NYC Congestion-Fee Hurdles Emerge as Senate Leader Makes Demands

(Bloomberg) -- The plan to slap a fee on motorists driving into Manhattan should weigh the interests of suburban New Yorkers and direct some of the revenue to a key commuter railroad, the state’s senate leader said, offering an early indication of the hurdles facing a proposal for easing congestion on the city’s streets.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who represents communities north of New York City, Friday joined with five other suburban lawmakers to seek a role in shaping how much is charged and what’s done with the revenue.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that any congestion pricing plan is not funded from their pockets without ample benefit,” the group said in a statement.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed in principle on a plan to levy a fee on drivers to free up room on Manhattan’s traffic-clogged streets, a step that London has already implemented. The goal is to hash out the plan’s details by April 1, when lawmakers are scheduled to finalize the state budget.

The statement from the senate’s top Democrat and her colleagues is the first indication that the agreement struck between the governor and mayor may face significant opposition and amendments when the legislature considers how to make the plan a reality. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has also criticized the agreement, saying it didn’t ensure that the revenue from the plan would be directed toward the city’s cash-strapped subway system and its bus service.

Cuomo expects a plan to be approved by the legislature by the April deadline, he said during a radio interview on WNYC Friday. “With the caveat that I’m an optimist because if I wasn’t an optimist I couldn’t do this job," he said. "All of these things are difficult and local officials don’t like to do difficult things.”

NYC Congestion-Fee Hurdles Emerge as Senate Leader Makes Demands

Stewart-Cousins joined a group of five senators from the Hudson Valley region in staking a claim to use some revenue derived from the plan to improve the Metro-North commuter rail line. The group also wants congestion-pricing discounts for motorists paying tolls to cross the George Washington Bridge between New Jersey and northern Manhattan and the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge over the Hudson River.

De Blasio spokesman Eric Phillips didn’t immediately respond to the senators’ statement.

“This needs to be a plan that has dedicated revenue to our subways and buses and to transit deserts, where they don’t have subway service,” Johnson told reporters at City Hall Thursday. “I’m surprised the mayor would sign on to the plan without having a greater level of commitment on how the money was going to be spent.”

Other potential critics of the plan include Long Island lawmakers whose constituents use the Long Island Rail Road or their own cars to commute to the city. Cuomo, who is working with a senate controlled by his fellow Democrats for the first time since he was first elected in 2011, encountered resistance last month when Stewart-Cousins nominated a fierce critic of the deal to bring Amazon.com Inc. to the city to be her deputy. Her choice of her deputy leader, Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, was a factor in the company’s decision to pull out of the deal, citing political opposition.

“In order for us to give critical input on the capital plan, we need representation on this committee from other MTA entities and rail services,” the group led by Stewart-Cousins said, referring to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs Metro-North.

While the group of senators said “substantial changes are required to ensure our region’s interests are included,” Stewart-Cousins said she supports the congestion-pricing concept and envisioned “some minor changes that will help all regions of the MTA.”

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