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Queens Chronicle

Traffic Plan Gets Council Approval

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Posted: Thursday, April 3, 2008 12:00 am

The City Council passed congestion pricing legislation during a session Monday evening, leaving its future in the hands of the conflicted state Legislature.

With a vote of 30-20 (with one member absent), the council approved the measure. The majority of members who opposed the proposal represent Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens, where nine of the 14 members voted “no.”

Among them were Leroy Comrie (D-St. Alban’s), James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) and Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), who expressed their disappointment in the council’s inability to develop alternative plans.

“An opportunity to create a real five borough plan has been missed,” Comrie said, adding that he doubts promises to make capital and transportation improvements in Queens will be delivered.

The council vote did garner praise from supporters, including the New York League of Conservation Voters, who, in a prepared statement, called it a “bold step toward a greener future,” which would help the city “make quantum leaps in … the quality, efficiency and capacity of our mass transit system.”

The final leap, however, is still several days away. The legislature has until April 7 to make a decision, now made more difficult by the council’s close vote.

At a congestion pricing protest held March 28 in Long Island City, two councilmen predicted the upcoming vote and expressed their expectations of state legislators.

Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) accused Mayor Michael Bloomberg of “wheeling and dealing” and paying lobbyists with taxpayer money to solicit votes. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if some previously opposed council members changed their positions.

Requests for comments from the mayor were not answered as of press time, and a spokesman for Council Speaker Christine Quinn declined to comment.

Assembly members, on the other hand, would be more difficult to sway, according to Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis). The Assembly’s seemingly hostile disposition was evident last week, when a number of members reportedly booed Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s decision to introduce a congestion pricing related bill backed by Gov. David Paterson and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno — supporters of the mayor’s plan.

Weprin said it might be too late to influence those opposed, including Assembly members Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) and Richard Brodsky (D-Elmsford), who have already determined they are going to vote against the plan once it comes before the legislature.

Foes of the plan have cited numerous flaws, none of which they believe were addressed by last-minute provisions made to the state Senate’s congestion pricing bill on March 29. The fundamental problem, according to the councilmen, is that congestion pricing is an unfair tax on the middle class commuters of New York City’s outer boroughs. The proposal would charge Manhattan bound commuters $8 to enter below 60th Street.

The amendments require reimbursement of the $8 fee for low-income New Yorkers, and a $1 billion contribution from the New York/New Jersey Port Authority. But the focus is elsewhere, Avella said. “We should be working together to find a solution that really works” without taxing middle class Queens commuters. He noted that some alternatives have already been suggested, but “the mayor doesn’t listen.”

Monetary gains are the reason other plans have not been considered, according to Weprin, who chairs the council’s Finance Committee. “People forgot the mission of congestion pricing,” he added, and now it’s all about revenue.

Proponents of the plan have argued that that revenue, approximately $4.5 billion, generated by congestion pricing would fund improvements in the city’s public transportation system.

According to Avella, this promise would never come to fruition — at least not in the outer boroughs. Commuters from Queens — who make up 40 percent of all New Yorkers driving into Manhattan — and other boroughs will pay the fee without reaping the benefits: the money will subsidize upstate transit improvements.

Avella, who is running in the next mayoral election, said Bloomberg is baiting commuters and legislators with the prospect of improved mass transit to gain support. This is wrong, he added, because it should be something they receive as of right.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how people get into Manhattan, as long as they are there, according to Queens Chamber of Commerce President Albert Pennisi, who joined last week’s protest. If congestion pricing would reduce Manhattan traffic by about 25 percent, it would cause the city to lose money.

About 40,700 fewer people will come into the central business district if the proposal is implemented. A QCC study found that this would result in an annual loss of $2.7 billion in economic output, 23,100 jobs and $235 million in city and state tax revenues.

The congestion pricing fee imposes a $2,000 charge annually on the average commuter — a middle class New Yorker earning less than $50,000 a year. It would cost Queens residents and businesses up to $350 million a year, likely stifling economic development in Queens and in Manhattan, Pennisi said.

State Legislators are expected to vote by April 7 in order to receive a $354 million federal grant for congestion pricing implementation, if the measure is approved. Speaker Silver said congestion pricing will be addressed once the state budget is completed.

City Council Congestion Pricing Vote

Voted Against

Queens: Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach); Tony Avella (D-Bayside); Leroy Comrie Jr. (D-St. Alban’s); Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village); James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows); Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills); Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights); Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria); David Weprin (D-Hollis)

Brooklyn: Charles Barron; Bill de Blasio; Erik Martin Dilan; Mathieu Eugene; Lewis Fidler;Vincent Gentile; Darlene Mealy; Michael Nelson; Diana Reyna

The Bronx: None

Manhattan: None

Staten Island: Vincent Ignizio; James Oddo

Voted In Favor

Queens: Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside); John Liu (D-Flushing); Hiram Monserrate (D-Corona); James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton); Thomas White Jr. (D-South Ozone Park)

Brooklyn: Simcha Felder; Sara Gonzalez; Letitia James; Dominic Recchia Jr.; Kendall Stewart; Albert Vann; David Yassky

The Bronx: Maria del Carmen Arroyo; Maria Baez; Oliver Koppell; Annabel Palma; Joel Rivera; Larry Seabrook; James Vacca

Manhattan: Gale Brewer; Inez Dickens; Daniel Garodnick; Alan Gerson; Robert Jackson; Jessica Lappin; Melissa Mark-Viverito; Miguel Martinez; Rosie Mendez; Christine Quinn

Staten Island: Michael McMahon

Total: 50

Against: 20 — In favor: 30

Absent: 1 Helen Foster (Bronx)

Welcome to the discussion.