Congestion Pricing Endgame Begins

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.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I have come to look at things a little differently. If so many payoffs are to be demanded in exchange for congestion pricing, it is better for them to vote it down.

    That, rather than the end, could be just the beginning.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Following up, the congestion pricing debate has let the genie out of the bottle on a bunch of things that no one dared to talk about.

    If congestion pricing is approved, maybe the outrage will be bought off.

    Imagine the attitude toward traffic congestion, parking permits, the postponement of major MTA projects and service declines, etc. after CP is voted down.

  • Is it just me, but I can remember very clearly how Bloomberg use to say congestioned streets was a sign that the city was thriving, then plaNYC came out and he changed his tune.

  • fdr

    The MTA already postponed Fulton Transit Center without having the voting down of CP to blame it on. RPP may fade away too if there’s no CP as a catalyst. As for Bloomberg, he will rant and rave and then say he’s moving on, as happened with the West Side stadium and the Olympics.

  • Bribe Them

    Pay the council and legislature 1% of annual congestion pricing revenue on-top of their current salary. That’s a roughly $17,000 raise for each member of the city council and state legislature. (1% of $450mil/263 legislators.)Even better, it gives them an incentive to keep raising the pricing fee. $4.5million is chump change compared to millions or billions the lawmakers will try to extort in half-baked transportation projects for their districts.

  • Joe

    Hey shishi–so you’re faulting the mayor for not being an ideologue and listening to what a panel of experts knowledgeable in a field have to say about a topic?

  • Larry Littlefield

    It’s all about the management of blame at this point. They prefer to point the finger in a circle. The question is, can they get away with it? Will people continue to let them?

  • rex

    It is encouraging that there is no public groundswell against CP either. I have my doubts whether this will get done, but the conversation over the past year has been healthy, and many people have evolved their thinking about cars in the city. We just need some leaders to lead now. (ahem – Mr. Silver it is your turn.)

    The other good thing to happen is that Brodsky has publicly embarrassed himself to point that he has become irrelevant. Proving once again that time wounds all heels.

  • drose

    There’s a letter from 20 City Council members to Bloomberg up on the Daily Politics website, decrying the inequity that city dwellers will suffer from congestion pricing as compared to New Jerseyites and suburbanites, due to the free ride that city dwellers will no longer have into the Manhattan CBD.

    I’m not too sympathetic to that argument, but politics being politics, 20 is too big a number of members in the council to lose at this point (even if some of them are stridently opposed to CP). That being said, their proposal for either only partial credit for NJ/suburban tolls against the $8 fee or for a Port Authority contribution to the congestion pricing lockbox could be a deal-winner.

    My vote would go towards the Port Authority grant. Having just seen on the PA’s website that they clear $250mm of cash/year from Bridges and Tunnels after expenses (and adding back non-cash depreciation), even after accounting for the bonds supported by this revenue, there is probably some legal method that could be devised for the PA to contribute some mid-8 figure number to the CP pot. I would think this would be a lot easier than having a NYC/NYS legislative body passing a bill that calls for New Jerseyites to pay an extra tax to go into Manhattan. Not sure if that could pass constitutional muster (even though commuter tax obviously did), given that only Congress and the Federal Government have the right to regulate Interstate Commerce.

    The next 3+ weeks will be an interesting time. I look forward to plenty of leaks and trial balloons being floated in an effort to win a majority in both legislatures.

  • Josh

    rex wrote: “time wounds all heels”

    Heh.

  • Brad Aaron

    Good eye, drose. The letter is up now.

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