices.
He may suggest a ten p.c surcharge on property taxes to fund transit. (This truly makes some coverage sense, as property can’t go wherever, and the worth of property depends upon useful transit.)
Or he may assert a metropolis proper, not a state proper, to impose congestion pricing. Some sensible attorneys have lengthy claimed that the metropolis may name congestion pricing a price, not a tax.
But Yang didn’t recommend these issues — and he appeared unaware of fundamental transit realities.
It is ok not to know all the intricacies of MTA debt. But he didn’t appear conscious that the toll cash from the Triborough and different bridges and tunnels is meant to associate with the transit system, since “extra” cash from bridge crossers in automobiles helps defray transit deficits.
He additionally mentioned he wanted to management the transit system to management subway crime. It’s laudable that he needs to minimize crime — however the mayor already absolutely controls transit police.
These hurdles existed when Johnson steered a lot the similar factor in 2019. But two issues had been completely different.
First, Johnson’s employees, in a 104-page report, indicated a fluency of the fiscal and political points.
Second, we didn’t have a pandemic. Right now, the transit system, with 40 p.c of pre-COVID passengers, is operating itself fairly properly, thanks to large federal funding. The greatest deterrent to rebuilding ridership is crime.
Candidates ought to be centered on larger emergencies — not on establishing their first six months in workplace for a humiliating loss to Cuomo.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor of City Journal.