Hochul in Hiding as Congestion Pricing Hangs by a Thread

Since announcing her plan to put the program on ice, the governor has not appeared in public.

Sam Mellins   ·   June 7, 2024
A blurred Kathy Hochul
As her decision to halt congestion pricing has come under fire, Governor Kathy Hochul has vanished from view. | Image: Darren McGee/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul | Illustration: Akash Mehta

After her 11th-hour decision to “indefinitely pause” New York City’s upcoming congestion pricing program ignited an unprecedented firestorm of criticism from lawmakers, editorial boards, business groups, transit advocates, and subway riders, Governor Kathy Hochul has vanished from view.

She made the announcement just before noon on Wednesday. It was pre-taped, an initial sign that she was planning to avoid tough questions from the press. It upended a program five years in the making that she has repeatedly praised — she called it “a better way forward” just two weeks ago during a speech in Dublin — and whose delay or demise leaves a multibillion-dollar hole in the budget of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

On Wednesday, Hochul said that implementing the program’s $15 fee to enter downtown Manhattan would undercut New York’s economic recovery from the pandemic and discourage workers from returning to their offices. (Less than two percent of commuters to downtown Manhattan would pay the fee if the program is implemented, according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.)

Since that announcement, she has not held a press conference or attended a single public event.

The governor’s social media feeds have gone silent on the topic, too. And her team has published no details on her plan to replace the billions of dollars in lost MTA revenue, which would have funded new stations, improved disabled access, and updated outdated signaling systems that cause delays.

Hochul’s press secretary, Avi Small, did not respond to questions about when the governor will next appear in public or take questions.

Longtime Albany political consultant Morgan Hook, who served as communications director for former Governor David Paterson, said he understands Hochul’s strategy.

A blurred Hochul at an event supporting congestion pricing
The governor at a June 2023 event celebrating congestion pricing. | Don Pollard/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

“She gave her public reasons for why they made this decision. I don’t think it’s good messaging to go out there and explain yourself over and over again. You just keep it in the news,” Hook said.

Hochul’s office has issued two press releases containing quotes from lawmakers and other public figures praising her decision. Ten of the 51 quotes came from outright opponents of the plan who have pushed to kill it permanently.

“The congestion tax is not only a burden on police officers and other essential commuters — it’s bad for public safety,” said Patrick Hendry, president of the city’s police union, in the first of the two releases.

The second release included the claim, from New York City Councilmember Kalman Yeger, that the “Congestion Pricing Scheme has nothing to do with congestion. It’s just a tax on hardworking New Yorkers trying to get by.”

The Trucking Association of New York, quoted in the second press release, is currently suing to overturn the program entirely, according to Politico.

Small, Hochul’s press secretary, did not respond to questions on whether the governor agrees that congestion pricing is bad for public safety or “has nothing to do with congestion.”

In the governor’s absence, Albany’s press corps has tried to wheedle details out of legislators about how the governor plans to fill the budget hole her decision has opened up. That’s been difficult, because lawmakers themselves are receiving only limited information from Hochul’s office.

Asked Thursday night about the plan that Hochul’s office presented to the legislature, Deputy Senate Majority Leader Michael Gianaris said that he and his colleagues are “trying to figure out the very vague language that was presented to us.”

“There’s not something very specific that we have before us. These are concepts,” he told NY1’s Bernadette Hogan about the governor’s proposal to raise $1 billion for the MTA from unspecified sources.

A vote was reportedly supposed to take place on that plan late Thursday night, but was postponed after it became apparent that the scheme didn’t have sufficient support in the legislature. As of Friday morning, it wasn’t clear what might replace it, though a legislative source said that leadership is still trying to whip votes in support of replacing congestion pricing with other funding for the MTA. The legislature is supposed to adjourn for the year this week.

Sam Mellins is senior reporter at New York Focus, which he has been a part of since launch day. His reporting has also appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Intercept, THE CITY, and The Nation. 
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