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Affairs and Appointments: This Week in New York

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Affairs and Appointments: This Week in New York

City Council “Home Rule” Approval of Congestion Pricing Shifts Focus to Albany as April 7 Deadline Nears Governor Corzine Vows to Fight Surcharges on New Jersey Drivers

Since Mayor Bloomberg introduced his proposal for congestion pricing nearly a year ago, the plan’s progress has often resembled that of a car on the FRD Drive during rush hour.  The plan zoomed forward this past Monday, however, when the City Council approved a “home rule request” urging state lawmakers to vote in favor of congestion pricing legislation. 

By a vote of 30-20, the Council approved the Mayor’s plan to charge $8 most drivers who go below 60th Street in Manhattan between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays.  At a City Hall press conference, Speaker Christine Quinn noted that two-thirds of the “Yes” vote came from outer-borough Councilmembers – a surprise given that support for congestion pricing was thought to exist primarily in Manhattan.
To become law, the plan must now gain approval from Albany; the State Legislature must pass a congestion pricing bill by April 7, if New York City is to receive $354 million in federal transportation funding to support the project,  Should Albany approve the plan, Mayor Bloomberg says congestion pricing would be ready to implement by March 31, 2009.  

With Albany in the thick of negotiating a $124 billion state budget, at the time of writing congestion pricing’s future remains uncertain.  This week Governor Patterson came out in favor of congestion pricing (citing amendments to the plan that would prove tax credits to low-income drivers), joining Majority Leader Bruno in supporting such legislation.  Speaker Sheldon Silver, however, has said the Assembly will not consider congestion pricing until completing the state budget.

As of Friday, the Legislature is apparently considering a revised “pilot program” that would require reauthorization in three to five years.  Changing the duration or permanence of congestion pricing laws would in turn alter how revenues would be spent.  Instead of supporting a $4.5 billion bond issue to fund major MTA capital investments such as the Second Avenue Subway (as is currently envisioned), a pilot program would use the $500 million in annual congestion fees to finance short-term transit upgrades, such as express buses for underserved areas.

Whether a pilot program or something permanent, any congestion pricing law that emerges from Albany will likely draw criticism from Trenton, New Jersey – namely from New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, who this week denounced the City Council’s proposal to raise tolls on New Jersey drivers as part of congestion pricing.  Mayor Bloomberg’s initial proposed $8 fee exempted drivers who enter Manhattan through the Holland and Lincoln tunnels, on the grounds that these motorists already pay $6-8 in tolls to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (with New York receiving half of this revenue). Councilmembers, however, criticized the exemption for New Jersey drivers, and the Council’s Home Rule legislation proposes levying a $3 or $4 surcharge on top of tunnel tolls unless the Port Authority contributes $1 billion to mass transit projects in New York City.  This Council’s proposal met a stern reaction from Governor Corzine, who has threatened to sue if New York were to levy additional surcharges on New Jersey drivers.

Mayor Bloomberg’s Remarks on the Council’s “Home Rule” Action
Governor Patterson Endorses Congestion Pricing
Crain’s Article on Congestion Pricing Debate in Albany
NYT Article on City Council “Home Rule” Legislation
NYT Article on Governor Corzine’s Reaction to Council Legislation

NYS Budget: Legislature Passes Health Care Legislation, Remains at Impasse over Taxes and Education

State lawmakers passed the first major piece of the state budget Tuesday, approving a health care package worth $59.2 billion, or roughly half of the state’s $124 billion budget.  The legislation would expand S-CHIP eligibility to children in families with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level, up from 250% of the poverty level. The expansion would cost $25 million annually; these funds would come entirely from the state, as on account of recent federal regulations tightening S-CHIP eligibility.

The bill also moves New York State to recalculate the formula it uses to reimburse hospitals for Medicaid expenses, a change Governor Spitzer had advocated before leaving office.  The state estimates that new Medicaid reimbursement rates will save $57 million in Fiscal 2009.  Since they are set to expire after one year, the new reimbursement rates for Medicaid will require reauthorization by the Legislature.

