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Hochul’s congestion pricing betrayal

On an apparent impulse she may regret for the rest of her life, Kathy Hochul disgraced the office of the governor of New York and possibly torpedoed her political career, starting with her reelection bid in 2026.

Just weeks before congestion pricing tolls were set to turn on and start delivering faster commutes and billions of dollars in transit improvements for eight and a half million New Yorkers, Gov. Hochul announced her dark-of-night decision to shelve the program “indefinitely.”

She evidently was so ashamed of her weak-kneed and secretive decision, she made the announcement by video, presumably so she could read from a tightly written script and avoid any press questions, knowing reporters would have pointed to her many full-throated, pro-congestion pricing statements and questioned her rank hypocrisy.

Hochul’s about-face — driven not by her concern for middle class drivers as she unconvincingly suggests, but to curry favor with suburban voters in anticipation of her 2026 reelection bid — is one of the most cowardly and craven collapses of political courage New Yorkers have had the misfortune to witness. It’s breathtaking and downright unseemly.

It was an extraordinarily reckless and irresponsible show of governing, given the MTA’s acute funding needs and her fiduciary obligations. As state Sen. Liz Krueger tweeted, “The governor has stated that she has a billion dollars in funding to replace congestion pricing as a funding source for this year, but as Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, I am not aware of what she is referring to or where she thinks that money will come from.” Krueger goes on to say, that the “Legislature will certainly not be rushing to raise taxes on hard-working New York City residents and small businesses.”

Hochul has nonetheless conjured up a new proposal she’s tucked into an omnibus bill, aptly called the “Big Ugly,” that she’s going to try to ram through the Legislature now. Her big idea is to increase the Payroll Mobility Tax (PMT) on New York City businesses, including small businesses, while letting the suburban voters she’s pandering to off scot-free.

What’s missing from her proposal are all the benefits of congestion pricing: less traffic, less asthma, quicker response times for emergency vehicles, fewer injuries and fatalities caused by too many cars and trucks on our local streets — in other words, all things that would greatly improve the quality of life for everyone. Congestion pricing is also a leading strategy to reduce the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere, which continues to heat the planet.

The governor chose politics (i.e., her own reelection prospects) over people’s lives, health and safety. She chose to protect the interest of thousands of wealthy suburban drivers over the transit needs of eight million everyday New Yorkers. She chose burning more fossil fuel over burning less and reducing New York’s carbon footprint, revealing her clearly fraudulent commitment to tackling climate change.

The Legislature must say no to Hochul’s gutless proposal that will impose a financial burden on our small businesses while doing nothing to improve the habitability of our city. To be clear, it’s not just the MTA funding the advocates (100-plus groups that make up the Congestion Pricing Now coalition) are after, it’s congestion pricing itself, with its myriad and substantial benefits for all New Yorkers, including drivers. Anything less will go down in history as an epic failure.

Even New Yorkers who were against congestion pricing should be appalled by the governor’s flip-flop. Who wants a governor who caves so easily to pressure and selfishly chooses to expand her suburban vote rather than serve the ten million New Yorkers who would have benefited from the program?

Hochul doubled down on her hypocrisy when she released a press statement featuring tired and discredited talking points from a dozen or so long-time congestion pricing haters, mostly from the suburbs. New York City residents take notice: it’s white, wealthy, campaign-donating, suburbanites she aims to serve, not the likes of us city dwellers, whom she takes for granted as being reliable Democratic votes.

The governor deserves a mountain of scorn for her short-sighted and small-minded stunt and has just made herself politically vulnerable. After this debacle, I’m guessing that a more progressive slate of Democrats, ready to lead the state into a truly sustainable future, will come forward to challenge her in 2026.

At this time of national uncertainty and global climate chaos, New York needs leadership, not an indecisive panderer who doesn’t know what she thinks from one day to the next.

Matthiessen is an environmental advocate and consultant who led the Move NY congestion pricing campaign from 2010-19, which led to the enactment of the program in 2019.


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