Congestion Plan Now Up To Albany
As Mayor Michael Bloomberg's historic congestion pricing plan awaits action by Albany leaders, the mayor declared yesterday that he was "increasingly confident state leaders will do what's right for New York City's future and promptly enact Gov. David Paterson's bill".
If they do, the mayor added, "Commuters in our city will be able to benefit immediately from mass transit improvements that you will see literally within months."
However, despite the mayor's exuberance and confidence, despite the bill's crucial passage by the City Council on Monday, it still faces an uncertain fate in the Assembly in the hands of Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has given no indication of his position on the measure.
The mayor had high praise for the role Council Speaker Christine Quinn played in getting the controversial bill approved.
"It is not easy to corral a lot of people, it's not easy to tackle some of the controversial issues, but Christine Quinn really did stand up and, with the power of persuasion and the arguments that we all know make a lot of sense here, she managed to get 30 votes when I think most people did not expect this to pass," he said.
In the voting, Queens lawmakers lined up nine against the proposal and five in favor.
Opposed were Councilmembers Joseph Addabbo Jr.
(Ozone Park), Tony Avella (Bayside), Leroy Comrie (Jamaica), Dennis Gallagher (Middle Village), James Gennaro (Fresh Meadows), Melinda Katz (Forest Hills), Helen Sears (Jackson Heights), Peter Vallone Jr. (Astoria), and David Weprin (Hollis).
In favor were Eric Gioia (Long Island City), John Liu (Flushing), Hiram Monserrate (Corona), James Sanders (Rockaway), and Thomas White (Springfield Gardens).
Weprin, one of the most vocal opponents of the plan, said, "It still faces tough opposition in Albany. I believe Silver is reluctant to do this and the mayor and [Council Speaker] Quinn will not find it so easy twisting arms to get support as they did at City Hall."
The council Finance Committee chairman, still smarting from Monday's defeat, said the mayor's plan was "all about creating a revenue stream for the MTA and no one in Queens will see any of this money".
Comrie had a similar criticism, saying there had been a lack of outreach to create "a real five-borough plan" and that residents of Queens will be "unfairly taxed" by the plan. He said there is no control over the MTA's budget, and he had "absolutely no faith in the MTA to be honest with New Yorkers".
Another opponent, Gennaro, chairman of the Environmental Protection Committee, said claims by the mayor and others that this was "a clean air bill" were untrue.
"My point is that we've got plenty of bills in the hopper that would do a lot more for clean air- and I hope to get the administration and the council to do them- but we all know that today is not really about clean air, it's really about raising revenue for transit."
Gennaro concluded by saying, "As elected officials we have the obligation to stand against any tax to pay for something we've already paid for many times over."
Vallone also stated that a cleaner environment was not the real focus of the mayor's plan. "If this were about the environment, we wouldn't be charging SUVs and hybrids the same fee. What this is about is revenue- it's a tax, plain and simple," he declared.
Among the advocates of the plan, Liu said. "The plan speaks to the economic health of the city."
The Flushing lawmaker, who heads the Transportation Committee, said the new program offers "an excellent promise of new and expanded transit services".
Unlike those who don't trust the MTA to pass on the revenue it will receive from the plan, Liu said: "Queens will receive a disproportionate share of the funding, specifically new express buses to shuttle people to Manhattan and high speed ferry service," Liu stated. He also said there may be changes in LIRR service to better serve Queens residents.
When we asked if these promises of major improvements were written into the proposed new law, Liu answered that the future changes for the borough were set down in writing in the federal application submitted by the mayor. "And he staked his reputation on delivering on his promise."
As Bloomberg noted, Governor David Paterson submitted the bill to create the congestion pricing plan which is before the legislature now. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno also is in favor of the plan and it's expected his members in the Republican controlled body will provide the votes to approve it.
However, Silver's latest word on the mayor's pending legislation, issued after it passed the city council by a 30- 20 vote, is that it will be taken up after action is completed on the state budget, which is already two days late.
Bruno was optimistic on Monday that a final deal would be reached by Friday. If so, that would leave only three days until Monday, which is the deadline for passing the congestion pricing plan and to still be eligible to receive the $350 million federal grant promised to help offset the costs of starting the program.
Under the bill passed Monday, the system would be up and running by Mar. 31, 2009. Drivers of cars would pay $8 and trucks $21 to enter Manhattan's central business district south of 60th Street between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
It's estimated that about $500 million a year would be raised and earmarked for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to improve public transportation.
The plan is also expected to reduce traffic congestion in Manhattan's central business district, thus promoting cleaner air and reducing pollution.