Cuomo, de Blasio bullish on new Manhattan tolls

ALBANY, N.Y. — A proposal to impose tolls on vehicles entering central Manhattan as a way to reduce traffic and raise transit revenue took another step Tuesday, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio both saying they expect lawmakers to soon approve the long-suffering plan.

Beginning in 2021, the toll would vary based on the time and day, and while no specific toll amounts have been suggested, earlier estimates had pegged the figure as high as $12. Motorists would automatically pay the electronically collected toll when they drive south of 61st Street.

Similar "congestion pricing" toll proposals have failed in the past, but supporters said increasing subway delays and service problems have demonstrated the urgent need to reinvest in transit. They want the measure included in the new state budget, due Sunday.

"I'm encouraged by what I feel is a growing urgency," de Blasio, a Democrat, told reporters after meeting with lawmakers in Albany. "They know this is a decisive moment."

Cuomo said he is "cautiously optimistic" lawmakers will approve the tolls as part of the budget. He said some details have yet to be worked out.

Some suburban lawmakers want commuter train lines to get a piece of the toll revenue. Others want to provide discounts for drivers who already pay a bridge or tunnel toll to get to Manhattan so they aren't hit with another fee when they arrive.

"Yeah, but you carve this out, carve this out, it's a smaller pie," Cuomo said when asked about the idea Tuesday on public radio's WNYC. "And we need the pie to fund the congestion (plan) and that's what we're going through now."

The bullish comments from Cuomo and de Blasio came a day after Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, said his chamber was prepared to pass the toll plan.

Another proposed dedicated funding stream for the city's transit system, a tax on second homes valued at more than $5 million, may instead wind up being a real estate transfer tax on sales involving such properties. Cuomo supports the idea but for now, he said, the focus remains on the pied-a-terre tax as the way to get more revenues for MTA's five-year capital plan.

"We need the tax," Cuomo said. "I think it's justifiable."

Supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana — including Cuomo — had hoped that idea might make it in the budget, too. But officials now say they expect the issue to be considered separately before lawmakers adjourn for the year in June.

"I think by the end of the year you're going to see marijuana legalized," de Blasio told reporters.

Other big issues proposed for the budget include a series of criminal justice reforms such as eliminating cash bail for criminal defendants. Instead, defendants deemed to be a flight risk or a danger could be held pending trial, regardless of their financial resources.

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