New Jersey mayor floats retaliatory commuter tax for congestion pricing

JERSEY CITY, New Jersey (WABC) -- A New Jersey mayor is floating the idea of a retaliatory commuter tax for drivers leaving New York after lawmakers in Albany approved a controversial congestion pricing plan in its latest budget agreement.

The first-in-the-nation tolls will be imposed starting in 2021 on vehicles traveling south of 61st Street in Manhattan as a way to discourage traffic and raise money for the city's ailing subways and regional commuter rail systems.

Similar tolls are already in place in cities including London, Singapore, Stockholm.

Though the amount of the toll has not yet been decided, it cost nearly $12 for personal vehicles, according to a report issued last year.

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop took to Twitter, writing, "If NY does a commuter tax that only funds @MTA + exempts NYC residents from the tax - why should NJ not implement a commuter tax on NYC residents leaving NYC that exempts NJ residents so WE can fund our transit."

A state official said there are no plans for New Jersey to implement reverse congestion pricing, but Fulop says his tweet -- mostly tongue in cheek -- was meant to start a regional conversation.

"If New Jersey said, hypothetically, OK, we're going to invoke a tax and exempt New Jersey people, I mean, I would think that's counterproductive," he said. "The only reason I put that out there was to say that you should have a regional conversation. This isn't helpful just to say this is one solution to fund just the MTA."

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy's administration says it has already communicated to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo its expectation that New Jersey's voice will be heard as the MTA forms its review board to decide the congestion pricing details.

A letter from Murphy refers to the inequity that would exist if Holland and Lincoln tunnel drivers were exempted from congestion pricing by virtue of them being deposited into the congestion pricing zone, while George Washington Bridge drivers would not be exempt.

Asked Monday if New York had responded to those concerns, newly installed MTA Chairman Pat Foye said that since the review board is in charge of "all the exceptions" and it has not yet been formed, effectively no decisions on exceptions have yet been made.

"We responded to, I guess, in a way, to the governor's comment, and took all the exemptions out of across the Hudson and across the East River," Foye said. "So that was responsive."

The Murphy administration also noted in the letter that commuter railroads in New York counties served by LIRR and Metro North are receiving 10 percent each of congestion pricing revenue and suggested some of that money be shifted to "constrained and aging NJ Transit and PATH mitigate the burden created on those systems" from an expected increase in ridership when congestion pricing goes into effect in 2021.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also responded to Fulop's suggestion.

"I appreciate our neighbors in New Jersey, but that has not been the focal point in our discussion," he said. "This is about fixing our subways for our people, and the entire region depends on our subway and bus system. It's for everyone, so I would argue...if we didn't fix our subways, people in Jersey would be hurt too because the entire economy depends on our subways."

Calls for congestion tolls had been dismissed for years as a political long shot until Cuomo made it a priority this year, along with an accompanying overhaul of the MTA.

Even with key details unresolved, transit advocates praised passage of the tolls as vital to the future of the subways and New York's viability as a 21st century global city.

"If our transit system is the beating heart of our city, then our arteries are severely clogged," said Scott Rechler, chairman of the Regional Plan Association, a non-profit planning organization, and a former MTA board member. "Congestion pricing is the right solution at the right time, and it is only fitting that New York City be the first city in the U.S. to incorporate it."

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

* More New Jersey news
* Send us a news tip
* Download the abc7NY app for breaking news alerts
* Follow us on YouTube
Copyright © 2020 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.