On Congestion Pricing, Cuomo Plays the Pundit, Not the Governor

At a distracted driving event yesterday, Andrew Cuomo dodged his own responsibility for the politics of transit funding. Image: Brigid Bergin/WNYC

Andrew Cuomo knows he’s the governor of New York, right?

You couldn’t tell from this exchange about congestion pricing yesterday, via Transportation Nation:

Q: Have you seen Sam Schwartz’s revised congestion pricing plan? Do you support it?

A: I have not seen it. We’ve talked about congestion pricing for many years. We’ve tried to pass it in the past. It hasn’t passed. I don’t know that anything has happened to change that dynamic. I just don’t know if you have the political support to pass it.

That’s the kind of detached punditry that might be appropriate coming from Chris Cuomo, TV journalist, but not the governor. Andrew Cuomo, for better and for worse, practically defines political support in this state.

Let’s look back at one of Cuomo’s signature achievements, passing a law allowing same sex marriage in New York. Two years before Cuomo signed that bill into law, gay marriage didn’t have political support either. It died by a vote of 38-24 in the State Senate. That’s significantly less support than bridge tolls had in the same year, which only needed votes from four more state senators.

Cuomo didn’t sagely nod his head and tell New York’s gay couples that he didn’t know if there was enough political support for them to marry. He launched an all-out effort to, in his words, change the dynamic.

Reported the New York Times:

“I can help you,” Mr. Cuomo assured [undecided legislators] in dozens of telephone calls and meetings, at times pledging to deploy his record-high popularity across the state to protect them in their districts. “I am more of an asset than the vote will be a liability.”

Nor do Albany politics-as-usual require Cuomo to keep mum. His two previous predecessors endorsed forms of road pricing well before the politics of the moment had crystallized. Many things doomed those two efforts, but support from the governor wasn’t one of them. “This is a necessary investment for the future of New York City, which is to a great extent the economic engine of New York State,” said Eliot Spitzer of congestion pricing in 2007. “And so this is not really a question of whether, it’s a question of how, it’s a question of making sure that we do it properly.”

David Paterson endorsed tolls on the East and Harlem River bridges the following year. “It’s either going to be fare hikes or it’s going to be tolls and a combination of payroll taxes, but it’s the only way,” he said.

Given Cuomo’s non-existent support for transit so far — in a little over a year as governor, Cuomo has raided dedicated transit funds, put hundreds of millions of dollars in MTA payroll tax revenue at risk, stripped popular transit elements out of plans for the new Tappan Zee Bridge and left the cost of the MTA’s capital plan on transit riders’ credit card — it’s perhaps the case that his punditry isn’t an outward-facing analysis of the legislative prospects for congestion pricing.

When Cuomo says, “I just don’t know if you have the political support to pass it,” he may just be talking about himself.