Hochul Waves Away Questions on Congestion Pricing Replacement

After the governor declined to answer questions, a New York Focus reporter was ejected from her event.

Sam Mellins   ·   June 24, 2024
Governor Kathy Hochul at an event
Governor Kathy Hochul at the Latino Pastoral Action Center on Sunday. | Governor's Press Office

At a Sunday event in the Bronx, Governor Kathy Hochul refused to provide details on her plans to fund mass transit after her decision earlier this month to pause congestion pricing punched a $15 billion hole in the budget of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

A New York Focus reporter repeatedly asked her how she plans to provide cash to the authority, which was scheduled to begin a program on Sunday that would charge drivers $15 to enter downtown Manhattan during peak hours. Without replacement funding, the nation’s largest public transit system will be forced to cancel projects ranging from new subway stations to elevator installations, and could fall into general disrepair.

Hochul pledged that won’t happen, but provided no specifics.

“We’re working with the legislature as we speak. The projects will be funded,” she said, before entering a side room where security personnel barred the reporter from following.

Hochul didn’t offer any details on those discussions. According to one key legislator, they haven’t gotten off the ground.

“There has been no proposal,” said Senator Liz Krueger, chair of the Finance Committee, which oversees the state budget. She has fiercely criticized Hochul’s move to pause congestion pricing.

Krueger said she is only willing to consider proposals that achieve the same goals as congestion pricing: providing $15 billion to the MTA, reducing traffic in Manhattan, and reducing emissions.

She said Hochul has not put forward ideas “that meet the necessary goals.”

“She said she would get back to me with a full proposal,” but didn’t say when that would be, Krueger added.

Two weeks ago, in the final hours of its 2024 session, the legislature rejected two funding suggestions from Hochul: taxing New York City employers and pledging $1 billion to the MTA from unspecified sources in the state budget. Neither of those would have reduced traffic or pollution.

The legislature isn’t scheduled to reconvene until January. Lawmakers could return this year for a special session to deal with congestion pricing, but they have not announced plans to do so.

Since lawmakers left Albany, Hochul has not offered any other ideas. Legislators don’t have many suggestions either, and independent budget experts say there are few potential replacements for congestion pricing.

As it stands, it will be impossible for the MTA to carry out significant upgrades — like purchasing new train cars and making stations wheelchair-accessible — to its aging system. The authority has already halted work on the long-planned expansion of the Q train to Harlem and accessibility upgrades to Long Island Rail Road stations.

Hochul did not respond when asked why she hasn’t made her funding ideas public.

She has dodged questions from local press recently by minimizing her public appearances in the New York City area and opting instead for nationally televised interviews about gun control and abortion.

Hochul told CNBC that if congestion pricing returns, it would include a lower toll. “$15 is not the right price. That does not mean it’s gone forever, but let’s just be reasonable,” she said Friday.

Rachael Fauss, a transportation researcher at Reinvent Albany, noted that Hochul cannot reduce the tolls unilaterally. “If you tinker with the tolls, the federal government has to sign off again. They were targeted at a particular level and studied because they were the most effective,” she said.

After Hochul entered the side room at the Bronx event, New York Focus’s reporter was ejected from the venue, the Latino Pastoral Action Center, and told to wait for the governor to come outside for further questions. She still hadn’t emerged from the main entrance by the time her security and press staff left the venue, suggesting that she may have departed through a side door.

Liam Buckley, a Hochul press aide, apologized for the reporter’s ejection and said it “shouldn’t have happened.” He declined to answer questions about congestion pricing and directed New York Focus to the governor’s press office, which has also declined to provide details to the press in recent days.

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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