Incoming State Senators Say They Support Congestion Pricing, But …
...But it's unclear if the entire legislature will grow a spine and pass a bill.
Senators-elect Alessandra Biaggi, Andrew Gounardes, Robert Jackson, Zellnor Myrie, Jessica Ramos and Julia Salazar issued a joint statement Wednesday in support of tolling drivers to enter parts of Manhattan — a proposal that Gov. Cuomo has said is a priority, but one that the state legislature has heretofore shrugged off, despite its potential to raise critical funding for the MTA.
“This statement matters because it’s momentum for congestion pricing from a group of newly elected progressive senators, who ran on a platform of fixing the broken subway system and who see why fixing the subway is a social justice issue,” Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin said.
The statement came one day after two legislative leaders told Streetsblog that congestion pricing remains in doubt in Albany, thanks to outer-borough lawmakers who wrongly believe tolls to enter the central business district of Manhattan will punish their constituents — even though very few residents drive into “the city,” and the ones who do tend to be wealthier.
“We personally support congestion pricing, but our appointing body is not there yet,” Assembly Member Amy Paulin, a Democrat from Westchester who now leads a committee that oversees the MTA. Her Senate colleague Michael Gianaris added, “We have not done a head count,” Gianaris added. “There are skeptics about congestion pricing, I think, in both houses.”
Other lawmakers — including Manhattan Assembly Member Dick Gottfried and Senator Brad Hoylman — have told Streetsblog that overcoming the outer-borough bias against tolls will require substantial leadership from Gov. Cuomo, who has undermined his own ability to strong-arm ambivalent lawmakers by himself doubting whether the MTA can fix the subways even with funding.
Still, advocates hailed the statement from the six newcomers as a “big boost,” in the words of the Riders Alliance. That said, it is unclear how many seats have swung from “no” to “yes” with the election of the newcomers Biaggi, Gounardes, Jackson, Myrie, Ramos, and Salazar. Only one — Biaggi, who beat Jeff Klein — defeated a lawmaker who was not committed to congestion pricing. (Rachael May, an incoming Senator from upstate who is not on the joint statement, told Streetsblog earlier this year that she was “inclined” to support congestion pricing. She defeated a lawmaker who didn’t take a public position but was proud to boast that he never rode the subway.)
Here is the full statement from Alessandra Biaggi, Andrew Gounardes, Robert Jackson, Zellnor Myrie, Jessica Ramos and Julia Salazar:
“We were honored to be elected this year to serve our constituents in the New York State Senate. We rely on transit ourselves and included fixing the subways and buses that our millions of constituents rely on every day in our platforms. In 2019, we intend to deliver on our promises and begin to bring the MTA and its infrastructure into the modern era of service provision after a generation of disinvestment.
“We support a comprehensive, robust, fair, and sustainable funding plan for the MTA that includes congestion pricing at its core. Congestion pricing has the unique potential of raising over a billion dollars each year dedicated to transit. Drivers who commute into Manhattan represent a small, comparatively wealthy portion of the public. Congestion pricing will offer them less crowded streets and offer the overwhelming majority of transit riders new signals, subway cars, and hundreds of station elevators. It will enable the MTA to embark on its Fast Forward plan to restore reliability, increase capacity, and make the subway accessible to all New Yorkers. Without it we will not achieve the revenue necessary to achieve those goals.
“We must also ensure that the MTA is held accountable. We will work to provide the resources it needs to modernize our transit system but will also make sure that they are spent wisely and transparently and in the best interest of the customers that the system is meant to serve.”
“We look forward to working closely with our new and experienced colleagues on a holistic transit funding plan that is inclusive of the needs of all New Yorkers. Recent years have shown that transit disinvestment is not limited to the subway system or even the five boroughs.
“Together, we pledge to design a funding plan that promotes the efficiency that transit affords across the entire region. We must reach deep into subway deserts and suburban areas where commutes are can be especially long and unreliable. The task before us is a big one but completing it is central to restoring trust in government and cementing the economic future for all New Yorkers.”