Volume 20, Number 47 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | APRIL 4 - 10, 2008

Silver's likely to support traffic pricing, but puts passage in doubt

By Josh Rogers with Julie Shapiro

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told Downtown Express Wednesday he is likely to support congestion pricing, but the Albany power broker also said passage is still in doubt.

Silver said he is hoping to make changes to the mayor’s plan to charge drivers $8 to enter Manhattan south of 60th St. weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Even in the current version, though, Silver said “Personally, I probably would [vote for it], but as it stands right now I’d be in the minority.”

Silver said the Democratic members of the Assembly would be meeting later Wednesday and on Thursday to make a decision on the mayor’s traffic pricing plan. He said he will not pressure his fellow members to vote for or against.

The federal government has set an April 7 deadline for Albany to pass the plan and collect $354 million in implementation costs. Silver had said he would not take up the measure until the budget is passed, but he said he won’t ignore the federal deadline either.

“I am cognizant of the deadlines,” Silver said Wed., April 2. The budget was due Tuesday, when Silver told Albany reporters he thought the budget could be wrapped up at the end of the week.

Federal Transportation secretary Mary Peters, an enthusiastic supporter of Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s proposal, has pushed back previous congestion pricing deadlines, but if she holds to the current Monday deadline it leaves little time for negotiations if the issue is not resolved Thursday, as Silver expects.

The City Council approved the proposal this week and both Gov. David Paterson and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno are also supporters, leaving the Assembly as the only unknown.

Silver, opponents and even many supporters of congestion pricing have criticized the plan because rush hour drivers through the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels will be able to deduct their $8 tolls from the congestion fee, thus paying no extra fee. The Council measure asks the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which collects the tunnels’ tolls, to pay $1 billion into the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s capital fund, which will also receive the congestion fees. If the Port does not pay up, the congestion plan would impose an added fee of $3 or $4 to drivers through the Jersey tunnels depending on the time of day.

“That’s kind of backup insurance,” Councilmember Alan Gerson said of the possible Jersey fees. Gerson, whose Lower Manhattan district overlaps with Silver’s, switched to supporting the plan in the final days in part because of this change.

Silver said there is no way New York can make the Port pay the $1 billion since New Jersey has joint control of the authority. But even if it does pay, “any money the Port Authority gives to New York is money they would have given anyway,” Silver said.

He favors collecting the $4 during rush hour or $3 midday. “That alternative is what it should be,” Silver said.

Paul Newell, a Downtown community organizer who has launched a long shot effort to unseat Silver in this year’s Democratic primary, said the speaker is working against the interests of Lower Manhattan by dragging his feet on congestion pricing. He said the reduction in traffic would also reduce Downtown asthma rates, and the fees would provide money for mass transit.

“There’s no district in the state that will be more directly impacted by congestion pricing,” Newell said. “What’s the sense of having a leader represent us, if he does not go to bat for our health and safety concerns.”

There is however, also substantial opposition to congestion pricing in Lower Manhattan. Chinatown residents rallied against the plan Sunday and many Downtown forums have draw neighborhood opponents.

Newell said he does not believe Silver can’t push it through the Assembly if he wanted to.

Citing a Brennan Center report ranking New York as the most dysfunctional state government in the country, Newell said “Since no bill that has been brought to the Assembly floor since 1988 has ever been defeated, I’m not convinced the speaker can’t get this bill passed.”

“Paul Newell has no clue how the Legislature operates, the committee operates how the conference operates,” Silver said. “I support a lot of things that haven’t passed.”

Silver, for obvious reasons, has never been a fan of the Brennan Center’s conclusions, but he said even their leaders would not support Newell’s argument.

“The great reformers, including those who wrote the Brennan report, think the speaker has too much power,” Silver said. “It should not be that the speaker is able to pass things by himself.”

 



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