Governor Andrew Cuomo made congestion pricing a centerpiece of his budget presentation earlier this month, pledging to raise $15 billion for transit improvements by tolling vehicles crossing bridges into Manhattan or traveling below 60th Street in Manhattan. According to a recent poll, 52 percent of New York State residents support congestion pricing, and that number climbs even higher for those living in the city. Missing from the conversation: Mayor Bill de Blasio, who at first said he did not "believe" in congestion pricing, and now says that the idea to toll cars coming into his city has nothing to do with him.

"This is a decision that can only happen in Albany. And in this instance it can only be sorted out properly by the people who are doing the work in Albany," de Blasio told reporters at a press conference last week. "I understand the idea behind congestion pricing but I also understand there are real concerns in my view about fairness and about how such a thing could be implemented in a way that was truly progressive."

Some of the dangers of the mayor sitting out the congestion pricing debate were highlighted by the NY Post's Nicole Gelinas, who notes that Cuomo's congestion pricing proposal gives the MTA's Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA) the power to "occupy the sidewalks, roadways, streets, highways, bridges, tunnels, approaches, or highways of the city of New York, without the consent of or payment to the city of New York," all in the name of congestion pricing.

"New York has spent the past decade building bike lanes and pedestrian plazas," Gelinas writes. "What if a future governor, ­under pressure from drivers to ­increase road space for cars, uses the new right to 'occupy the sidewalks, roadways [and] streets,' to rip them out, in the name of managing congestion pricing?"

Cuomo's proposal also directs all the revenue from congestion pricing to MTA capital projects, and not city-specific concerns like roads, bridges, bus lanes, or bike lanes. What's to stop the governor from spending the new toll money on laser light shows for Metro-North platforms?

"I think the issue here is that the mayor so far has not endorsed congestion pricing, and he has not yet laid out a vision of what he'd want to see if congestion pricing was implemented at the state level," said Kate Slevin, the head of state programs and advocacy for the Regional Plan Association, which supports the governor's proposal.

"Many elected officials are champions for their communities, and so they know some of the investments they'd like to see to improve the transit services for the residents they represent, and it's an opportunity for them to express the desires that they'd like to see," Slevin added. "The mayor so far has not laid out his vision for what he would want."

The TBTA already tolls vehicles using bridges and tunnels, which generated around a little less than $2 billion in revenue in 2017; Cuomo's congestion pricing proposal would add $1 billion to that. (For every $1 generated in revenue, the state can issue $15 dollars in bonds, which explains the $15 billion figure.) A proposed toll on for-hire vehicles could add as much as $700 million to that total.

Meanwhile, a $2.50 fee on yellow cabs and some for-hire vehicles that was supposed to go into effect this month is tied up in court. The fee was approved by Cuomo and the legislature in March, after a broader push for congestion pricing failed, and was expected to bring in about $400 million a year for the MTA.

Danny Pearlstein, a spokesperson for the Riders Alliance, which also backs the governor's plan, said that despite Cuomo's repeated denials that he controls the MTA, political pressure would make it difficult for the governor to spend congestion pricing revenue on anything but making the subways and buses run better.

"It's his subway that's broken, it's his subway to fix, and congestion pricing is the big budget item on the table right now that he needs to fix the subway," Pearlstein said.

On The Brian Lehrer Show Tuesday morning, Governor Cuomo was blunt.

"The MTA needs more money. It first needs better management, but then it needs more money," the governor said. "There are only two options: fares go up, or you have congestion pricing. Pick it. There's either A or B. There's no C."

The recently-averted MTA fare hike is actually supposed to support the system's operating budget, not its capital budget. Asked about the discrepancy, the governor's office told Gothamist that because congestion pricing's $15 billion for MTA capital projects is built in to the budget, the legislature would have to enact an additional fare increase to cover that $15 billion deficit if congestion pricing fails.

Mayor de Blasio, who did weigh in on the speed camera debate last year when he urged Albany to give the city the authority to install more of them, has insisted there are other ways to generate the money for the MTA.

"I’ve said I believe the millionaire’s tax is the best option," de Blasio said of the idea that has received scant support in Albany. "There are other important ideas out there—an internet sales tax, marijuana revenue—there’s a lot—a state Transportation Bond Act. There’s a lot of different ideas being talked about. But I think in the end, we need to put pressure on Albany to decide on the package that they can live with. I am open to different options but it has to be something that will actually pass by April 1st."

The Mayor's Office did not respond to our request for comment.

[UPDATE] After the story published, Seth Stein, a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio, sent us this statement:

The Mayor believes a Millionaires Tax is the fairest way to fund the MTA and get New Yorkers moving. He is open to congestion pricing, and is evaluating the Governor’s proposal. It is essential that any congestion pricing plan be fair to all New Yorkers and puts the revenue in a lockbox for modernizing our subways and buses. We will not support any plan the State enacts that usurps City authority of our own streets.