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Congestion Pricing

Power Outage: Schumer, Heastie Won’t Fight Hochul’s Congestion Pricing ‘Pause’

Chuck Schumer and Carl Heastie are two of the most powerful politicians in New York — but don't expect them to fight for congestion pricing, even though they support it.

Photo: Streetsblog Photoshop Desk|

It came from Twitter.

Sen. Chuck Schumer and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie are two of the most powerful politicians in New York — except when it comes to congestion pricing, apparently.

Frustrating supporters of the Central Business District tolling program that was set to being next week, Schumer and Heastie separately said they support the policy — yet defended their reluctance to criticize Gov. Hochul's indefinite "pause" on the subway-boosting, traffic-busting, pollution-arresting plan.

In Heastie's case, his own frustration boiled over on Twitter on Monday in a series of tweets responding to criticism, first from attorney Craig Gurian and then others who complained about Heastie's apparent passivity — which he did not deny.

"If you want me to attack the Governor for making a call, I'm sorry I'm not going to do that. I want to get the MTA funded," Heastie wrote in one of many tweets.

"I’m not going to criticize the Gov for her decision to be concerned about the implementation timing on a policy that isn’t very popular right now. That’s why I said she made a call," Heastie explained — before insisting he and his Albany colleagues — who created and passed congestion pricing in the first place —  "have no legal authority because the dates are set by the MTA."

"You simply just want congestion pricing to happen and I get that. And I’m trying to work with all parties to get a solution," he replied to Gurian in a tweet. "The public who seemed to support it 5 years ago has some angst. So maybe just maybe there is a way to satisfy all sides the public and advocates."

Added the speaker, "Congestion mitigation is a must under any future solution."

Heastie, who endorsed the concept of congestion pricing when then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg proposed it in the mid-2000s, repeatedly noted his longtime support for the policy, but insisted his job as Speaker is to forge compromise even if it means scrapping congestion pricing legislation he passed five years ago.

"I would much rather work on a solution that all parties can agree to. But to some of you that doesn’t matter unless it’s exactly what you want," he said in another post. "I’m sorry the world doesn’t work that way. Life is full of compromises."

In a separate exchange with Streetsblog, Heastie claimed that, "If the [MTA] board does nothing then congestion pricing would start."

"I want the MTA funded and I remain a supporter of congestion pricing. But all parties need to agree. Public, advocates, Gov, Senate and Assembly," he posted.

Heastie's deferral to the MTA board has rocky standing, however. The board mandated the MTA enact congestion pricing "in or about June 2024," and has not indicated any plans to reverse that decision. But the feds have not issued the final step in the process: sending a Value Pricing Pilot Program agreement to be signed by the state, city and MTA. By not sending that document, the Biden administration has essential locked the tolling program in legal limbo.

A coalition led by city Comptroller Brad Lander intends to sue if the tolls don't launch June 30 as planned.

Schumer sings the same tune

Schumer, meanwhile, insisted he supported the tolling plan during a conversation with constituents in Brooklyn's Prospect Park over the weekend — but echoed Heastie's refusal to challenge Hochul's abrupt reversal.

In Schumer's case, he said he refrained from questioning Hochul's decision because she does not respond to public pressure, he told political activist Peter Martin in the park on Sunday.

"I ran into @SenSchumer in Prospect Park a few minutes ago and asked him if he supports congestion pricing. He said yes without hesitating. I pressed him on what he’s doing to get it reinstated and whether he’s going to publicly call for @GovKathyHochul to reverse her decision," Martin tweeted on Sunday afternoon. "He said that this governor doesn’t react well to public pressure."

Schumer, the highest ranking Democratic legislator in Washington, had not previously comment on Hochul's pause. As Senate Majority Leader, he has influence over how federal dollars funnel to states including New York as well as influence over officials at the federal Department of Transportation who could help nudge the program forward by issuing the VPPP agreement.

Streetsblog has asked Schumer's office what the senator is doing to get congestion pricing back on track, but has yet to receive a response.

Supporters of congestion pricing remain livid at the silence of these two Democratic lions.

"Congestion pricing is the law," one posted on Twitter in response to Heastie's mea-nope-a. "The governor did not 'make a call.' She asserted that she is not bound by the laws that the legislature, a coequal branch of government, passes. By not challenging her on this point, you are enabling her to violate the law and separation of powers."

Queens resident Bill Bruno demanded action.

"In other words, the Governor made an illegal decision to not execute the law of the land, in order to cover herself politically, and you're focused on providing her further cover rather than seeking the good of the people of New York and the execution of the laws," he wrote.

Additional reporting by Gersh Kuntzman

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