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A bunch of politicans and community leaders will be joining forces on Sunday, March 1, 2009, to protest proposed tolls on Manhattan bridges.



New York State Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat, New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr., and more than a dozen other New York State and City elected officials will hold a news conference on Sunday, March 1 at 12 PM in strong opposition to imposing tolls along the East and Harlem River bridges.

DATE:             Sunday, March 1, 2009            

TIME:             Noon

PLACE:          181st Street and Amsterdam Avenue (near the Washington Bridge)

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UPDATE (3:30 PM)

New York State Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat and New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. joined a coalition of State and City elected officials and community leaders today to express their strong opposition to any tolls on the East and Harlem River bridges.

The coalition decried the disproportionate impact of tolls on many New Yorkers, stressing that tolls would create an unwieldy hardship on working families and small businesses. The coalition announced their unified opposition to tolls at a news conference in Washington Heights.

The coalition is comprised of: New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr.: Assembly Members Adriano Espaillat, Jeffrion L. Aubry, Michael Benjamin, Nelson L. Castro, Jeffrey Dinowitz, Aurelia Greene, Carl E. Heastie, Hakeem Jeffries, Rory I. Lancman, Alan Maisel, Jose R. Peralta, Adam Clayton Powell, IV, Phil Ramos, Jose Rivera, Peter M. Rivera, and Helene E. Weinstein; and, New York City Council Members John Liu and Robert Jackson, and Council Member-elect Julissa Ferreras.

"Harlem and East River tolls would burden many hard-working people who live in boroughs other than Manhattan and would drastically hurt small businesses, many of which already are struggling in this economy," Thompson said. "Further, the bridge tolls include massive start-up and administrative costs and would drain an estimated $400 million from the $1 billion collected to construct and administer a toll collection system."

"Placing tolls on the Harlem and East River bridges will impose a heavy burden on a relatively small portion of the population who already has fewer choices," Espaillat said. "How can the MTA propose tolling the East River bridges while at the same time cutting outer-borough transportation services? This is counter-intuitive in my opinion, especially in light of the City's effort to encourage more people to ride trains and buses."

"The last thing we need to do right now is impose a thousand-dollar-a-year tax on working New Yorkers driving into Manhattan, especially when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is offering no new mass transit options so these commuters could actually use the system they're being taxed to fund," Lancman said.

"The MTA's Harlem and East River toll plan would win approval by Robert Moses the Master Builder himself, with their idea to seal off Manhattan Island and make it only affordable to the wealthy," Peralta said. "To make matters worse, the MTA seems to employ accountants that practice Bernie Madoff-like accounting; it just doesn't add up and New Yorkers shouldn't have to suffer or afford any more insults." 

Liu, Chair of the Council's Transportation Committee, said: "Bailing out the MTA simply does not require the imposition of these bridge tolls. The payroll tax is more than sufficient to plug the MTA's operating deficit and fund much of the next capital plan, according to the Ravitch Commission.  The bridge tolls are in the mix only at the insistence of Manhattan-based corporations in exchange for their buy-in on the payroll tax.  According to the Ravitch Commission, revenues from bridge tolls would be used only to improve bus service throughout the City and not be used to plug the MTA operating deficit. These dreadful and divisive tolls are totally unnecessary and should not be imposed."

In these tough economic times, too many New Yorkers already find it hard to make ends meet. Tolling those bridges will just present yet another expense. This is just not acceptable," Ferreras added.

The tolls are one of a number of ideas floated by the commission chaired by Richard Ravitch to address a $1.2 billion budget gap faced by the MTA. The authority contends it will be forced to raise fares without a significant infusion of funding. The Ravitch commission's proposal to impose $5 tolls was estimated to yield $800 million in revenue annually after costs were subtracted. Last week, however, a more limited, $2 toll plan that reportedly would generate $450 million in yearly revenue was proposed.

Coalition members stressed that any tolls along the East and Harlem River bridges would not fairly spread the fiscal burden on New Yorkers. Instead, coalition members pointed to other alternatives to tolls to generate revenues while helping to stave off subway and bus fare hikes and service cuts. Comptroller Thompson has proposed a weight-based registration fee on private and commercial vehicles. That plan would generate more than $1 billion in annual regional revenue for the MTA while promoting energy independence and easing parking shortages in New York City neighborhoods.

Thompson's plan calls for an additional, weight-based transit-dedicated assessment of $100 for vehicles weighing 2,300 pounds or less, plus $.09 for every pound of curb weight over 2,300. Under such a fee structure, a Toyota Yaris, a light and fuel-efficient vehicle with a curb weight of 2,293 pounds, would cost an additional $100 to register, while a Lincoln Navigator, one of the heaviest and least fuel-efficient vehicles with a curb weight of 5,963 pounds, would cost an additional $430 to register.

Thompson said the fee could be phased-in over time, allowing residents to take the fee into account when making auto purchasing decisions. He noted that New Yorkers who own cars generally have higher incomes; therefore, the fee structure would impact New Yorkers with lower incomes to a lesser degree than seeking to raise revenues by raising transit fares.