Last month, New York City Transit president Andy Byford released a sweeping plan to fix the subway system. Titled “Fast Forward,” it has been lauded by transit advocates as the solution that straphangers have been waiting for, but its price tag (early estimates say it will cost at least $19 billion) leaves one key question on the table: How is the MTA going to pay for it?
Governor Andrew Cuomo did not publicly commit to funding the plan in the week following its release, but his main challenger in this September’s Democratic Primary, Cynthia Nixon, has been quick to jump on the issue. The state of the MTA has been a cornerstone of her campaign, and last week she released a plan of her own to improve New York City’s subway service.
Nixon’s plan isn’t so much an innovative report as it is a greatest hits of transit initiatives from the past decade (think “Now That’s What I Call a Subway Plan”). She reinforces many of the measures proposed in Byford’s plan, like the rapid upgrade of the subway’s signaling system and the rollout of new subway cars. And her plan to pay for the fixes combine a pair of proposals that have been bouncing around in both City Hall and Albany for years: congestion pricing and a millionaire’s tax.
The push for congestion pricing, which would essentially levy tolls on drivers in the busiest parts of Manhattan, predates Cuomo’s tenure in office. Janette Sadik-Khan, who was New York City’s Department of Transportation commissioner during the second half of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, tried and failed to pass a congestion pricing plan. The Cuomo-commissioned Fix NYC Advisory Panel released a report earlier this year that advocated for congestion pricing, but the governor all but left it out of his latest budget (he did throw in a small surcharge for for-hire vehicle services like Uber and Lyft, but critics say that it doesn’t go far enough).
As for the millionaire’s tax, Nixon is also riffing off an idea that was pushed forward by Sadik-Khan a decade ago, which was regurgitated by Mayor Bill de Blasio last year during his ongoing feud with Cuomo over the source subway repair funding. “Cuomo’s austerity budgets have starved localities of much needed infrastructure resources,” her plan says. “By increasing revenue generated through a Millionaire’s Tax, we can dedicate a portion of the additional funds for fixing our subways.”
In an interview on NY1 on Friday, Cuomo clapped back at Nixon, stating that congestion pricing did not get approved by the state legislature in this year’s budget and that a millionaire’s tax has failed to garner enough votes in Albany for several years. “There is virtually no legislative leader who said they support [the tax],” he said. “So while it's a great political idea because the only people who are opposed to it are the millionaires. From a legislative point of view, there's been a real concern that we will chase people with wealth from the state.”
So while Nixon’s pitch might not be the most original in the world, it does put her in a position to continue to call out Cuomo on the topic. Whether or not she actually gets the chance to deliver on these ideas will be up to the voters come September—the latest poll puts Cuomo ahead by 22 points.