The next ‘Stay in N.J.’ program: Why congestion tax hurts N.J. commuters — but could ultimately help N.J. economy

New York City officials say their congestion pricing system will collect billions for mass transit — and discourage drivers from clogging up Midtown Manhattan. It’s a win-win, as it enables cities to not only raise money to fight climate change, but also help the climate while doing so.

The proposed $17-$23 fee for drivers who enter Manhattan south of 60th Street could go into effect as soon as next year.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5th Dist.) isn’t buying it.

He doesn’t think the plan will work — it will only shift traffic and pollution, he said.

He thinks its real purpose is simply as a money grab — for a failed MTA system, he said.

Most of all, he said, it violates the spirt of the Port Authority relationship New Jersey has had with New York for more than 100 years.

The two states have long worked together to determine pricing for buses, trains and cars — in whatever fashion they travel between the two states. And they have long split those fees.

Until now.

“As soon as you get into New York, they, in essence, extend the tunnel further and add another $23 onto the end of the tunnel,” he said. “It’s a total violation of the spirit of the Port Authority cooperative relationship.”

No taxation without the spirit of cooperation?

New York doesn’t seem to care.

According to Gottheimer, New York officials have done studies that have shown traffic and pollution will only move elsewhere in the city — to the outer boroughs. 

It’s a small price to pay if it means New Jersey can pick up the tab for the MTA’s failures, Gottheimer said.

“New York has a problem,” he said. “Their MTA is a mess — and it’s running $2 billion-a-year deficits. It’s a disaster. It’s the worst mismanaged mass transit in the country.”

He might be right. A recent study showed the MTA lost approximately $690 million last year just to fare jumpers.

“People just didn’t pay to ride,” Gottheimer said.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer. (File photo)

New York’s solution, Gottheimer said, is to get the money from Jersey. And that makes no sense, he said.

“If we have a cooperative transportation relationship, you can’t just blow it up,” he said.

But what can be done? A solution to this problem isn’t easy to find.

Gotthemier said there could be bipartisan legislation to defund the MTA if it goes through with the congestion pricing plan. That seems unlikely to happen.

And Gov. Phil Murphy — who always says you pay more, but you get more — has threatened to sue New York. Again, long shot. Or, at least, something that will take years to litigate.

The best-case scenario for New Jersey may be for people to respond with their pocketbooks.

It will be harder for companies to get their employees to return to work if it means an extra $23 a day. That reluctance can only hurt retail businesses — and commercial real estate prices — in New York City.

It may make it easier to convince NYC companies to open offices in New Jersey, which would keep more tax dollars in the state.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for New Jersey businesses to say — besides the commuting time, besides the cost of commuting, besides the fact that Jersey is just much better than New York — come here, where we support our local businesses, and get home earlier and see your kids go to their baseball game,” Gottheimer said. 

“it’s a huge argument for businesses to come here. I think it’s great that we just did tax incentives out of the state for that. We should do more.”