Silver: Congestion pricing shot down

April 8, 2008 3:46:38 AM PDT
The state Assembly has rejected New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal to charge a fee to drive into parts of Manhattan to curb traffic and pollution, killing the plan, Speaker Sheldon Silver said Monday."The conference has decided that they are not prepared to do congestion pricing," Silver said. "I think you can speak to the members of the conferene who have made that determination."

The vote came after days of closed-door negotiations. It means the city will forfeit $354 million in federal money for kick-starting the initiative. The Legislature faced a Monday deadline to act on Bloomberg's proposal, which was already endorsed by Democratic Gov. David Paterson, the Republican-led Senate and the City Council.

"Many of them just don't believe in the concept," Silver said. "Many of them think this bill is flawed. So an overwhelming majority of the conference that opposes congestion pricing, and for that reason, the congestion pricing bill did not have anywhere near a majority of the Democratic conference, and will not be on the floor of the Assembly."

Support for the plan was luke-warm at best. There were no meaningful talks over the weekend. There is still no budget, and that is the issue in Albany.

The plan called for motorists to pay $8 and truckers $21 to drive south of 60th Street.

"What we are witnessing today is one of the biggest cop-outs in New York's history," said Bloomberg spokesman John Gallagher. "After insisting on the formation of a commission to make recommendations for a bill, and then for the City Council to vote to endorse that bill, the Assembly needs to stand up and be counted.

"They owe it to the majority of New Yorkers who support this plan, the scores of environmental groups, public health organizations, business leaders, unions, and the public at large, to put this proposal to a public vote," Gallagher said.

Silver said part of the problem with the proposal, which Bloomberg had said could begin next year, is that it doesn't immediately provide funding to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. He said the agency that runs the city's mass transit is already underfunded and needs to be bolstered before it takes on more commuters.

"That has to be the first job as we go forward," Silver said.

"The mayor is entitled to his vision," said Westchester Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Democrat and leading critic of the plan. "And the Legislature is entitled to say it isn't in the public interest."

Brodsky also said the Bloomberg administration failed to address all its concerns over a year, a claim the administration denies. Brodsky was on the congestion commission that held 21 public hearings, in addition to a City Council and Assembly hearing.

The administration in Albany provided a list of 16 major changes to which Bloomberg agreed.

But Brodsky said fundamental, even philosophical questions were never worked out. Among them, he said, was even the idea of charging people to use city streets.

Mayor Bloomberg issued the following statement:

"Today is a sad day for New Yorkers and a sad day for New York City. Not only won't we see the realization of a plan that would have cut traffic, spurred our economy, reduced pollution and improved public health, we will also lose out on nearly $500 million annually for mass transit improvements and $354 million in immediate federal funds.

"I will be speaking with Secretary Peters and will express my thanks for her commitment to innovative solutions to real problems facing large cities today. I will also express my deep disappointment that, sadly, even Washington, which most Americans agree is completely dysfunctional, is more willing to try new approaches to longstanding problems than our elected officials in the State Assembly. It takes true leadership and courage to embrace new concepts and ideas and to be willing to try something. Unfortunately, both are lacking in the Assembly today.

"If that wasn't shameful enough, it takes a special type of cowardice for elected officials to refuse to stand up and vote their conscience - on an issue that has been debated, and amended significantly to resolve many outstanding issues, for more than a year. Every New Yorker has a right to know if the person they send to Albany was for or against better transit and cleaner air. People know where I stood, and where members of the City Council stood. They deserved at least that from Albany.

"The idea for congestion pricing didn't start in our Administration and it won't end today. The $354 million we would have received from Washington tomorrow will go to another city in another state. But the problems congestion pricing could have helped solve are only going to get worse. And too many people from more than 170 environmental, labor, public health and business organizations recognize the merits of congestion pricing and hopefully someday, we will have more leaders in the Legislature who recognize it too.

"We will continue to push forward on the other 126 proposals in PlaNYC that will reduce our carbon footprint and green our City. We will move forward on proposals to plant 1 million trees, introduce hybrid taxis and install green roofs on City buildings. Congestion pricing is just one part of our ambitious agenda.

"I want to thank everyone who has worked tirelessly for congestion pricing and I want to acknowledge the courage and leadership that our partners in the City Council, Speaker Quinn, Governor Paterson, former Governor Spitzer, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco and some in the Legislature have shown by working together to convince their colleagues to support congestion pricing. Together, we will continue to work to build a greener, greater New York City."

Governor David Paterson issued the following statement:

"Earlier today, congestion pricing failed to achieve the consensus necessary to move forward on the state level. As I've said all along, this is an important program to reduce congestion and pollution in New York City while raising vitally needed funds for mass transit. Now we need to come up with innovative approaches to the challenge of funding mass transit. Over the next several days I will be working closely with my colleagues in the legislature and experts both in and outside of government to arrive at such solutions."

The Straphangers Campaign released the following statement:

"The Straphangers Campaign is sorely disappointed that congestion pricing will not move forward at this time.

But the serious problems remain and must be addressed: New York's subways, buses and commuter rail are in desperate need of many billions of dollars in operating and repair funds. And we are drowning in traffic congestion, which undermines our economy, our health and the quality of our lives.

Throughout the recent debate, the vast majority of state legislators made it clear that transit needs strong financial support if it is to well serve the city and downstate region. The Straphangers Campaign looks forward to working with state and local officials to secure the dollars needed to have a decent and affordable transit system."

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn released the following statement:

"I am disappointed that we missed an opportunity to make a significant investment in our mass transportation system, an investment that would have secured the long-term vitality of our city and improved the health of people living in our most congested neighborhoods.

In spite of this setback, the Council remains fully committed to environmental responsibility and to improving and expanding our mass transit system. We must now build new coalitions around forward-looking transportation policy that will improve public health and move people out of their cars and into buses, trains and ferries."