Wednesday, April 2, 2008


NEW YORK CITY -- The controversial proposal to charge drivers in the
busiest parts of Manhattan took a major step forward on Monday, with
NYC Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Speaker Christine C. Quinn
wrenching approval from the City Council by an unusually slim margin.

Under intense pressure from the mayor, Ms. Quinn and their allies that
continued almost until the voting began, council members approved the
plan to charge most drivers $8 to enter a zone below 60th Street by a
vote of 30 to 20, with no abstentions and one absence.

At a news conference after the vote, where Mr. Bloomberg made a rare
appearance on the speaker's side of City Hall, officials sought to
play down the narrowness of their hard-won victory, among the closest
of this administration in a body that typically votes in near unanimity.

Approving the proposal, Ms. Quinn said, would send a message to the
Legislature that the "people who were elected to represent the New
Yorkers who live in our five boroughs are sick and tired of our
streets being clogged with traffic, we're sick and tired of the
children who live in our city literally having to fight to be able to
breathe, and that we see congestion pricing as a solution to this

But the ultimate fate of the proposal now resides in Albany, where the
intentions of lawmakers whose approval is needed remained unclear.
Gov. David A. Paterson and the Senate majority leader, Joseph L.
Bruno, have expressed their support. But Assembly Speaker Sheldon
Silver, who has derailed Mr. Bloomberg's ambitions in the past,
remained noncommittal, telling members of the Democratic conference on
Sunday night that he would not take the issue up until the state
budget was completed.

If the Assembly waits to act until after the budget, it could threaten
the bill's chances in the Senate, because it would come before the
Legislature as a stand-alone item, making approval more elusive.
Several council members complained as they voted that the mayor had
reneged on a promise that they would not be asked to take up the
measure until the State Legislature had agreed to support the proposal.

But other council members took the vote as a sign that Mr. Silver
would ultimately back the plan, since Ms. Quinn had said privately
that she would not call for a vote until she had an indication that it
would gain approval from the state.

But Mr. Silver said that he had made no such assurance.

"I told her it's not before us until they vote on it," he said. "And
we will deal with the issue after we pass a budget."

Speaking to reporters with Ms. Quinn, Mr. Bloomberg seemed
particularly defensive about Mr. Silver. Asked if they had any
indication that leaders in Albany would approve the proposal, Ms.
Quinn said that she had received calls from Mr. Paterson and Mr. Bruno
urging that the Council "move as quickly as possible and do what we
did today, so I thought that was a very good sign."

In response to a question about Mr. Silver, though, Mr. Bloomberg
approached the lectern, sidestepped the question and then cut off the
line of inquiry, saying they could not speak for Albany leaders.

Technically, the Council approved a measure known as a home rule
message, which is a request for the State Legislature to pass the plan
as outlined in a bill introduced into the Senate. The Legislature has
until April 7 to approve the program or risk losing roughly $350
million in federal money to help offset the costs of starting the
plan. Mr. Bloomberg has said that much of that money would go toward
increasing bus service in underserved areas.

Although the administration and the Council's leadership were able to
gain support with promises of programs, projects and political aid in
upcoming campaigns, as well as threats of taking those things away,
opposition remained strong. Several council members argued that it was
unfair to essentially tax residents to move around their own city,
that even after they voted to support the proposal, the Legislature
could approve a different version, and that revenues would not
necessarily go toward the promised transit improvements.

"This plan, while wrapped up in three incredibly important and
laudable goals," including cleaning the air, reducing traffic and
paying for mass transit, said Lewis A. Fidler, a Brooklyn councilman
who strongly opposed the plan, "is designed to deter people from
coming into a part of the city if they can't afford it."

He added: "What's next? We're going to charge a user fee to come into
Central Park because it's crowded?"
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