There is no question that COVID-19 does not discriminate in its massive harm to New Yorkers. Thousands of businesses forced to close their doors, millions of workers left scrambling for a paycheck, and the daily fears about the wellbeing of our friends and families.
This is an unprecedented situation for everyone — government included.
Last week we returned to Albany to vote on a state budget at a time where New York faces a $15 billion shortfall. Instead of taking a closer look at government spending and revenue streams and developing sound fiscal planning that will actually help hard-working taxpayers, Albany Democrats doubled down on their lack of leadership demonstrated by their failure to address congestion pricing — an unapproved scheme which will force drivers to pay “tolls” as they enter Manhattan business zones.
When I introduced legislation to repeal this misguided policy, I did so out of concerns that this was another tax on the middle class. Call me crazy, but I don’t think the MTA should put the burden of their mismanagement on hard-working New York drivers who already deal with skyrocketing costs of living and burdensome business regulations. If implemented, to avoid this new tax, more and more commuters will be forced to utilize public transportation to get to and from work, shop, and conduct business.
Is this really what we want?
We now live in the COVID-19 era. A time of great uncertainty for all of us. One thing, however, that is widely agreed upon is that once daily life returns to some sense of normalcy, we will all have rightful concerns about public gatherings especially on packed subway cars and buses.
With no reliable vaccine and no plans to add buses or improve subway service, travel via our own personal vehicles will undoubtedly be the safest and most cost-effective form of transportation for suburban commuters. This includes our heroes working on the front lines and the critical members of our workforce who keep our country moving forward. After all their sacrifice throughout this crisis, asking them to pay a toll-tax and further risk their health to commute to their jobs is just not right.
Simply put, implementing a congestion pricing scheme now is not only a threat to our wallets, but also to our health.
Nor is it right to charge a toll-tax that would discourage people from visiting New York City. Once our economy is reopened and people have recovered physically and financially from this crisis, we should encourage them to patronize Manhattan’s restaurants, bars, entertainment, and nightlife. Once the lockdown ends, these businesses will need customers and it is irresponsible for government to implement a policy that could scare them away.
While the State’s response to COVID-19 has been laudable, the fact remains that millions of New Yorkers are struggling and thousands of businesses need, and will continue to need, real economic relief not another hand in their pockets. This congestion pricing tax scheme should be put on hold indefinitely and we should focus on smart economic recovery not partisan policies that hurt our great workforce.
Mike LiPetri is a New York State Assemblyman representing the ninth district.