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NYS legislative session ends with plenty of unfinished business

Governor Kathy Hochul updates New Yorkers on final day of Legislative Session June 7, 2024.
Darren McGee
Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul
Governor Kathy Hochul updates New Yorkers on final day of Legislative Session June 7, 2024.

New York State lawmakers ended their session over the weekend, leaving a number of issues on the table. Final negotiations on several major issues were derailed after Governor Kathy Hochul made a surprise decision to halt a planned congestion pricing in Manhattan, less than a month before it was scheduled to begin.

Governor Hochul on Wednesday morning reversed her position on congestion pricing, saying she no longer backed a plan that would charge private vehicles at least $15 each time they entered Manhattan south of 60th street. The governor, who a month earlier touted congestion pricing during an international climate change summit in Europe, now said that it would cost average New Yorkers too much money to commute.

“Given these financial pressures, I cannot add another burden to working in middle class New Yorkers, or create another obstacle to our continued recovery, Hochul said on June 7th.

The statement was met with relief by democratic state lawmakers and congressional representatives who represent suburban swing districts in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island. And it appeared to address a concern that the implementation of congestion pricing could be weaponized by Republicans in several closely fought congressional races. In 2022, four House seats in blue New York flipped to the GOP, helping give republican control of that chamber.

But the governor alienated top democrats in the legislature, who called it a political betrayal.

Senate Finance Chair Liz Krueger spoke at a rally to protest the governor’s decision.

“This is a terrible idea,” Kruger said.

Krueger openly invited people to bring lawsuits to try to reverse the decision.

With just a couple of days left in the session, Hochul also asked the Senate and Assembly to fill a $1 billion hole in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority budget caused by the halt to congestion pricing. A mobile payroll tax on businesses was immediately rejected, and an alternative proposal to approve a loosely structured IOU to the MTA was discussed.

As late as Friday afternoon, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said options were being discussed.

“So you have to make a decision on raising revenue,” Heastie said on June 7th. “You either have to do that sometime between now and January, or January.”

But the Senate adjourned Friday evening and the Assembly finished its business, after pulling an all nighter, early on Saturday, without agreeing.

The MTA, in a statement, warned that without a new funding source, some key improvement projects, including updating signals, making more stations accessible, and buying more electric buses, would be put on hold.

Hochul’s announcement also threw a wrench into attempts to reach agreement on a number of other issues.

While two bills championed by the governor to regulated children’s social media feeds quietly passed, several environmental and climate change related did not make it to the finish line.

They include the NY HEAT Act, which would stop utilities from automatically charging ratepayers for new gas lines, an expanded bottle deposit law, and a measure to reduce plastic packaging.

Liz Moran, with Earth Justice spoke at an 11th hour rally for the bills. She says lawmakers approved the Climate Change Protection Act in 2019, with a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2050. But she says, since then democrats who lead Albany have not been willing to take the steps needed to actually reach that aim. And she says the governor’s decision to cancel congestion pricing, combined with the failure of the other bills to gain traction, is disturbing.

“This is taking us backwards where we need to be to meet our climate law mandates,” Moran said. “And to protect people and save them money.”

A bill to require big oil and other energy companies to pay for climate change mitigation was approved, but it faces an uncertain future on Hochul’s desk.

Hours before the session concluded, Hochul answered questions from the media about her decision. She insisted that she is an environmentalist and wants to do something about traffic congestion. But says ultimately, her decision to pause the program came down to her conversations in New York City diners that she says she frequents, where she said members of the public were against the idea.

“The voices that were most powerful to me are those who feel they're being ignored,” Hochul said. “They are hurting right now, and we ignore them to our detriment.”

Hochul, as well as leaders of the legislature, say that this might not be the end of their meetings in 2024 They say they may need to return before the end of the year, to address the funding crisis caused by Hochul’s decision to pause congestion pricing.

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.