As expected, the city-and-state appointed Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission recommended a scaled-back version of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan last Thursday, paving the way for the City Council, state Assembly and state Senate to bring the plan under their scrutiny over the next two months.The three legislative bodies have until March 31 to weigh in and approve or deny the controversial plan, which would charge cars $8 and trucks $21 to enter Manhattan south of 60th Street between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. $350 million dollars in federal funding are available to New York City, but only if the plan is approved by March 31, adding pressure to lawmakers' decision. "New York cannot afford to walk away from hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds and a guaranteed revenue stream for the MTA's capital plan - which is necessary if we're going to continue to grow and thrive - and we can't afford to do nothing about traffic-choking congestion, which is costing our city billions and polluting our air," Bloomberg said in a statement following the decision. The City Council will be the first to take on the plan, though no date has been officially set. The plan has received a cool reception from many of Queens' councilmembers over the last several months."A real congestion pricing plan must incorporate significant improvement and investment in mass transit," said Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills). "This latest congestion pricing proposal being reported fails to address its central goal of reducing congestion and amounts to an unfair tax on commuters in the four boroughs outside Manhattan."One key councilman who supports the plan is Council Transportation Committee Chairman John Liu (D-Flushing). "This is a plan that will make many people angry," Liu said. "But if we don't have this mitigation plan we're going to get choked, both environmentally - in terms of air pollution - and economically." Liu said his support is contingent on mass transit improvements being implemented in the outer boroughs prior to the plan being implemented and all of the money generated by congestion pricing being reinvested into capital projects for the MTA once the pilot program begins. "What is troubling to me is this increasing talk of using congestion pricing revenues to relieve the budget deficit of the MTA," he said. "Congestion pricing is a tax. It's a tax that should be reinvested in new and improved mass transit, not just to plug the MTA's budget gaps." Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@
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