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With less than four weeks remaining for the city to meet the $354 million federal deadline, lawmakers are positioning themselves on one side of the other of the congestion pricing debate, as state and city prime movers quietly ready for "negotiations."

According to the Sun, Governor Eliot Spitzer's office is drafting a congestion pricing bill, while legislators who have remained cool to pricing are preparing to deal on everything from bus routes to pay raises (for themselves). Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver wants "some form of a rebate for lower-income motorists" who drive into the pricing zone, along with an additional toll for New Jersey drivers crossing the Hudson. Members of the City Council, which must sign off on the plan before it goes to Albany, are also asking Mayor Bloomberg to work in an extra Jersey fee, or else gain a pledge of additional transit funds from the Port Authority.

Bloomberg irked Albany Democrats when he recently made a hefty half-million dollar donation to the Republican cause, then justified the move yesterday by saying that the Assembly and the governor have not stepped up for the city -- an injury-insult combo some say will hurt the mayor's agenda, and especially congestion pricing. As if daring Dems to take the low road, the mayor brushed off such talk.

"Think about what you're saying," he said. "You're saying that those decisions are made based on politics rather than what's right for the city. We certainly need congestion pricing, and it would be an outrage. Just for anybody to suggest that that's the basis on which they're going to make decisions, or that others would make a decision, I find reprehensible."

Surveying the long month ahead, a Monday Crain's editorial said that, with Bloomberg's presidential flight of fancy finally over, a win on congestion pricing is crucial for the mayor to remain relevant.

While both proponents and opponents have jiggered polls to support their cause, it is clear there is no public groundswell to impose a steep fee for driving in Manhattan. The qualified support of [Comptroller William] Thompson and [Council Speaker Christine] Quinn could be at risk as they take their own reading of public sentiment as they prepare for the 2009 race.

Suburban legislators remain overwhelmingly against the plan. Democratic Assembly members will be putting pressure on Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver not to back the mayor. Republican senators from Long Island, desperate to turn back Democratic challengers this November, have every reason to stand against the mayor.

It will take an aggressive effort by the mayor to push through congestion pricing. Much is at stake for him as well as for the city.

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