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Brooklyn delegation split on congestion fee-Move to tax motorists divided local representatives in Albany

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By Stephen Witt

The majority of Brooklyn's delegation to the State Assembly and Senate opposed Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan that passed through City Council in a 30-20 vote, according to several state elected officials.

However, the borough's state delegation was somewhat divided depending on from what area of Brooklyn they represented.

Ultimately the measure was killed in Albany after Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said the bill would not even be brought to the Assembly floor for a vote.

Under the Council's approved congestion pricing plan, cars from the outer boroughs would have paid $8 and trucks would pay $21 to drive below 60th Street in Manhattan between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

This fee would have also charged motorists passing through the zone on the FDR and West Side Highway - effectively making a toll to enter Manhattan via the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.

Had the measure passed, the city would have gotten $354 million in federal money for mass transit improvements.

"The problem was people like myself didn't believe to charge that kind of money [in tolls] the transit improvements would come," said Assemblymember Peter Abbate, who represents Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge.

Abbate said he attended several closed door meetings with the Assembly's Democratic delegation on the issue and it ran about 3-1 with members speaking out against the proposal.

"I got a phone call from the mayor last week and he said he thought it was important and an opportunity to help mass transit, and I said Mr. Mayor, 'I trust in you but I don't trust in the MTA and don't think a lot of these projects will get done," he added.

Among those Assembly members who said they would have voted for the measure was Joan Millman, who represents Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, DUMBO, Vinegar Hill, Gowanus, Park Slope, and Prospect Heights.

"I will vote yes even though I still have major concerns and questions about the plan itself," said Millman in a written statement.

"Representing downtown Brooklyn, I know too well the traffic jams caused by the hundreds of cars, taxis, trucks and limos traveling into Manhattan via the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges," she added.

Millman said she would have voted yes with the hope the discussion continued.

"My suggestions as well as those of my colleagues deserve a fair hearing. All of us want, need and demand a superior mass transportation system, cleaner air, and a pedestrian friendlier city," she added.

Assemblymember James Brennan introduced an amended version of the bill that would exempt motorists who bypass the congestion zone utilizing the FDR and West Side Highway.

Brennan's amendments also includes a $1 surcharge on taxis in the zone and an exemption for those who live in the zone, and who may have to move a few blocks back and forth inside and outside the zone for parking purposes.

Brennan said the bill was doomed from the start for lack of support and even those members like himself that would have supported the bill wanted amendments to it.

On the Senate side, among the ardent opponents of the measure was Sen. Kevin Parker, who represents Flatbush, Midwood and parts of Borough Park.

"I was very much against it," said Parker. "I think it was the mayor's version of selling snake oil. Where they come and promise to cure cancer, and give you a benign liquid, and at the same time fleecing you of your hard-earned dollars."

Also speaking out against the plan was Sen. Carl Kruger.

"The death of congestion pricing in New York City marks a victory for New Yorkers both philosophically and economically," said Kruger, who represents such neighborhoods as Sheepshead Bay, Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, Midwood and parts of Georgetowne.

Among the senators from Brooklyn who supported the bill were Velmanette Montgomery, who represents such neighborhoods as Boerum Hill, Prospect Heights, Fort Greene and Clinton Hill; and Marty Golden, who represents such neighborhoods as Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Marine Park, and Gerritsen Beach.

"I would have voted yes. I regret that the legislature did not have more time and opportunity to negotiate with the mayor around some of the concerns of my constituents and other city residents," said Montgomery.

Golden spokesperson John Quaglione said the senator would have voted yes to approve the congestion pricing plan with the understanding that the $354 million in federal money would go toward improving transportation in the city.

"We would have witnessed new buses, new ferries, better train service and less traffic on our streets. This plan was a

pilot program that Senator Golden felt was worth trying out," said Quaglione.

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