Albany Agenda

Hochul’s IOU plan for the MTA may be DOA

Gov. Kathy Hochul wants the state Legislature to pass a bill providing the MTA with an IOU in lieu of congestion pricing revenue, but many lawmakers and advocates oppose it.

Assembly Member Catalina Cruz speaks at a rally in support of congestion pricing at the state Capitol on June 7, 2024.

Assembly Member Catalina Cruz speaks at a rally in support of congestion pricing at the state Capitol on June 7, 2024. Rebecca C. Lewis

It’s 2 p.m. the day after the legislative session was meant to end, do you know where your MTA funding is?

Lawmakers and congestion pricing advocates are still scrambling to kill Gov. Kathy Hochul’s last-minute decision to indefinitely pause the implementation of congestion pricing. The tolling scheme was meant to begin on June 30 below 60th Street in Manhattan, and it was supposed to provide $1 billion in annual revenue to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It was supposed to generate another $15 billion through bonding.

After lawmakers shot down the governor’s initial pitch to raise the payroll mobility tax on New York City’s businesses to make up for the lost revenue, Hochul proposed what essentially amounts to an IOU for the congestion pricing funding. As of Friday afternoon, no bill language had been introduced, so key details about the proposal are still unclear. Questions remain around where exactly the money would come from and how long the funding commitment would last. But it would likely only be for the initial $1 billion to tide over the agency before finding something more permanent. 

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie offered few new details about how the state plans to replace the money from congestion pricing and the status of the governor’s proposal. “Your only choices are to raise revenue, right?” Heastie said. “If congestion pricing is not going to be funded, you need to raise revenue.” How, you might ask? Heastie wouldn’t say. “I'm giving y'all pretty much where the discussions are,” he said, adding that “conversations are ongoing.” Session was meant to end on Thursday, but has dragged on for at least another day. Sources in the Assembly say that support for the governor’s proposal is mixed, and one source said that members are facing pressure to support the governor’s IOU plan. 

The real fight is likely in the state Senate, where the prospect seems to be on life support. State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins traditionally does not rely on Republicans to pass bills, so a bloc of 11 Democrats could prevent the governor’s legislation from passing. The conference has 42 members and a majority of 32 is needed to approve a bill.

At least six state Senate Democrats have said publicly that they would not support the governor’s IOU proposal, including Sens. Jessica Ramos, Zellnor Myrie and Andrew Gounardes. Sources told City & State that, as of last night, at least 13 members planned to vote against the governor’s proposal. That number is still in flux, and a source said that at least one of those 13 members had flipped to a yes vote on Friday morning.

After exiting a Democratic conference meeting, state Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris declined to comment on where the debate currently stands. He said that the next statement on the matter would come from Stewart-Cousins, who has not publicly commented on the matter since Hochul made her announcement on Tuesday. 

Advocates and lawmakers opposed to the governor’s plan rallied again in the Capitol on Friday, the third such rally in as many days following Hochul’s announcement that congestion pricing would be delayed indefinitely. 

“We are now left as legislators to figure out what to do, and I don’t know that I have an answer,” Assembly Member Catalina Cruz said at the rally. Cruz added that congestion pricing was “a well thought out plan” that should be moving forward, and she pledged to continue supporting the idea “whatever happens today.”

At the rally, Assembly Member Emily Gallagher read a statement from state Sen. Julia Salazar, who offered a harsh rebuke of the governor: “The governor is pointing an unloaded gun at us and asking us to give her the ammunition to shoot us in our constituents. It would be foolish to do that.”

Heastie saw the governor’s move differently, and he seemed willing to defer to her decision despite the state Legislature approving the law to set up congestion pricing five years ago. “I’ve been one of the longest champions of congestion pricing,” Heastie said. “But for the governor, she has her own sense of where she thinks (things) are… She made a call.”