NY Candidate Cuomo: Congestion Pricing "Moot"

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(New York -- Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo has been a bit of a cipher when it comes to transportation and transit.  He's bemoaned MTA inefficiencies, called into question an employer-tax imposed last year to help bail out the MTA, and said fares shouldn't go up. But he's said little about financing the authority over the long term.

Today, in his most extensive remarks to date on transit, he didn't add much.

The occasion was the release of his 273-page urban agenda, which by the way, did NOT include transit.  It was the kind of "urban agenda" you'd hear in the 1990's: anti-poverty, affordable housing, minority jobs. (By contrast, Shaun Donovan, the current HUD Secretary -- Cuomo's former job -- has made sustainable, walking, transit-rich communities a major plank in his agenda.)

But all the journalists there, pretty much, wanted to talk transit.  In fact, I didn't raise the subject.  A Daily News reporter did.

"There's going to be a need for more efficiency," Cuomo said of the MTA.  "More effectiveness, better management.  You can't have over $500 million in overtime. You can't have thousands of people making over $100,000 a year .  I believe the Governor should be accountable for the MTA."

My turn.  But what about funding for the MTA?  Does he support congestion pricing?  [As Mayor Bloomberg does?]  Bridge tolls? [As Lt. Governor Richard Ravitch does?]

"Congestion pricing was proposed," Cuomo parried.  "It was discussed.  It was basically rejected by the legislature.   I don't know that there's been any change in opinion.  I think it's moot.  I understand the concept.  I understand that it was rejected.  I don't think it would pass if it came up again, unless something changed."

Without offering specifics, he added. "There's going to be a number of revenue raisers. The instinct is going to be to say 'more money more money more money.'   I understand that.  Part of the discipline I want to bring is a fiscal discipline to the state and the MTA.  The answer can't always be more money."

But then Melissa Russo of WNBC Channel 4 asked (I'm paraphrasing): how could he say, if it didn't happen, it won't happen?  What about all the other things he wants to happen -- like government reform?  Isn't the problem that the legislature hasn't made them happen?

Cuomo said:  "Melissa, there is no doubt just because it didn't happen in the past, it can't be the precedent that it won't happen in the future, otherwise we would get nothing done.  My point is I don't want to go to revenue raisers first."

Then Marcia Kramer of Channel 2 chimed in (paraphrase, again).  So what's his plan to raise capital funds for a 21st century transit system (she actually said, "21st century transit system."

"Marcia, I --there is no doubt that the MTA requires large sums of money to operate. There' no doubt that the capital projects have to be funded.  But my response is the same.  Fiscal discipline, look at the word discipline. What I'm trying to say about state government and the authorities is the first instinct has to be how do we do more with less?"

"Once you thoroughly exhaust that process, if you get to the point when you say, we looked at the budget with a fine-tooth comb, we did everything we could and we have not determined we need additional revenue then you have the conversation at that time."

My turn, again.  But, he said he was issuing his policy books because he wanted people to know his plans.  Because, he said, he wanted to be held accountable.

"I am not going to assume you need to raise more money at this point..if you go to that as your opening gambit then you have just extinguished, for all intents and purposes, trying to find any economies."

He begins to sound even more Cuomoesque as he wraps:

"Just -- more money, put more money on top, just keep pouring the money in, that's what we've done for a lot of years, it's one of the reasons the state is in 8 billion deficit, it's one of the reasons taxes are so high, it's one of the reasons people are leaving the state."

Oh, by the way, I did get to ask why transit wasn't part of his urban agenda.  His answer:  "Not every topic is covered in the urban agenda right? ... This is the sixth book we put out...Transportation we did not cover in the urban agenda..Transportation normally isn't covered in urban areas -- as long as I've been in it."

As they say on TV, "so there you have it."

More tonight on WNYC's All Things Considered.