New York anti-traffic fees wither without a vote

ALBANY, New York Mon Apr 7, 2008 7:41pm EDT

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks during an appearance at the The Mayors Summit on Reentry and Employment in New York, February 28, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Segar

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks during an appearance at the The Mayors Summit on Reentry and Employment in New York, February 28, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar

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ALBANY, New York (Reuters) - New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to free Manhattan from traffic gridlock by charging rush-hour drivers withered as state lawmakers did not vote ahead of Monday's midnight deadline.

A spokesman for Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver confirmed there would not be a vote, saying: "There was no support in the Assembly majority conference to bring the bill to the floor."

Last spring the mayor proposed raising billions of dollars for buses and subways with so-called congestion pricing, a strategy London and Singapore use.

Bloomberg has several times revived his plan, the centerpiece of 127 Earth Day proposals to make the city greener, from near-certain death. City and state lawmakers at first rejected the new $8 fees and then wrested a series of changes, including pushing the reduced-traffic zone south to below 60th St. from 86th St.

"What we are witnessing today is one of the biggest cop-outs in New York's history," said John Gallagher, a Bloomberg spokesman. He noted the city had fulfilled the Assembly's requirements by forming a commission to hold hearings and enacting a local law approving the plan.

Bloomberg had repeatedly warned that missing the deadline will cost the city $354 million in federal mass transit aid.

Democratic Assemblyman Ruben Diaz said the plan had several negatives, including failure to address traffic jams it would cause outside of Manhattan.

"It is morally reprehensible and unconscionable to subject the 1.4 million residents of the Bronx to a potential double whammy consisting of a congestion pricing tax with absolutely no guarantee that they will not be subject to yet another transit fare hike in the near future," he said.

Kevin Sheekey, a mayoral aide, had warned lawmakers on Monday morning that they risked angering voters, businesses, environmental advocates and working people if they failed to charge commuters for entering Manhattan on weekdays.

"I don't think they should worry about the mayor, I think they should worry about the other people," Sheekey said on an Albany radio show.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said he was willing have his house vote first, before the Democratic-led Assembly. But Bruno added that he needed support from some Democrats in his house to enact the legislation.

Bruno said lawmakers could fix any problems after the plan was approved, noting they wanted to be sure that trucks making deliveries would be exempt if, for example, they entered or left Manhattan before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m.

Spokesmen for the speaker and Gov. David Patterson had no comment.

Even if New York's legislature, which has also missed its March 31 deadline for approving a new $124 billion budget, were to approve Bloomberg's plan, New Jersey is likely to try to kill it.

Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine has vowed to sue to protect New Jersey drivers, spurning Bloomberg's proposal to have the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey contribute an extra $1 billion for transportation in the city.

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez has appealed to the Federal Highway Administration.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Flood Morrow in Albany and Joan Gralla in New York, Editing by Dan Grebler)

(joan.gralla@reuters.com;+1 646-223-6345; Reuters Messaging; joan.gralla.reuters.com@reuters.net))

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