NY's Dem governor indefinitely halts congestion pricing plan, putting party over climate

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday that she would stop the planned June 30 roll out of a congestion pricing program, reportedly due to concerns about backlash at the voting booth. 

“My commitment to a greener, more sustainable future is unwavering,” Hochul said at a press conference Wednesday, announcing that she directed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to “indefinitely pause” the congestion pricing program. “I have been more committed to combatting climate change and protecting our environment than any governor in our history.” 

“We will continue to find strategies to address congestion, and we will continue to find solutions that benefit both our planet and our people,” Hochul said. “This decision is about doing what’s right for the people who make our city thrive. It’s about standing up for the hardworking men and women who get up every single day, do their jobs and just want a fair shake. The little guy who feels like no one listens to them. I’m here to say, we are listening. This decision is about you. And to those cynics who question my motivation, I approach every decision through one lens: what is best for New Yorkers.”   

The stated goal of congestion pricing in the Big Apple is to get greener by improving air quality and reducing traffic, but Hochul is reportedly more concerned that what’s billed as an environmental policy could hurt Democrats in this year’s tight races.

A source familiar with the matter earlier told Politico that Hochul is responding to concerns brought by House Minority Leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., who is vying to flip the House back blue come November. 

The GOP managed to reclaim a thin majority in the House two years ago largely due to several key Republican congressional victories in New York. 

The first-in-the-nation congestion pricing plan was to take effect as New York City transit ridership has taken a nosedive due to public safety concerns. It had received serious blowback from New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, former President Donald Trump and former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

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In a bid to seize power in the U.S. House once more, the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity with Politico, said senior-level Hochul officials and staffers for Jeffries recently began floating the idea of delaying the congestion plan, which was projected to bring in $1 billion in revenue per year for the public transportation system. 

The move preemptively drew criticism from activists.

“Pumping the brakes on congestion pricing would be a massive betrayal of several million public transit riders,” Danny Pearlstein, the policy and communications director at Riders Alliance, which has spent years pushing for congestion pricing, told the New York Times. “It would also mean taking cues from the likes of Phil Murphy, Andrew Cuomo and Donald Trump.”

MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber warned in an interview with WABC-TV last month that there was “no Plan B” to raise the billions of dollars in funds the transportation authority needs for construction priorities – including making subway stations more accessible and buying clean electric buses – if a judge rules against the congestion pricing in one of at least eight federal lawsuits challenging the proposed program. 

To fill the gap from a nixed congestion program, Hochul is considering a new tax on businesses in New York City, where taxpayers are already burdened by some of the highest in the country, the Times reported. The new business tax would need approval from the state legislature. 

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Under the transit authority’s plan, trucks would be subject to a charge of $24 or $36 per trip, depending on their size. Most drivers in private passenger cars, in contrast, should expect to pay about $15, with lower rates for motorcycles and late-night entries into the city, according to the proposal finalized in March. 

“It’s a tax on people who commute to the city. It would have been detrimental to people who have to commute, especially police officers, firefighters, nurses, EMTs and people who have to pay for their trip to work,” Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, a Republican who serves the county nearest to New York City on Long Island, told Fox News Digital in a phone interview.

 “I’m just happy it’s now being put on hold. I hope it ends completely and that there isn’t some sort of substitute tax,” Blakeman added. “I would like to see the governor remove the $2.4 billion in her budget for migrants who have been here for 15 minutes and use that money for transportation, infrastructure, hospitals and schools, rather than migrants.” 

The latest lawsuit brought by the Trucking Association of New York last week argues the higher fees unfairly and unconstitutionally target the trucking industry, which will be forced to shoulder the increased costs, as truck operators don’t have flexibility on their driving routes or schedules, resulting in price increases on countless goods. 

Cuomo, who stepped down during a sexual harassment scandal, had urged a delay in the congestion pricing months ago. 

In a March op-ed, he said “many things have changed since 2019 when we passed congestion pricing and while it is the right public policy, we must seriously consider if now is the right time to enact it.” 

“New York City still hasn’t recovered from COVID; office occupancy is still at only 48.9%. For many, traveling to the city is no longer a necessity — and for some it is an unwelcome hardship,” Cuomo wrote for the New York Post. What impact will an additional $15 entry surcharge have on New York City’s recovery in this moment — when the migrant crisis, crime, homelessness, quality of life and taxes are all pressing problems? More important, the policy’s success hinges on people’s confidence that mass transit — which is still operating 29% below pre-pandemic ridership levels — is a safe alternative.” 

Cuomo criticized progressives’ call to defund the police and its impact on public safety on the subways, also voicing the need to get “dangerous mentally ill homeless people out of the system.” 

Former Cuomo deputy, Melissa DeRosa, slammed Hochul, writing in an X post that there had been a “legitimate policy reason” for months to delay congestion pricing, but the governor had “doubled down.”

“This is exactly why @GovKathyHochul is so wildly unpopular,” DeRosa wrote earlier Wednesday. “There is — and has been for months — a legitimate policy reason to delay CP out of genuine concern for the fragile recovery of NYC’s economy. It is the right policy at the wrong time.”

“Instead, like an ostrich she & @MTA doubled down,” she added. “Now this will be seen for exactly what it (and she) is: transparently political.” 

A Manhattan federal court judge in May heard arguments in lawsuits brought by unionized public school teachers, politicians and other New Yorkers.

In New Jersey, a federal court judge has also heard arguments in legal challenges brought by Murphy, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich and others. Many of those lawsuits argue the tolling scheme was approved by federal transportation officials without proper scrutiny and the court should order transit officials to conduct a more comprehensive environmental study before rolling out the plan.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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