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Backlash to Hochul's halt to congestion pricing delays end of the legislative session

The New York state Capitol building at night.
Matt Ryan
New York NOW
The New York state Capitol building at night.

The final hours of the 2024 New York legislative session have been dominated by a growing rift between Governor Kathy Hochul and some top democratic state lawmakers over the governor’s decision to halt congestion pricing in New York City.

Lawmakers have agreed to a measure to reduce plastic packaging by 30% over the next dozen years. They were prepared to vote on a bill to ban algorithms on children’s social media feeds and prevent big tech companies from collecting children’s data.

But those items were overshadowed by Hochul’s decision on Wednesday to pause indefinitely the June 30th implementation date of congestion pricing in New York City. The policy, aimed at reducing gas powered vehicle emissions and helping to fight climate change, was going to be expensive for commuters to bear, the governor said.

“After careful consideration, I have come to the difficult decision than implementing the plan congestion pricing system risks to many unintended consequences for New Yorkers at this time,” Hochul said on June 5th.

Many democratic lawmakers on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley praised the governor’s decision. But other progressive leaning democrats called it a “betrayal”, and predicted that the decision would backfire on democrats who are facing close races in several Congressional elections in suburban districts.

The governor’s announcement angered one of the most powerful democratic women in the legislature, Senate Finance Committee Chair Liz Krueger. She represents a district in Manhattan where the toll gantries have already been set up to impose the $15 fee, and where her constituents welcomed the change.

“This is a terrible decision,” Krueger said. “She’s got to reverse herself on this.”

Krueger says the reversal came as a shock, especially after the Governor just last month highlighted New York’s commitment to fighting climate change at a climate crisis summit held at the Vatican by Pope Francis.

“I don't think this was part of the discussion with the Pope,” Krueger said. “That she was going to reverse herself on one of the most important environmental decisions that we were counting on.”

Krueger says she believes there is grounds for a lawsuit against Hochul’s decision, but could not say who might bring legal action.

Hochul, who has not spoken publicly since her pre recorded announcement, is also proposing a payroll mobility tax to be imposed on New York City businesses, to make up for the $1 billion a year that congestion pricing was to have brought in to finance MTA public transit improvement projects.

Senator Krueger says there is not enough support among Senate Democrats to approve a new tax on businesses.

Senate Deputy Majority Mike Gianaris also condemned the governor’s decision. He says the legislature could act to authorize that the $1 billion gap be filled later, in an unspecified way. But he says the payroll tax for businesses is dead on arrival.

“I think it’s safe to say the idea of a payroll mobility tax just for New York City is something that we think is a horrible idea,” Gianaris said.

Gianaris says with just hours left to go in the session, it’s too late to hash out any type of complicated tax bill.

The dispute delayed voting on final bills, as a result lawmakers are expected to go into the weekend to finish their business before adjourning.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment and interviews newsmakers. Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.