Though he declined to discuss specific revenue streams, Lhota said that “an expansion of the sales tax, the small proportion that’s received, would be very very helpful, would go a long way.” […]
Lhota said that biennial toll increases were part of the MTA’s long-term budget moving forward, but worried the levels were already too high. “I’m concerned about the level that we have on the bridges right now,” he said, “because they are extremely high and are reducing economic growth and economic development in the region.”
How on earth could higher bridge tolls be more of a drag on the economy than higher sales taxes? He talks as if there is some magic number where bridge tolls kill the economy, which we happen to be just below. But I’m sitting next to two bridges that are priced at $0 in both directions. If this “level” is killing business, it’s because of the congestion it reliably induces.
Lhota’s implied belief that it is less damaging to the local economy to raise $X million via higher taxes on goods and services than to place a higher price on underpriced and overcrowded auto crossings is hogwash. Sales taxes directly discourage commerce and hit New York’s poorest and richest alike. Bridge tolls on the other hand discourage driving alone, and completely avoid the majority of New Yorkers who don’t drive because they can’t afford it or choose not too.
There’s no dilemma. Tolls are better for the region and especially the riding public that Lhota is charged with serving. What the MTA needs is not just revenue, but someone with the integrity and courage to advocate raising it in ways that are socially beneficial.