Michael Bloomberg is an economically rational animal. The
federal government has half a billion dollars or so that it would love to throw
at a New York City congestion-pricing scheme. So Bloomberg put together such
a scheme. Result: half a billion dollars in free money! Or, not so much. For
of course this isn’t just New York City, home of bankers and economists and
billionaires who know a good opportunity when they see one. This is New York
State, home of ridiculously
arcane politics, a place where a personal beef between the governor and
the senate majority leader carries much greater weight than any federal dollars.
This is New York State, where one man, Shelly Silver, whose
constituents almost without exception support the congestion charge, will happily
watch it wither on the vine for reasons which even the New York Times editorial
begin to fathom.
Insofar as there’s formal, reasoned
opposition to the congestion charge, it’s being led by assemblyman Richard
Brodsky, who (aside from getting huge campaign contributions from the
owners of Manhattan parking garages) is quibbling
over such minor details as the exact cross street at which the congestion charge
will start, and the exact hours during which it will be in effect.
Of course, if Brodsky actually cared about those details, he’d make sure that
New York got the $500 million from the Feds first, and would then try to use
that money as best he could. But in New York State, there’s precious little
in the way of economically rational thought: much better that the city lose
half a billion bucks than that it should have the opportunity of reducing the
enormous costs in terms of time and money and health that are paid by New Yorkers
every day while negotiating traffic jams and belching cars.
Question for Tyler Cowen, or anybody else who likes to use
economics to explain human behavior: Why on earth would the New York state assembly
leave $500 million lying on the table like this? All they need to do is approve
in a timely manner a plan which will happen anyway. And why is Silver, in particular,
being so spectacularly unhelpful? I said
back in 2003 that New York behaves much like a dysfunctional Latin American
nation. Since then, most Latin nations have got their act together, certainly
in terms of fiscal policy. New York, meanwhile, has gotten precisely nowhere.