February 27, 2009 / 10:02 PM / in 11 years

UPDATE 1-NYC mayor backs $2 tolls, state senate opposes

(Recasts)

NEW YORK, Feb 27 (Reuters) - A plan to make New York City motorists pay $2 tolls to drive across toll-free bridges won the mayor’s backing on Friday but met opposition from the state senate majority leader, whose chamber must approve the plan.

The new tolls were proposed by Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver as an alternative to the $5 motorists would pay under a plan Governor David Paterson supports to stave off fare increases and service cuts planned by the state’s mass transit agency.

Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, a Democrat, called for “immediate and decisive action to reduce proposed fare hikes and potential loss of services and jobs.” But Smith said in a statement that the $2 tolls for Harlem and East River bridges might not raise enough money to trim a planned 23 percent hike in fares and tolls and prevent layoffs.

The lower toll for motorists also might force mass transit passengers to bear too much of the burden, he said.

Drivers already pay $5 on state-owned East River crossings. Richard Ravitch, a former chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, proposed charging the same toll on city-owned East River bridges.

Paterson by next week wants the legislature to approve Ravitch’s plan, which includes a new payroll tax for local employers set at 33 cents per $100.

The state legislature last year killed Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to ease Manhattan’s gridlock by charging weekday motorists $8. The Assembly was a notable opponent, which underscored the importance of Silver’s support for $2 tolls.

The mayor, an independent now wooing Republicans to place him on their party’s ballot line in the November election, suggested he could support the new payroll tax.

“You can argue that taxes are bad ... but I will be supporting anything that supports the MTA,” he said on his weekly radio show.

The mass transit agency has warned its deficit might grow by $650 million to $2 billion and says it must approve fare and toll increases in March unless it gets receives funding.

The higher fares and tolls would not take effect until June and July, but the agency says it will take several months to reprogram its systems and adjust workers’ schedules. (Reporting by Joan Gralla; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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