You may remember that two years ago the State Assembly killed a plan to charge drivers for using the "free" East River bridges - currently maintained with general tax dollars - and use the money to make up for funding cuts to subways, buses and commuter rail. Last year, the State Senate killed another version of the plan.
While it can be fun to put the blame on obstructionist leaders like Assemblymembers Brodsky and Dinowitz and Senators Espada and Diaz, the fact remains that even those legislators who were the most in favor, like Senator Duane and Dick Gottfried, gave very tepid support. The rest of the legislators clearly didn't see tolls as a win for their constituents, and were probably holding out for some deal that never materialized.
People all over the state are frustrated with the legislature for other issues like voting down gay marriage, shutting down the Senate with partisan squabbling, and the current budget craziness. There is probably more momentum for replacing the incumbents than at any time in the past.
Sadly, although some of the challengers this year would be better on LGBT issues or gerrymandering, most of them, like Michael Gianaris, seem content to continue lavishing our tax money on "free" bridges for solo suburban drivers.
But I don't want to be completely depressing. There are a few bright lights here and there. One of them is in Senate District 16 ("the Jewish Gerrymander," PDF), which has long been represented by the useless Toby Ann Stavisky. During the debate on the Ravitch Plan, Stavisky was "unalterably opposed" to tolls on the 4.5% of her constituents who use the bridges, but "excited" about the plan that wound up being passed - which turned out to be a total failure. One particular quote from Stavisky is amusing - in a frustrating kind of way: "One of the problems is that there’s a sense of distrust between the legislators and the MTA — well-earned I must say." Yes, she certainly worked hard for it.
In probably the most reassuring news about the Senate this year, Stavisky is being challenged by retired biologist Isaac Sasson, who will be spending a million dollars on the primary. How did a cancer biologist get a million dollars? He won $13 million in the Lotto in 2007.
Unlike many Senate candidates, we don't need to ask Sasson whether he's in favor of bridge tolls. In 1991, long before he was a multi-millionaire, he wrote a letter to the Times suggesting that while vehicles with three or more occupants should cross for free, those with two occupants should pay five dollars and those with only one should pay twenty.
Of course, per-vehicle tolls already provide an incentive to carpool: if the toll is $10, then two occupants each pay $5, and three would pay $3.33 (and take turns paying the extra penny). Maybe Sasson felt that carpoolers need an even greater incentive. Or maybe it's evidence of the lottery being a tax on people who flunked math. Either way, replacing Stavisky with Sasson would be a big win for the people of the 16th District, which is as much of a doormat for suburban cars as the 12th.