As of writing, State lawmakers are still deciding how to provide school financing (specifically whether or not to adopt a formula that guarantees school aid increases in future years) and whether to impose new taxes (with most tax proposals seeking to raise revenue from the financial services or credit-card industries).

Governor Patterson’s Statement on Health Care
NYT Article on Health-Care Package
Kaiser Health Policy Report

E-Waste: Mayor Bloomberg and Council Establish Collection and Disposal Program

To minimize the burden of electronic waste (e-waste), the City Council passed and Mayor Bloomberg signed a bill that obliges manufacturers of certain electronic devices – such as computers, monitors, and televisions – to collect their products offered for return by any person in the City, and to see that the equipment is properly disposed of in accordance with existing laws and EPA guidelines.  New York City will be the first municipality to pass e-waste legislation.

Some disagreement remains between the Mayor and the Council on what standards the e-waste program should follow; this matter is to be resolved in future legislation.

Mayor Bloomberg’s Press Release on E-Waste Bill
NYT Article on E-Waste Legislation

“In like a Lion out like a Tree” – Mayor Bloomberg Declares April 2008 MillionTreesNYC Month

MillionTreesNYC is a public-private partnership between the Department of Parks & Recreation and Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project (NYRP); the partnership aims to plant and care for one million trees throughout the five boroughs by 2017.  As part of “MillionTreesNYC Month,” Parks, NYRP, and MillionTreesNYC partners (with contributions from BNP Paribas) will host free Citywide events for the public, including Earth Day (April 22) and Arbor Day (April 25) celebrations, tree education seminars, tree stewardship workshops, and Urban Park Ranger tree identification hikes throughout the City.  There will also be large volunteer tree-planting events, including the planting of 20,000 trees in parks Citywide on Saturday, April 12.

Mayor Bloomberg’s Declaration
MillionTreesNYC website


Governor Patterson Appoints Rita B. Heller as Communications Director

Week Ahead: Legislative Hearings for April 7-11, 2008

City Council Hearings

Tuesday, April 8

Education; Cultural Affairs, Libraries & International Intergroup Relations Domenic M. Recchia, Jr., Robert Jackson, Chairs
Council Chambers – City Hall, 10 a.m.
Details: Oversight – The State of Arts Education in New York City Public Schools

Transportation John C. Liu, Chair
Council Chambers – City Hall, 1 p.m.
Details: Oversight – What is the MTA doing to improve service on the G line? Res 1262 – By Council Members James, Liu and Mendez – Resolution calling upon Metropolitan Transportation Authority to immediately improve service on the G line and to not implement any additional service cuts.

Wednesday, April 9

Finance David I. Weprin, Chair
Council Chambers – City Hall, 10 a.m.
Details: Res 1235 – By Council Members Weprin, Jackson, Comrie, de Blasio, James, Koppell, Monserrate, Nelson, Seabrook, Gerson, Liu, Martinez, Lappin and Palma – Resolution calling upon the Legislature of the State of New York to amend the New York State Racing, Pari-Mutuel Wagering and Breeding Law to reduce State-imposed financial mandates on off-track betting corporations which have recently been absorbing a growing portion of the New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation’s revenues, driving the corporation into insolvency, and yielding no residual revenues for the city of New York.

Thursday, April 10

Health Joel Rivera, Chair
Committee Room – City Hall, 10 a.m.
Details: Oversight – Immigrants’ Contributions to the Economy

Transportation; Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Alan J. Gerson, John C. Liu, Chairs
Hearing Room – 250 Broadway, 14th Floor, 1 p.m.
Details: Oversight – The Fulton Street Hub: What is Needed to Get It Back on Track?

General Welfare Bill de Blasio, Chair
Council Chambers – City Hall, 1 p.m.
Details: Oversight – ACS’ efforts to preserve child care centers in NYC

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