Skip to Content
Streetsblog New York City home
Streetsblog New York City home
Log In
Congestion Pricing

State of Confusion: Albany Pols Adjourn, Hochul Gets Delusional, MTA Plans Capital Cuts in Wild Final Day

Is this any way to run a state government that's running a railroad?

Photo: Darren McGee/Office of Gov. Hochul|

Lots of questions. No answers.

Streetsblog is a non-profit newsroom devoted to covering the fight for livable cities. When we cover big, fast-moving stories like congestion pricing we kindly implore our readers to show some support to help fund our coverage. Click here if you can help. Thanks.

The editors

ALBANY — Is this any way to run a state government that's running a railroad?

Legislators in Albany adjourned without taking up — and, in fact, many publicly condemned — Gov. Hochul's demand that they find $1 billion for the MTA in the wake of her decision to halt congestion pricing ... which would have generated $1 billion for the MTA.

Nothing was in writing, but lawmakers who spent the last two days thinking about various non-toll funding methods — raising the "payroll mobility tax" on city businesses, for example — only to determine that it was idiocy to abandon the funding plan they already came up with five years ago.

Did you see? Kathy Hochul also ordered the alteration of a statue in Downtown Brooklyn.The Streetsblog Photoshop Desk

Both State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie held press conferences that literally amounted to a shrug of the shoulders:

"So for now, what do [we] do about the [$1-billion] shortage," Heastie asked rhetorically. "That's the question. That's the question. And when do you figure that out?"

He never answered it beyond saying, "Your only choices are to raise revenue. ... The governor has her own sense of where she thinks the polling is on congestion pricing. ... I like working with the governor and the Senate majority leader. The three of us will have to figure it out. I don't have an answer today [but] we have to figure something out."

Stewart-Cousins, in her own news conference later, said there was no way to pass anything on Friday, the last day of session.

The seeds of both leaders' dismissal of Hochul's last-ditch, entirely-behind-the-scenes effort were sown late Thursday night, when Democratic senators made it clear that a stopgap funding measure would not pass. At least 13 out of 41 Democratic senators in the 62-member body refused to play along — and party leaders were not about to beg the GOP for support to bail out the governor.

Then, late Friday, the MTA put out a oddly worded, but surprisingly bold, statement that warned that the governor that controls the agency was helping to dismantle its capital plan, which would have funded such necessary things as climate-friendly electric buses, legally mandated accessibility improvements and long-overdue signal modernization:

"The MTA cannot award contracts that do not have a committed, identified funding source," said the statement attributed to Chief Financial Officer Kevin Willens and MTA General Counsel Paige Graves. "Until there is a commitment for funding the balance of the 2020-2024 Capital Program, the MTA will need to reorganize the program to prioritize the most basic and urgent needs. ... Modernization and improvement projects like electric buses, accessible stations and new signals will likely need to be deprioritized to protect and preserve the basic operation and functionality of this 100+ year old system."

But anyone hoping for MTA CEO Janno Lieber and the MTA board, which is legally required to be independent, to boldly block the governor's move and just go ahead with the legally mandated tolling would be disappointed by the Willens-Graves statement, which closed the door on moving ahead without the governor's OK.

"New York State law places an obligation on MTA to implement a congestion pricing program, and the agency stands ready to do so," the statement said. "But under applicable federal law and regulation, the MTA cannot act until the Central Business District Tolling Program is approved by New York State, New York City and the federal government – and with the announcement of the pause, we no longer have the State’s consent."

Huh? So the MTA is legally required to do congestion pricing, but a single speech from the governor suddenly means there's no "consent"?

Understanding that statement requires a degrees in law and legalese:

The final final final piece of implementing congestion pricing requires the MTA and the governor and mayor's Departments of Transportation sign a Value Pricing Pilot Program Agreement with the federal government.

So the MTA statement is fully making clear that canceling projects is now Kathy Hochul's responsibility — and congestion pricing supporters rushed to praise the MTA for standing up for itself.

That statement itself came out about an hour after Hochul gave a bizarre end-of-session press conference in which she defended her decision on very specious grounds — especially given how she has been among the loudest congestion pricing supporters in state government for the last two years.

In a five-minute speech, she conveyed her prior advocacy was a lie, given that everything she said had been well known in advance:

"My job is not to make it harder or more expensive for New Yorkers to live in our state – working hard, make ends meet, raise their families. [And] New Yorkers tell me they're just not ready right now for congestion pricing. And the closer we got to the June 30th implementation date, I heard from more and more anxious New Yorkers that this would be a real hardship for them. Working- and middle-class families who can't afford an additional $15-a-day toll when they're simply trying to go to their jobs. I'm talking about teachers and first responders, our firefighters, police, the small business owners, the bodega shops, the theater workers, the laborers and the small business owners who are desperately afraid they'll either lose their customers who may come in from places like New Jersey and outside Manhattan, who are also worried about the cost being having to be pushed out of their own customers when the cost goes up from their deliveries.

So, bottom line is this is simply about protecting working- and middle-class New Yorkers. ... It's really simple to me. Leaders have to be willing to do what's right, regardless of the political headwinds, and stand up for the voices that are not being heard. So, yes, I put congestion pricing on pause. Because, when it comes down to it, I'll always stand on the side of hardworking New Yorkers.

Setting aside the "working families" argument (which has been widely debunked by actual advocates for working-class, transit-using New Yorkers), reporters jumped on Hochul's sudden about face.

During the question-and-answer session, Hochul said that she finally succumbed to anti-congestion pricing fervor that she heard in her two favorite East Side diners, the Comfort and the Townhouse. Christopher Robbins of Hell Gate posted a transcript.

Residents of the East Side quickly trolled Hochul, pointing out that no one drives from New Jersey to the East Side to go to either diner, especially given that the diner is, indeed, one of the Garden State's saving graces.

The governor also claimed that she did not need the MTA board's permission to pause congestion pricing (which is very much a question for the lawyers and, eventually, judges and juries), and that she is "an environmentalist," even though she squashed a policy that would reduce pollution and improve transit for working-class New Yorkers.

She continued to claim that congestion pricing is just "on pause," but given that a majority of area residents do indeed oppose the policy, according to polls, who is going to be the bold "leader" who is "willing to do what's right, regardless of the political headwinds" and "stand up" to oppose ... the self-styled bold leader, Kathy Hochul, aka #CongestionKathy on Twitter.

Here's how to stay involved this weekend:

— with Dave Colon in Albany

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog New York City

Pols Let Suffolk Co. Red Light Cams Expire, Inviting Deadlier Streets

Long Islanders should be red hot mad that streets are about to become less safe.

June 19, 2024

Wednesday’s Headlines: Juneteenth Edition

We're off for the holiday, but we still have a slate of news for you!

June 19, 2024

Elmhurst’s ‘Little Thailand’ Gets Open Street Redesign

An already popular open street will be converted to one-way — with the space used to bolster the many restaurants nearby.

June 19, 2024

MTA Halts Work On Second Avenue Subway After Hochul’s Congestion Pricing ‘Pause’

Gridlock Gov. Hochul has joined the history books as the next governor to stop work on the Second Avenue subway.

June 18, 2024

National Green Groups Condemn Hochul’s Congestion Pricing ‘Pause’

Had New York engaged congestion pricing, the state would have "played a nation-leading role." Alas.

June 18, 2024
See all posts