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Andrew Cuomo

Factchecking Cuomo’s Revisionist History of NYC Road Pricing [Updated]

Andrew Cuomo is not going to seize the chance to lead New York City out of its hellish traffic congestion and fund key improvements to its transit system, judging by this tweet from New York Times reporter Thomas Kaplan:

Cuomo doubts viability of congestion pricing: Last time, he says, "it went nowhere," and nothing has "changed that political dynamic."

— Thomas Kaplan (@thomaskaplan) February 18, 2015

Both David Paterson and Eliot Spitzer, recognizing the burden that traffic imposes on New York City, supported road pricing as governor, but neither got the opportunity to sign something into law. Cuomo, however, has never taken much interest in New York City's traffic and transit problems.

A few things to note:

1) Contra Cuomo, road pricing has in fact made it nearly all the way through the many veto points it must overcome. In 2009, tolling the East River and Harlem River bridges had the support of the governor, the mayor, the Assembly speaker, and nearly enough Senate Democrats to make it the law, but four bad apples (three of whom would go on to leave office in handcuffs) spoiled the whole thing.

2) In 2008, the City Council passed congestion pricing and Spitzer was on board, but the Assembly speaker did not bring it up for a vote in his chamber.

3) This time around the politics are more favorable because the plan is different, with a new toll structure that distributes the burden more evenly and cuts the rate on tolled crossings in more car-dependent parts of the city. The presence of former congestion pricing opponents like AAA New York and Mark Weprin in the Move NY coalition makes this shift plain.

4) Cuomo himself could make toll reform a live issue with a solid chance of becoming law just by saying that he wants it to happen.

The governor has not out-and-out rejected toll reform, but it's clear that at the moment, he does not want to adopt the Move NY plan as his own. To fix New York's crushing traffic congestion and shield transit riders from steeply rising fares, that will have to change.

Updated at 3:35 p.m. with full Cuomo quote and Move NY response:

Dana Rubinstein at Capital New York has the full quote from Cuomo:

"I understand the concept and the concept has merit," Cuomo said. "I also understand the practicality of it. And the politics on it were very, very difficult last time. And there was a lot of discussion and it went nowhere. And I don't think anything has happened since then that will have changed that political dynamic."

Move NY campaign director Alex Matthiessen sent the following statement in response:

We appreciate that the Governor acknowledges the idea of pegging tolls to congestion has merit. We also understand why, at first blush, it’s easy to think this is more or less the same plan as has been proposed previously. However, the Move NY Fair Plan is a very different proposal and we believe the political dynamics have changed considerably.

Former pricing opponent Councilman Mark Weprin said it best when he said the Bloomberg plan was about helping Manhattan, whereas the Move NY plan is about helping the outer boroughs. The same can be said for drivers which is why AAA-NY has expressed support for the plan as has the NYS Motor Truck Association. If anyone is worried about what drivers think, the two organizations that represent New York’s drivers and truckers ought to serve as the best indicator of how the region’s motorists will react. Moreover, a recent Global Strategy Group poll showed that voters from the 12-county MTA region support the Move NY plan by a two-to-one margin (62%-31%) and support slips only to 55% after they’ve heard the leading arguments against it.

We appreciate the Governor’s concerns and look forward to the chance to sit down with him directly to brief him on the plan. We believe that once he has had a chance to hear the specifics of the fair tolling proposal and assess the alternatives for funding transportation infrastructure, his view of the Fair Plan and its viability will change.

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