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Outer Borough Residents Blast Proposal For Tolls On East River Bridges

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Ardent protests erupted Friday against the latest attempt to put tolls on the free East River bridges as part of a congestion pricing plan.

As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, outer borough business and community leaders said they have been taxed enough.

The protest was billed as a wake-up call for New York City drivers who might be asleep at the wheel.

"We've been down this road before, and we've been sold the same snake oil. First, it was the $15 auto use tax," said Bob Friedrich of Glen Oaks Village Owners Inc. in Queens.

The protesters were targeting the latest incarnation of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's failed congestion pricing plan, which seeks to raise money for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority by putting tolls on four free East River bridges – the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge between Manhattan and Queens.

Some believe the plan is a good idea because in exchange, it seeks to lower tolls on other spans such as the Henry Hudson between Manhattan and the Bronx, the Whitestone and Throgs Neck between the Bronx and Queens.

But elected officials and others at the protest listed all the tolls and taxes that have been enacted to help the MTA, which are still in effect today.

After the $15 auto use tax in New York City, officials enacted a $30 car registration surcharge in the entire MTA region, followed by a sales tax surcharge, a mobility tax on small businesses, and a 50-cent surcharge on taxi rides.

Outer Borough Residents Blast Proposal For Tolls On East River Bridges

"It is outrageous. Enough is enough," Friedrich said. "The well is dry. The taxpayers simply cannot afford to give anymore."

Elected officials also said the MTA should find a way to raise money that does not involve new fees.

"There has to be a better way to raise revenue," said state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Queens). "There are other ways to raise the revenue without taxing the people."

As WCBS 880's Peter Haskell reported, Avella noted that the bridges have been free for 100 years, and the issue is not just about people coming into Manhattan for dinner and theater.

"The people who would be most affected would be moderate and low-income; middle-income families; students," Avella said.

While proponents said the proposal is about everyone paying their fair share, some elected officials said outer borough residents are already paying their fair share and then some.

"New Yorkers are feeling -- especially New Yorkers in Queens in Brooklyn – that they're like they're being nickeled and dimed to death," added state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Queens).

Outer borough residents on the road Friday were no more sympathetic to the plan.

"I think it's a bad idea," said Gary Singh of Astoria, Queens. "I think they should have some type of way for the public to get to over the city for free."

"I think it's horrible, because they're going to put tolls for what? Where is that money going to go?" added Philip Romeos of Astoria. "They don't fix anything."

There is really no way to know whether the toll proposal has legs, because Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have yet to weigh in, Kramer reported. Until they talk, the proposal does not walk.

But as it is, the proposal has caused a huge rift in the Weprin family. Assemblyman Weprin is against it, but his brother, Queens City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-23rd) is in favor of it.

David Weprin, who lives in his brother's district, said he hopes to change his brother's mind.

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