State lawmakers are divided over Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s congestion pricing proposal, with some saying it’s critical to funding the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s subway system and others raising concerns about protecting the suburbs and New York City’s outer boroughs. The two lawmakers leading the committees that oversee the MTA – state Sen. Leroy Comrie of Queens and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin of Westchester County - and state Sen. Tim Kennedy, a Western New York lawmaker who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, reflect the differing opinions among Democratic lawmakers.
Here’s where each of them stand on the issue.
Chairman, state Senate Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions
What issues do you have with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s congestion pricing proposal?
There need to be guarantees about alternatives and needed transit improvements for the entire city before we agree to turn on the spigot called congestion pricing. Our concerns are what specific transit improvements are going be delivered to the outer boroughs. That needs to be put into writing and be ironclad so that people can at least go back to their constituencies and say we’re getting X, Y and Z. Then we will agree to allow more revenue to the MTA.
Does congestion pricing need to pass in the budget?
The infrastructure is going to take time to roll out, so I don’t think we’re necessarily tied to the fiscal budget deadline on this thing. We have to do this right. We have to make sure that there is participation and input from everyone that wants to make a positive impact on this effort. No one is against improving traffic in Manhattan or improving the ability of people to get back and forth to work in a safe and timely matter. People are entitled to get as many details about this as possible.
What are your thoughts on reforming the governance of the MTA?
There are still a lot of questions about the MTA’s workforce itself. People are being paid thousands of dollars in positions that no one can identify. We are not talking about people that are making overtime because they are mechanics or they are train operators. We are talking about administrative employees pushing paper or giving orders. There are a lot of MTA issues that have to be discussed before we can be confident with anything we have to do moving forward.
Chairwoman, Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions
Critics of congestion pricing say they need more details on the proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Do you agree?
I think it’s up to the Legislature right now to set up the parameters on, for example, a cap on the toll and a benchmark for the congestion reduction. We can do a lot of those details ourselves. I don’t know that we want or need the governor to put it forth any more.
What do you make of the governor’s call to make congestion pricing contingent on reforms at the MTA?
I think the MTA has already begun to shake itself up. Many of new appointments in the last year are quality appointments. (MTA President) Patrick Foye is doing an excellent job, and he has an excellent team. We are beginning to see a lot of improvements, so I think we are on the path so the shake-up won’t be sudden on April 1.
Does it matter if congestion pricing passes by that deadline?
If we are going to pass congestion pricing, we need to make it part of this budget so that we have a shot of using that revenue through the 2020-2024 capital plan.
Many lawmakers want more funding for transit in their districts as part of a deal. What about you?
For Metro-North, where I come from, we have the Park Avenue Viaduct and we have the train shed. Both are falling apart. Without capital improvements, we will not be able to get people from Westchester who live there to the city to work. So that has to be a major part of the capital plan going forward. We have needs too. People don’t see the deterioration. We feel it. We feel the short trains. We feel the less-than-on-time trains as well.
Chairman, state Senate Committee on Transportation
How does the issue of congestion pricing look as a lawmaker from Western New York?
As the chair of the Transportation Committee, I have been working very closely with the chair of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, state Sen. Leroy Comrie. We have been tasked to work through the MTA issues, which are many, and find a viable solution. Part of that is in dealing with not only funding the MTA, which appears to be on a financial cliff within the next couple of years, but also making sure that whatever solution we come up with results in a system that is working for the riders, that relieves congestion on the streets of Manhattan. We also have to make systemwide investments to ensure the trains are running on time, they’re dependable, they’re efficient, they’re clean, and they’re crime-free. We have to cut the fat from the administration of the MTA first before we look upon anyone else to share in the financial obligations. The MTA needs to demonstrate a message to the ridership that they are taking this financial crisis seriously. The way you begin to restore trust in the MTA is by cursing the bureaucracy that the people have come to despise.
What comes after the governor’s budget amendments?
We are going to be holding a series of hearings in New York City, on Long Island, in the Hudson Valley to talk about the MTA, the LIRR and the Metro-North. We’re going to be listening to the public. We’re going to be listening to the advocates. We’re going to be working aggressively to address this crisis, which isn’t just a crisis for those that use the MTA. On a very personal level, it hits home with them each and every day that the MTA is working as a broken system. It’s also a crisis of our economy because the entire city of New York, state of New York and, potentially, national and international economy could be negatively impacted.
Do you think congestion pricing should be considered by itself, or should it be contingent on western New York and upstate getting their share of transportation funding?
We are going to continue to fight for fairness and equity across this state when it comes to transportation dollars. The MTA and the solutions that will drive the MTA to resolving this crisis are going to be driven by the people, the ridership, the representatives of the communities within the 13 counties that depend upon the MTA and the systems within it. These are issues that can be dealt with separately – but effectively at the same time.
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