A screen shot of Gov. Kathy Hochul's YouTube video released...

A screen shot of Gov. Kathy Hochul's YouTube video released Wednesday announcing her decision to indefinitely postpone congestion pricing.

Daily Point

Is there really a plan B?

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision to “indefinitely postpone” congestion pricing caught many by surprise Wednesday — including many at the MTA.

The reaction was swift.

“We were blindsided,” said one Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member Wednesday morning. “We had no idea this was happening. What kind of leadership do we have here?”

MTA chairman and chief executive Janno Lieber, who long has been a public advocate of congestion pricing and who in January called Hochul “MTA riders’ best friend,” was silent all day Wednesday, but has been said to be fuming. Hochul had told Lieber of her decision in advance of the news breaking in Politico Tuesday night, multiple sources told The Point. 

The MTA had been planning to hold a series of congestion pricing webinars beginning Wednesday morning. It wasn’t until Wednesday that a notice was posted on the website, saying the webinar series was postponed “until further notice.” An MTA advertising campaign also was underway and the infrastructure to allow for the tolling was already installed on the streets of Manhattan.

The most significant sticking point for the MTA is the future of its capital program, which was to be funded by congestion pricing. As recently as last month, Lieber had said there was no “plan B” for the authority’s capital revenue if congestion pricing did not go forward. At the time, however, any concern about congestion pricing’s future was limited to a potential legal ruling against the program.

But on Wednesday, Hochul suggested there was a plan B. In a taped video message, Hochul said the state had “set aside funding to backstop the MTA Capital Plan” and would explore “other funding sources.”

So there was half of a plan B, perhaps?

Yet by Wednesday afternoon, no one was able to provide any details as to the amount or source of the funding that has been “set aside” — or what new sources might be considered.

One plan — to increase the MTA payroll tax in New York City — didn’t go over well among State Senate Democrats, a source told The Point. And it is likely not to happen in a legislative session that ends Friday.

Reaction from all parts of the political spectrum was swift, with Democrats like Rep. Richie Torres and State Sen. Mike Gianaris criticizing Hochul’s decision, while support emerged from Republicans like Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine. And somehow, Hochul succeeded in creating a rare unified front between the Partnership for New York City, a large business group, and the Democratic Socialists of America in opposition. 

Meanwhile, Democratic Assemb. Taylor Darling, who is running for State Senate, said she was “in agreement” with a delay, but voiced concern about making sure Long Island got its “fair share” of transit funds, while Republicans like Assemb. Ed Ra and Lee Zeldin blasted Hochul.

“Kathy Hochul is the worst governor in NY history,” Zeldin posted on X, formerly Twitter. Zeldin made a strong showing against Hochul in the 2022 gubernatorial race and has since made Hochul recalibrate politically. “There were already a million reasons, but now she wants to delay her new congestion tax just to get through the election and then put the screws to voters immediately afterwards,” Zeldin posted.

Despite Zeldin’s predictions that the tolling plan will be resurrected, there are doubts it will survive without significant changes — if at all. A source told The Point that there were no commitments to a date or criteria for even revisiting the issue.

Before Wednesday, Hochul had expressed full-throated support for congestion pricing. The editorial board in January asked her specifically whether the plan would move forward and how willing she was to “stand up against the tide against it.”

“Me, stand up against the tide?” Hochul responded with a laugh. “I always do. It’s the right thing to do.”

Hochul at the time ticked off the benefits: less traffic, faster travel for emergency vehicles and buses, better air quality, and improved public transportation.

“It should make the community experience in New York City a lot better …” she said. “I’m moving ahead until a judge says we can’t.”

But now that Hochul has put the brakes on, the MTA is left with more questions than answers. One of the biggest: Will Lieber remain as CEO and chairman?

But as Wednesday afternoon wore on, Lieber remained silent.

— Randi F. Marshall randi.marshall@newsday.com

Pencil Point

The albatrosses

Credit: PoliticalCartoons.com/Dave Whamond

For more cartoons, visit www.newsday.com/nationalcartoons

Reference Point

Planning for a better community

The Newsday editorial and cartoons from June 6, 1955.

The Newsday editorial and cartoons from June 6, 1955.

Over Newsday’s eight-decade history, the editorial board has returned often to a select number of issues that have defined the region — for better and for worse. Among them is planning — or, should we say, the lack thereof.

In editions published on June 6 alone, the board has visited the topic at least a half-dozen times. Often, the focus was on a specific planning problem, as in 1950, when the board criticized a Town of Babylon decision to double the required habitable ground space to 800 square feet for new dwellings. Requiring homes to be that much larger, the board wrote, “stymies low-cost housing in the Town and prevents moderate wage-earners from owning homes there.”

On June 6, 1967, the board worried about Nassau County’s plan for developing Mitchel Field, calling it “the downtown hub of the county” and saying the proposal was “no substitute for a broad development plan for all of Long Island.” On June 6, 1970, the board took on master planner Robert Moses as being “full of beans” for criticizing environmental concerns as unfairly thwarting development, what the board called Moses’ “crusading against ‘environmental insanity.’ ”

But the board’s most persistent planning concern has been the lack of a comprehensive plan for the region’s development, especially amid the explosive growth of the 1950s and 1960s. One of the best examples came in a June 6, 1955 piece called “The Case for Planning — 2” in which the board laid out three principal problems with Long Island’s development.

It identified the first as “The Blight.”

“By this, we mean the rash of gimcrack business buildings, revolving aluminum gimmicks stuck along the roadside to attract attention, loud-speakers, overdone neon signs that look like an animated ice cream soda, and garishly painted signboards advertising everything from the newest no-down payment real estate development to the cheapest used car in the neighborhood,” the board wrote.

The second problem was “ribbon” development — stores lining roadways with inadequate parking for miles, rather than being concentrated in “reasonably compact” business districts. The third problem was the influx of “quick-buck” builders who construct several dozen homes, then leave. “Houses are jammed together, built in the same dreary pattern, and jammed in wherever a few acres are available,” the board wrote. “You see them all over Western Suffolk in profusion. The builder then departs for his next ‘deal,’ leaving a traffic shambles and a potential slum.”

Regulation was needed, the board argued, lamenting that zoning is the province of individual villages and towns. The board recommended changes in state law to let counties impose zoning and planning, while admitting that wouldn’t erase past mistakes or guarantee a problem-free future.

“We live in a private enterprise country,” the board wrote. “The builder is entitled to his fair profit, the merchant is entitled to his share of business — but the home-owner is also entitled to a reasonably pleasant community in which to live. Unless we can build up community pride, we’re sunk.”

That editorial was buttressed by a cartoon called “Futurama” in which two panels presented two versions of Long Island. The one labeled “THE UNPLANNED COMMUNITY” depicted an apocalyptic landscape of traffic jams, gaudy signs promoting businesses crammed along roads, and dense housing. The other, called “THE RESULTS OF SOUND PLANNING,” depicted, well, the opposite.

The board advocated for a “sound and flexible plan, and realistic zoning” on a “county-wide or island-wide basis,” closing, “The next Legislature should devote some prayerful thought to this.”

As modern observers know, the board’s prayers went unanswered and complaints about the lack of regional planning persist to this day.

— Michael Dobie michael.dobie@newsday.com, Amanda Fiscina-Wells amanda.fiscina-wells@newsday.com

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