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New York governor defends blocking plan that would toll Manhattan drivers to pay for subway repairs

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday defended her decision to block a plan to reduce New York City traffic and raise billions for its ailing subway system through a new toll on Manhattan drivers — but offered little detail on how she would replace the program’s financial and environmental benefits.

In her first public appearance since announcing she was indefinitely pausing the “congestion pricing” toll, Hochul maintained the move was driven by economics and conversations with New Yorkers, particularly people at a Manhattan diner she frequents.

“I can’t do anything right at this time that would also suck the vitality out of this city when we’re still fighting for our comeback,” she told reporters at a news conference announced four minutes before it was set to start Friday night in Albany.

Hochul this week suggested raising taxes on businesses to make up for the toll revenue. The proposal immediately sparked criticism that higher taxes would hurt the city’s ongoing rebound from COVID-19 and run counter to her rationale for halting the program. Lawmakers eventually rejected the tax hike plan.

The governor, who released a pre-recorded video statement on Wednesday pausing the program, had previously been a staunch advocate for the toll and had described it as “transformative” as of about two weeks ago.

The program was set to begin June 30. It was signed into law by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2019 following years of work from transit and environmental advocates who argued it would result in better public transit and cleaner air in the city. Drivers entering the core of Manhattan would have had to pay a toll of about $15, depending on vehicle type.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which would oversee the plan, has already installed cameras, sensors and license plate readers for the program, and reached a contract worth more than $500 million with a private vendor to operate the tolling infrastructure, according to the New York City Independent Budget Office.

Overall, revenues from congestion pricing were expected to reach $1 billion per year and finance $15 billion in capital projects for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, many of which are desperately needed upgrades to the city’s beleaguered subways.

It was not clear from Hochul’s remarks how she planned to replace that money. But she told reporters, “We gave a lot of thought to this.”

“No one should question my commitment or the leaders’ commitment to ensure that these projects are properly funded,” the governor said.

State lawmakers are set to end their legislative session Friday and do not appear poised to take up legislation to replace the congestion pricing revenue.

“Derailing this important program at the last possible moment and asking the legislature to come up with an alternative funding mechanism in less than 48 hours is irresponsible and inconsistent with principles of good governance,” said Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris, a Democrat

Hochul, at her news conference, said she had the legal authority to halt the law without the approval of the MTA board, saying “it’s not necessary for them to take action” because she was pausing the plan, not terminating it. She did not make clear if or when she would potentially reinstate the program.

Some board members have said they were not briefed before the governor’s announcement and were confused about how certain projects would now be funded with the toll on pause.

“This was not waking up one day and saying ‘let’s do this,’ ” Hochul said. “That’s not how I operate.”

Associated Press