A day after several state legislators held an anti-congestion pricing rally in Manhattan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters that congestion pricing would be included in the budget that is due to be passed by this Sunday.
“We’re at the point where the Assembly members understand the need to fund the MTA,” Heastie said, according to Spectrum News. “We still have some details to work out but I would say the Assembly is ready to go forward on congestion pricing. I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t think I had the votes.”
.@CarlHeastie: still some details to work on out congestion pricing plan for Manhattan but says it's "safe to say the Assembly is ready to go forward on congestion pricing.'' Says will be "equity" with downstate suburbs, but no details.
— Tom Precious (@TomPreciousALB) March 25, 2019
Heastie did not elaborate on the details that still needed to be worked out, but according to NY1's Zack Fink, they may include the kind of "hardship exemptions" championed by former congestion pricing skeptics like Mayor Bill de Blasio, who signed on to Governor Andrew Cuomo's congestion pricing proposal in late February.
Assembly Democrats conferencing congestion pricing now. More members coming on board but they want carve outs for low income Manhattan residents. Plus no double taxation at RFK Bridge. Source: As of now 74 "yes" or "leaning yes" votes, which is 2 shy of what is needed to pass it.
— Zack Fink (@ZackFinkNews) March 25, 2019
Only four percent of New Yorkers who live in the outer boroughs drive their own cars into Manhattan for work, while 56 percent take the subway, according to a Community Service Society study released in 2017. The median income of car-owning households is three times higher than those without.
Queens Assemblymember David Weprin, a Democrat, dismissed these points, and said the only way he would vote for a congestion pricing plan would be "if they exempted residents from all five boroughs."
"I'm hearing from other people, there's some firefighter groups up here that have contacted me that are against it, they feel that emergency vehicles, that are gonna be driving through the zone, some of them might be on their own time, are gonna be hit for this," Weprin told Gothamist. "There's a lot of different people coming out of the woodwork now opposing it."
Weprin, who was one of the elected officials who attended Sunday's rally and was heckled by transit advocates, added, "They're not saying any evidence that this is gonna reduce congestion, it's strictly a revenue source for the MTA, that's the way it's being presented, that's the way it's being lobbied."
Governor Cuomo made congestion pricing a centerpiece of his budget presentation in January, pledging to raise $15 billion in bonds for transportation improvements for each $1 billion generated by congestion pricing by tolling vehicles coming into Manhattan below 61st Street, with the FDR being exempt. Cuomo has said that without congestion pricing, the MTA would need to dramatically increase fares.
Danny Pearlstein, the policy and communications director for the Riders Alliance, told Gothamist the group was "very encouraged" by Heastie's statement, and that tweaks to Cuomo's plan were acceptable so long as the governor's revenue goal remains.
"The most important way to evaluate the plan is how much money it raises," Pearlstein said.
Meanwhile, the State Senate, unlike the Assembly, has passed a budget resolution with a statement of support for congestion pricing.
"Nobody likes having to drive to Manhattan, so any passage of congestion pricing will necessarily include substantially increased access to mass transit in transit-starved areas of the city and region," congestion pricing skeptic and Queens State Senator John Liu told Gothamist in a statement.