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Congestion Pricing

City Holds Its Breath for Silver

12:10 PM EDT on June 12, 2007

silver_speaking.jpgAt the end of last week it appeared Mayor Bloomberg was on the verge of pulling it off. Having scored a congestion pricing bill in the state Senate, coaxed a cautious endorsement from the governor, and all but securing a near half-billion dollar pledge from Washington, Bloomberg sailed into Friday's state Assembly hearings on a wave of green apple-fueled adulation.

By most accounts, the mayor ran circles around his Albany inquisitors, as recounted in the Daily News:

Yesterday's Assembly hearing smacked of obfuscation and obstructionism. [Assembly Speaker Sheldon] Silver stacked the witness list with critics while failing to invite the MTA or any of the dozens of environmental and public health groups who back congestion pricing. The questions from lawmakers ranged from the skeptical to the outright hostile... But Bloomberg parried every thrust, and those testifying on the other side did their cause more harm than good.

And the Observer:

Mayor Bloomberg fought off the bridge-and-tunnel Assembly Members who showed up at this morning's hearing on congestion pricing, knocking down their objections one by one and dusting himself off afterward.

Them: It taxes the middle class. Him: No, it gives money to the transit system used by the working poor. Etc., etc.

Bloomberg even scheduled an unusual Sunday press conference to announce the enlistment of congressman and Queens Democratic Party chief Joseph Crowley, an unexpected ally the mayor described as "as influential in this as anybody can be."

Then Speaker Silver, a notable no-show last Friday, finally spoke:

We do all have a desire to do something positive about the environment, about preventing children from growing up with asthma. I'm not sure that this congestion pricing hits that, since many of the neighborhoods that have children with asthma are not within the congestion-pricing zone... Some of those areas will not benefit by the target of congestion pricing; in fact, some of those areas will become parking lots with people driving around the neighborhoods looking for parking spots in order to avoid congestion pricing fees.

There are people that have questions about putting a thousand cameras in the streets of Manhattan from a perspective of Big Brother watching you. And are there other ways you can do it as well? Are there other ways to achieve the goals? Will mass transit be ready to handle the overage? What's the significance of it? So these are all questions that hopefully good minds will get to work on answering and we'll have a comprehensive plan that makes sense.

Now, at least for the moment, all eyes turn to Silver, who so far has publicly posed no questions that haven't already been addressed, but who nonetheless has the power to stop congestion pricing in its tracks. The speaker, though, has not indicated he will do so, hinting instead that, even if time runs out on the regular session, passage by state lawmakers is quite possible before the August deadline for federal funding.

This leaves the Post wondering what he's holding out for:

The buzz in Albany is that pay raises for his members just could do the trick.

Lawmakers, who've wanted salary hikes for years, would sell their souls for a few more bucks - and consider the deal a bargain. (Recall how they quickly dropped their opposition to charter schools in exchange for pay hikes in the late '90s?)

Maybe it's something else Silver wants. The bottom line: Bloomberg, Spitzer and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno are all on board, as is an impressive array of civic, governmental and political leaders.

Only Silver stands apart.

Biding his time.

Waiting for his deal.

So is it about children with asthma, or pay raises for politicians? Regardless, far from being baited by his would-be foil, Bloomberg is sticking to the high road:

"We have to keep working with Speaker Silver, and he couldn't be more open," said Bloomberg... "He's given us every opportunity to make our case and continues to be receptive to us working with his staff... Whether we get there or not, that's up to us to convince him, and I think, certainly, he has a very open mind and will do what's in the interest of all the city."

Thereby confirming another recent Post accolade for the mayor: "If nothing else, Mike's a leader."

Photo: Stop Me Before I Vote Again

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