Rocky Road for 'Crash Tax'

The Wall Street Journal - March 23, 2011

by MICHAEL HOWARD SAUL

City Council Proposal Would Block Mayor's Plan to Charge Drivers in Accidents

The New York City Council is launching an effort to block Mayor Michael Bloomberg from imposing a so-called "crash tax" on motorists, introducing legislation Wednesday that would bar the administration from moving forward with the controversial measure.

City Council Member Peter Vallone Jr., chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee, is slated to introduce the bill at Wednesday's council meeting, but aides in Council Speaker Christine Quinn's office said there is a possibility that the mayor could withdraw the proposal first.

Spokesmen for both the mayor and the FDNY--which under the proposal would charge a fee for some emergency services--said there was no plan for retreat.

As The Wall Street Journal reported in January, Ms. Quinn, a Manhattan Democrat and potential 2013 mayoral candidate, strongly opposes the mayor's plan to charge drivers involved in accidents for emergency-response services. Since she submitted testimony opposed to the proposal, she's been quietly pressing the administration to back off.

"Speaker Quinn is engaged in ongoing discussions with members of the administration to ensure this unsafe and unfair proposal does not go forward," Jamie McShane, Ms. Quinn's spokesman, confirmed Tuesday.

Mr. Vallone said he's introducing his legislation because "it is clear that the city is serious about implementing this fee, and this is the only way that we would be able to stop it." It's important that the council stop the proposal, he said, because "it would set a very bad precedent."

"If city agencies start charging to provide protection then anything is possible," Mr. Vallone said. "If your house is burglarized too many times, the police could start charging you. If your store has too many shoplifters, the police can start charging a fee to show up."

Mr. Vallone said he expects the bill will get "overwhelming support" on the council. "I haven't spoken to one person who opposes it," he said.

An aide to Ms. Quinn said the speaker doesn't believe the legislation will be necessary because she's confident the administration will drop the proposal.

Last fall, as the Bloomberg administration grappled with a multibillion dollar budget deficit, the FDNY and the mayor decided New York City should join a growing number of municipalities around the country that are charging motorists involved in accidents for emergency-response services.

This so-called "crash tax," or "accident tax," is slated to start July 1 and is expected to draw more than $1 million in revenue a year. The administration does not need council permission to impose the fee.

According to the FDNY's plan, a vehicle fire or any other incident with injuries will cost $490. A vehicle fire without injuries will cost $415. And incidents without fire or injuries will cost $365.

Steve Ritea, a spokesman for the FDNY, said, "We're continuing to move forward with our plan to maintain our current level of service while working to generate revenue from the people who cause accidents."

The FDNY has said all vehicles that require roadside assistance will be charged the fee. Officials are hoping the party that is responsible for the crash--or that party's insurer--will shoulder the costs.

Jason Post, a spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg, said, "We support the fee because it shifts costs away from taxpayers and onto the insurance companies of negligent drivers."

If the council bars the administration from imposing the fee, the city will have to find money elsewhere to fill the gap, mayoral aides said. Mr. Bloomberg's preliminary budget proposal already calls for shuttering 20 fire companies.