New York Post
By HEIDI SINGER and MAGGIE HABERMAN
June 9, 2007 -- Mayor Bloomberg made his hardest sell of his congestion-pricing plan yesterday as he faced a testy grilling from skeptical state lawmakers who called the fee an unfair tax.
Bloomberg pitched the plan as a must-do for New York, saying the state Legislature should approve it in the next few weeks so the city can qualify for $500 million in federal aid to cover $225 million in start-up costs and pay for mass-transit improvements.
"Now is the time to do this," Boomberg said, adding that neighborhoods would benefit from improved mass transit, and the fee would help ease pollution, reduce asthma rates, and even reduce global warming.
"The threats to our city, and our planet, are inconvenient truths that we can no longer avoid facing, and that we can no longer wait for Washington to confront," Bloomberg added, referring to the title of Al Gore's Oscar-winning documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth."
At a hearing with state lawmakers in Manhattan, he and Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff said it would take roughly 1,000 cameras at about 340 different locations to administer the system by photographing the license plates of cars entering Manhattan south of 86th Street so bills can be sent to drivers.
Assemblymen Herman "Denny" Farrell (D-Manhattan) and Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester) greeted the idea skeptically, often cutting off Bloomberg and Doctoroff as they talked.
"Is this not a flat tax?" Farrell asked, adding that while he agrees congestion is a problem, he has concerns that "the cure turns out not to be as good as it should be and we get into a worse situation."
Farrell also cited the "campaign" in the media by supporters of the plan to push the Legislature into action, saying, "This is not a time for haste but for thoughtful consideration."
Calling congestion pricing "regressive," Brodsky said, "If there is a proposal that's fairer and that's practical, we should adopt it."
Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Queens) said the plan would do little to keep people from "toll shopping" to drive on the free bridges, noting that the Queens Midtown Tunnel backup, where there's a $4.50 toll, is already massive.
And the man who has one of the biggest roles in the process - Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver - wasn't at the hearing, and kept his cards close to the vest on whether he can be sold on it.
Silver said he hadn't spoken to the mayor, but said it's a "major issue."