A green light for congestion pricing?
After almost a decade of talk about tolling Manhattan’s central business district, congestion pricing advocates are nearly at the finish line.
But they’re not there yet, as any veteran of the final hours of Albany budget negotiations can tell you.
Sources told The Point Monday that more of the uncertainty lies in the State Assembly. Of the 107 members of the chamber’s Democratic majority, 52 are definite yeses, while 23 are leaning yes, according to advocates’ latest tally. That total -- 75 -- is one away from the magic number of 76 the majority needs to pass a congestion pricing plan. But “that could fluctuate,” one advocate told The Point. Of the rest, fewer than 10 are definitive no votes.
And it looks like that math might work itself out. Monday afternoon, Speaker Carl Heastie said the Assembly was “ready to go forward on congestion pricing,” even with details still to be finalized.
In the State Senate, there may be an even clearer path. Of the 39 Senate Democrats, 35 are either a definitive yes, or leaning toward yes. That gives congestion pricing advocates a tiny cushion -- since they need 32 yeses to push them over the finish line.
Sources told The Point it’s likely an agreement will be reached to make sure some of the congestion pricing revenue goes to commuter rails -- a move that would help Westchester and Long Island lawmakers get behind the plan.
Sticking points remain. Some are specific -- as certain lawmakers fight for a new bus route or parking garage, or some other perk. Others are more general. Among the big topics: the possibility of discounting Metro-North or Long Island Rail Road fares for New York City residents who live in subway deserts that are served by a commuter rail, and the fight over whether drivers who take bridges outside of the congestion zone should have to pay twice -- once over the bridge, and once when they enter the zone. Some seek additional accessibility promises, not only for subway stations but also for commuter rail stops.
Some questions have been answered. A source told The Point that the Capital Plan Review Board will remain in place, with its current system of one veto being able to sink a capital plan. But a provision will be added to force a member of the board who votes no to explain his or her decision in writing -- and to give an opportunity for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to respond.
Advocates headed to Albany Monday to make the final push. The Partnership for New York City, for instance, released a new analysis trying to show how an investment in the MTA’s capital needs would provide a boost to the state’s economy. It specifically noted that Long Island would gain $3 billion in economic activity and nearly 6,000 jobs, perhaps an effort to show local lawmakers how a “no” vote could hurt the region’s economy.
But as of Monday afternoon, there is a tentative optimism that congestion pricing could get done.
“The only way this could fall apart is if people start getting very parochial -- where they say it’s about my project or my need,” one state official told The Point.
Randi F. Marshall
Standing up for public campaign financing?
Some good-government advocates tell The Point they’re getting a little concerned about the fate of public campaign financing in the state budget.
Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center's Democracy Program, hopes the budget includes some aspects of public financing like a 6-to-1 match on small donations, lower contribution limits for participants, and enough money allocated to get the program started soon.
Advocates worry about the issue possibly facing the usual Albany purgatory: punting to a study or commission, even though Moreland Act commissions under both Governors Cuomo already supported the idea of public campaign financing, says Norden.
Cuomo included a public campaign finance program in his budget proposal, and the State Senate held a hearing on the issue on Wednesday, but the Assembly has been less publicly gung ho -- perhaps because such a program could support more primary opponents, as happened in New York City Council races.
“We’re still discussing all the issues,” Michael Whyland, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx, wrote to The Point when asked how public campaign financing was faring in budget negotiations.
Norden said he’d be retaining a healthy skepticism in the waning days, having seen past efforts at a public program fail, despite noises of support.
“Everybody who works in this space is incredibly suspicious, on the advocacy side.”
For more cartoons, visit www.newsday.com/opinion
Stony Brook University is making a late public push for more help in the state budget. It’s another episode in the long-running fight to get the state to abide by an unwritten agreement that it will cover any salary increases that are negotiated by the state.
In years past, the fight for Stony Brook and SUNY would have been led by Republican State Sen. Ken LaValle, a longtime supporter of the school and chairman of the chamber’s higher education committee. But that was when the GOP held the Senate majority and one of the three seats in Albany negotiations.
Now Democrats are in full control and LaValle, no longer the chairman, has less influence. But as Stony Brook President Dr. Sam Stanley noted in his 2019 budget message emailed to faculty and staff Monday, the budgets proposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the Senate and the Assembly all include $9 million in new support to offset retroactive contract payments, leaving a structural imbalance on salaries of $24 million.
Will Democrats bridge the gap any further, or will Stony Brook and its SUNY brethren be fighting the same fight next year?
- What do you call the Islamic State when it no longer has a state? Dangerous, still.
- Police say New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has been captured on videotape engaging in sex acts with two Florida masseuses and then paying them. Kraft says he has “extraordinary respect” for women, has morals shaped by his late wife, and has always tried to “do the right thing.” Sometimes it’s the defense that calls the audible.
- Hundreds of thousands of anti-Brexit protesters marched in London this weekend demanding a new referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union. And if voters say Britain should stay, then the warring sides will also be tied in votes, 1-1. Perfect.
- Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says removing President Donald Trump from office would not solve the “much deeper problems” facing the country. Not as far off the mark as she was on Amazon.
- One speaker who helped introduce Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand at her presidential campaign kickoff rally said, “My fight is your fight, your fight is my fight and our fight is her fight.” Left unsaid: In what round Gillibrand will be knocked out.