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NYC congestion pricing delay may face legal challenge. Why the comptroller calls Gov. Hochul's move "a disastrously wrong turn."

Coalition of advocates vow to mount legal challenge against congestion pricing pause
Coalition of advocates vow to mount legal challenge against congestion pricing pause 02:53

NEW YORK -- A group led by New York City Comptroller Brad Lander says it is taking action to fight Gov. Kathy Hochul's sudden pause of congestion pricing.

Lander announced Wednesday that he and fellow advocates are considering all legal avenues to save the tolling program.

"The governor's sudden and potentially illegal reversal wronged a host of New Yorkers who have a right to what was long-promised to all of New York -- a world-class mass transit system that works for everyone," Lander said.

Sources told CBS New York that Lander and transit rights groups are preparing their case and seeing if Hochul legally has the authority to put a pause on such a large-scale program, just days before it was supposed to start.

"They are going try to argue legislative precedent. They are going to argue the sanctity of the funding of the MTA and also the violation of the state's commitment to zero-carbon footprints," Kean University Provost David Birdsell said. "The argument from the environmentalist advocates, people who support congestion pricing, is that this was so difficult to get over the finish line to begin with that putting it back to square one is effectively killing it."

Lander said those who stand to lose the most from congestion pricing not being enacted are riders with disabilities who are dependent on needed upgrades to stations, residents and businesses inside the Central Business District impacted by high volumes of traffic, and MTA board members who voted for the program in order to satisfy the agency's Capital Program.

"To business leaders and people who breathe the air of New York City, Gov. Hochul took a disastrously wrong turn, so we are here today to steer our shared future back on track," Lander said.

Advocates offer reminder -- congestion pricing is the law

Lander and allies like Elizabeth Adams, the interim executive director of Transportation Alternatives, made it a point to remind everyone that congestion pricing is officially a law in New York state.

"The state Legislature passed a law and yet the governor is trying to flout that and do whatever she wants. That is not just illegal, it is an abuse of power," Adams said.

The group threatened to bring actions in state and federal courts on a range of issues, including violation of climate change laws and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and said the governor is violating legislation signed into law by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

A spokesman for Gov. Hochul said Wednesday that she "believes this is not the right time to implement congestion pricing," adding, "We can't comment on pending or hypothetical litigation."

Gov. Hochul's pause of tolling plan is indefinite

The growing pushback comes after the governor made the surprising announcement just a week ago and said the reason for moving the start date back is because she felt people were not financially ready for it. The tolling program would've been enacted on June 30.  

In deciding to implement the pause, Hochul raised concerns about the city's economic recovery, saying congestion pricing was enacted before the COVID-19 pandemic, when workers were in the office five days a week, crime was down and tourism was booming.

"After careful consideration, I have come to the difficult decision that implementing the planned congestion pricing system risks too many unintended consequences for New Yorkers at this time. For that reason, I have directed the MTA to indefinitely pause the program," the governor said in a video statement.

Sources told CBS New York's political reporter Marcia Kramer that House Minority Leader Hakim Jefferies reportedly also raised concerns the unpopular plan would make it more difficult for Democrats to win back control of Congress.

Regardless of the underlying reasons for Hochul's decision, it came as a total shock to many, especially members of the MTA board.

What happens to MTA projects without congestion pricing?

The Legislature ended its session last week but didn't come up with a way to raise money for the MTA. CEO Janno Lieber said Wednesday the MTA is prepared to make difficult decisions.

"Where we are focused right now is, how do we retool, reprioritize and shrink the Capital Program to deal with the money we know we have," Lieber said. "There's $28.5 billion of worth left in this Capital Program and we now have $13 billion to do it. So we have to make some hard choices and that's what I'm spending my time on now."

Lieber said Monday that modernization projects like electric buses, accessible stations and new signals are on the so-called "deprioritized list."

"Bottom line, this phase of the MTA's work is a huge challenge, and I have a great team that is going to be laser-focused on working on this," Lieber said. "It may feel right now that things are a little crazy and even there's a crisis, but we need to stay focused so that we can maximize the situation for our riders. They are our focus right now. That's where our heads are at." 

The MTA board will meet on June 26 to decide what to do about congestion pricing. Lieber said he's not giving up on the plan, but added there are immediate problems in the meantime, like deciding which projects are still affordable, if layoffs will be necessary, and if the MTA's credit rating will be impacted.

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