Lawmakers hold dueling press conferences on congestion pricing

Some state legislators are concerned about how to fund the MTA, but others are just glad their constituents won’t have to pay more tolls.

Assembly Member David Weprin speaks at a press conference in the state Capitol in support of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision to indefinitely delay the start of congestion pricing.

Assembly Member David Weprin speaks at a press conference in the state Capitol in support of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision to indefinitely delay the start of congestion pricing. Austin C. Jefferson

State lawmakers are quickly picking sides on the congestion pricing debacle after Gov. Kathy Hochul said she would indefinitely delay the Manhattan toll plan. On Thursday, a geographically diverse group of members from the state Senate and Assembly pledged their support for the delay and vowed to find an alternative to fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s capital plan. However, it remains unclear what method they will favor

Hochul announced Wednesday that she would delay the start of congestion pricing indefinitely, just weeks before its planned June 30 start date. The plan to charge vehicles $15 dollars to enter Manhattan’s central business district was already divisive and the subject of litigation from opponents. Her decision to put off its start date has angered many who feel that the plan was key to ensuring New York City’s public health and climate goals, but it has delighted residents and lawmakers from the city’s outer boroughs and suburbs.

State Sen. James Skoufis, who represents Orange County and has been a vocal opponent of the plan since it was passed in 2019, applauded Hochul’s move. He said he wasn’t concerned with the political calculus of Hochul’s about-face but simply happy that his constituents would not be charged $15 to travel to lower Manhattan. “I don't care what her motive was,” he said. “I just care that she got it right.”

Skoufis said that he might have supported the plan had it included any plans to increase transit options for his constituents, who currently must take a New Jersey Transit ride to Secaucus in order to access Manhattan-bound trains. As of now, he said, “I'd argue that Orange County is the Sahara of transit deserts in the MTA region.” 

Hours after Hochul’s announcement, Assembly members angered by Hochul’s move held their own press conference arguing against the delay. 

Queens Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani, in particular, railed against the governor’s last-minute change. “Governor Hochul’s betrayal is why New Yorkers don’t trust politicians,” he said. “This is an illustration of political malpractice.”

The congestion pricing plan had been expected to bring in around $1 billion in annual revenue, which the MTA planned to spend on capital projects. On Wednesday, lawmakers said that they have not yet heard of any plans to fill the funding gap for those projects that were relying on that expected revenue. Hochul said that she had set aside money for the delay and hinted at potentially increasing the MTA’s payroll tax on New York City businesses, though raising taxes would require legislative approval for the latter. 

Queens Assembly Member David Weprin said that lawmakers would spend the final days of the legislative session attempting to find a solution to fund the MTA, though he couldn’t provide any clear examples when pressed. “There are a number of proposals. There are a number of them,” he said. “Mobility taxes are one yes, we see that as a possibility. There are other proposals, you'll find out within a week.”

Manhattan-based state Sen. Liz Krueger, who also chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee, said she doesn’t believe her conference has the appetite to raise taxes on New York City, confirming that the governor had approached them about the prospect. She said she thinks the governor “misjudge(d)” how her tax proposal would be received by lawmakers. “We keep pushing all the responsibility onto New York City only for a regional mass transit system that, frankly, ensures the economic breadbasket of the entire state of New York,” Krueger said at a pro-congestion pricing rally on Thursday. “It's not fair, it's not acceptable.”

For some, the difference between indefinitely delaying congestion pricing and simply not doing it is unclear. “There's different definitions for that, but my goal is to make sure that this is not implemented,” said Staten Island state Sen. Jessica Scarcela-Spanton, who has long called for the congestion pricing plan to be scrapped.

“Time will tell,” she said. “If you asked me this question yesterday, ‘is the governor going to pause this?’ I would have said it was crazy, so you never know what's going to happen.”