Cuomo: College Should Be Priced Rationally. Roads? Not So Much.

At a press conference today, Governor Cuomo touted a new plan to introduce a “rational” pricing mechanism to help the state provide critical resources to New York residents. He was talking, of course, about SUNY tuition, which will be structured to rise five percent a year for the next five years.

As for introducing a rational pricing mechanism to help provide critical infrastructure in the NYC region, the governor won’t stand up for that, apparently. Liz Benjamin reports that Cuomo branded the Port Authority’s proposal to raise Hudson River car tolls by $4 this year and $2 next year “a non-starter.” And, amid rumors that the Port Authority toll hikes could open the door to rational pricing of East River bridges, Cuomo threw cold water on the idea of reviving congestion pricing, saying he doesn’t believe the politics have changed since the Assembly killed it in 2008.

There’s a high degree of political theater going on here. Higher Hudson River tolls are probably coming in some form, even if they don’t end up as high as the current proposal. Cuomo and Chris Christie both stand to reap political rewards if the final numbers are lower than the Port Authority’s initial plans. (“They’re going to come in on a white horse and save the commuters and save the tollpayers — it’s the same thing every time,” one source told the Daily News.)

Still, Cuomo could have taken this opportunity to inject some realism into the public discussion of road pricing. Instead of of telling the press that it’s not a good time to be raising tolls, the governor could have acknowledged that congestion is a big drag on the local economy, infrastructure has to be paid for, and higher tolls will lead to less traffic, more carpooling, higher transit ridership and faster buses.

If you’re looking for a silver lining, it’s notable that Cuomo hasn’t said higher tolls would violate his pledge not to raise taxes. (He did say, however, in reference to the PA toll hike, that “the knee jerk response of ‘government needs more money, go to the taxpayer, put your hand in the taxpayer’s pocket, take out more money, and fund it’ — that doesn’t work for me.”) As Adam Lisberg reported today, if Cuomo makes a distinction between tolls and taxes, transit advocates are holding out hope for a revived push to fund the MTA by putting a price on driving into Manhattan below 60th Street. We’ll probably have to wait until budget season to see if it will gather any momentum in Albany, or if the governor will be content to let transit riders shoulder the burden for NYC’s under-funded transit system and irrationally priced roads.

Video: State of Politics