MTA in dark over Gov. Hochul’s talks to revive congestion pricing with lower tolls: ‘I don’t know anything’

The MTA’s top honcho on Tuesday said he’s in the dark about talks between Gov. Kathy Hochul and lawmakers to potentially revive congestion pricing with a toll lower than $15.

“I don’t know anything about what’s being talked about, if anything is being talked about,” Janno Lieber, the agency’s chair and CEO, said Tuesday at an unrelated press conference.

Lieber’s declaration came after The New York Times reported some state lawmakers had been pushing Hochul to tweak the controversial program she put on pause just weeks before it was slated to begin.

MTA boss Janno Lieber said he’s in the dark about talks rescue congestion pricing by potentially lowering tolls. Gabriella Bass

Lowering the toll to drive into Manhattan below 60th Street would reap less money for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but still salvage the first-in-the-nation program, the Times reported that lawmakers hoped.

Hochul didn’t confirm or deny the reported discussions when asked about them Tuesday.

“I said I’ll be continuing to have conversations with the leaders of the legislature and members of key committees. I’ve already started those conversations,” Hochul told reporters during an event announcing that pools at New York state parks will be free this summer.

“As I said, every project that is important, and they all are important, will be funded,” she added, referring to the MTA’s warnings that some planned system upgrades will need to be deferred due to Hochul indefinitely delaying the congestion pricing plan.

The governor, who has said that scrapping the $15 toll, at least temporarily, made sense as New Yorkers face a cost-of-living crisis, maintained that argument.

“It’s just not the right time,” she said. “We will find the financing and these conversations are very much underway.” 

Gov. Kathy Hochul promised, without details, to find funding for the MTA. Robert Miller
Hochu’s decision to pause congestion pricing put the MTA in a $15 billion bind.

But Lieber’s reveal that those conversations have so far bypassed him underscored how the MTA is effectively in the political wilderness when it comes to efforts to save congestion pricing, or at least replace the $15 billion it would have raised for high-profile transit projects.

On top of that uncertainty, any timeline is potentially further imperiled by the upcoming presidential election. Former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has promised to scrap the toll.

Sources told The Post that, despite the governor calling around to lawmakers, legislative leaders haven’t been presented with a tangible proposal surrounding congestion pricing.

State Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D-Manhattan), who said he has received more calls and comments to his office on this issue than any other, expressed support for making the toll less expensive over not implementing it entirely — especially given the likelihood Trump will unravel it if he takes office again.

Hoylman-Sigal said he spoke with the governor, but didn’t want to get into specifics on their talks.

“The goal should be mend it don’t end it,” he said.

“I think we need to have our program in place and running to ensure we have a fighting chance to save our mass transit system from collapse.”

State Sen. Liz Krueger said she spoke with Hochul about reversing congestion pricing’s pause. Hans Pennink

State Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), chair of the Senate’s powerful finance committee and a vocal supporter of congestion pricing, said she also has spoken with Hochul about reversing the pause on the program.

Krueger told Hochul that she would consider tweaking specifics of the scheme, including lowering the toll, as long as the program still met its objectives of decreasing congestion and helping cut down on pollution.

But she said that’s not enough to take the extraordinary step of calling back the Legislature to vote on changes.

“Unless there’s an actual proposal from the governor to negotiate with the legislature, there would be no reason to come back,” Krueger said.

“I’ll come back when there’s a reason or an agreement to come back,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) told reporters Friday.

In a lengthy statement released after the MTA made a largely-symbolic vote to go along with the pause last week, Hochul even insinuated that a resolution to the debate may be punted until next year’s state budget talks.

“I will continue to work in partnership with the State Legislature to implement comprehensive solutions and ensure appropriate funding sources in next year’s budget,” Hochul’s statement said in part.

Krueger and others questioned the feasibility of altering specifics of the scheme, such as the toll amount, in the short term, given the numerous hoops involved in getting approval for the program.

One lawmaker told The Post he hopes congestion pricing “stays underwater and drowns to death.” Robert Miller

Some believe that adjusting the toll amount would mean revising the existing agreement with the feds, which could take months to work through the bureaucracy again.

“Tinkering with the toll levels may require additional federal review,” Rachael Fauss, Senior Policy Advisor at Reinvent Albany, a group pushing for congestion pricing, told The Post.

“Until the Governor puts forward a real proposal that has all the benefits of congestion pricing, there can be no real, public discussion about alternatives. The law as written remains the only viable option to fund the MTA and reduce congestion,” Fauss said.

But some lawmakers such as Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, a Democrat from Mount Vernon with Metro-North stops in his district, aren’t in a rush to revive tolls.

“I’d be perfectly happy if congestion pricing stays underwater and drowns to death,” he quipped.

— Additional reporting by Desheania Andrews

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