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The Powerful Coalition that Worked to Halt NYC’s Congestion Pricing Toll

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The Powerful Coalition that Worked to Halt NYC’s Congestion Pricing Toll

By:  Ilana Siyance

New York Governor Kathy Hochul did a U-turn last Wednesday, putting the controversial congestion pricing plan on hold indefinitely, announcing that the timing isn’t right as New Yorkers are already struggling with a cost-of-living crisis.  The plan would have allowed the MTA to charge cars $15 to enter Midtown Manhattan below 61st Street, and charged trucks between $24 and $36, depending on size.

As reported by the NY Post, it was a broad coalition from different industries who had worked together to lobby against the toll, leading the government to make an about face and now mull a payroll tax increase to raise the funds.  The influential forces that were reportedly working to put a halt on the plan, included many that usually work against each other– the far-left aligned with the right to reach this common goal.   The powerful left-leaning teachers’ union had worked together with Staten Island Republican Borough President Vito Fossella to file a federal lawsuit against the congestion pricing plan.

Also, Unions representing the entire city government workforce helped rally against the toll — including ambulance workers and first responders who drive to their jobs in Manhattan.  “I got a call from [United Federation of Teachers President] Mike Mulgrew, who asked me, ‘Are you serious about pursuing this lawsuit?’ Fossella recalled. “I said, ‘Yes.’ Sometimes you have to work with people you don’t always agree with for the common good…I give credit to Mulgrew and the UFT for stepping up. The $15 toll was going to come out of the pockets of teachers, firefighters and EMS workers.”

New Jersey Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a top contender to become New Jersey’s next governor also took up the charge, representing north Jersey communities that border the George Washington Bridge and who would be on the hook to pay the toll.

Gottheimer held bipartisan press conferences together with NY House Republican Reps. Nicole Maliotakis, Michael Lawler and others to keep the topic at the forefront.  Congressman Lawler, who represents Rockland County and other communities north of Manhattan, said the strong opposition left Hochul without much of a choice, being that there is only five months left before elections which will decide which party will control the House of Representatives. “There was a groundswell against the congestion toll. The general public was getting clued in to what was going on,” Lawler said.

Per the Post, also, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, filed his own lawsuit against the congestion toll, positioning himself directly against Hochul, despite being on the same party.  Small business owners and other civic activists joined the fight, forming the group New Yorkers Against Congestion Pricing Tax. The group’s founders included Corey Bearak of the Queens Civic Congress, Chinatown business advocate Susan Lee and former Lower East Side Councilman and retired Judge Kathryn Freed.  “Our cause was right. We need  a vibrant economy. The congestion toll was going to raise the cost of goods and services for everyone,” Bearak said.

“The public pressure worked. It was a broad-based coalition from left to right. All those pieces made a difference,” said Gottheimer said. “People are over the moon. We won.”

Last week, Hochul and the legislature failed to agree on an alternative to finance the MTA’s capital plan, which would have gained $1 billion a year under the congestion toll, per the Post.

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