Assembly Member Kellner Comes Around on Pricing

kellner.jpgHaving portrayed himself as a lukewarm supporter of congestion pricing, Upper East Side Assemblyman Micah Kellner let loose with some surprisingly pointed remarks last week, when, to paraphrase, he told the New York Times he didn't think Governor David Paterson would try to shove the congestion pricing bill down the throats of Assembly members.

Now that Paterson has announced his support for the plan, a recent letter to a constituent seems to indicate that Kellner has had a change of heart. Rather than oppose the bill as introduced, Kellner says he will support it while "working to make it an even better bill."

The assemblyman's sticking points include exemptions for the disabled, whether or not they own a car; exemptions for hospital patients; surcharges for drivers who don't have E-ZPass; and "fee equity for New Jersey drivers."

The full text of the letter follows the jump.

Thank you for contacting me to let me know of your support for the congestion pricing plan as recommended by the New York State Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission on January 31, 2008.

I agree with you on this important issue, and I look forward to voting for the Governor's congestion pricing bill when it comes to the Assembly floor.

I am particularly proud that three changes that I testified in favor of made it into the draft bill that has been submitted to the State Legislature: 1. Residential parking permits; 2. Dedication of any and all congestion pricing revenue to funding capital improvements for our mass transit system, and; 3. Exemptions for people with disabilities who have DMV-issued disabled license plates.

Until the bill actually comes to a vote, I will be working to make it an even better bill - because although we need congestion pricing, there are still significant problems.

*People with Disabilities*

The bill contains an exemption for drivers with disabled plates, but does not include exemptions for people with disabilities who use accessible taxis or those people with disabilities who have SVIP placards (about 5000 New Yorkers have these placards; they are issued by the New York City Department of Transportation to people with disabilities who do not own their own cars but are frequently transported by another person, usually a family member).

*Patients at Hospitals Within the Zone*

The bill contains no exemptions for drivers traveling to and from Manhattan hospitals, several of which are located on the Upper East Side.

*Low-Income Drivers*

I believe that a tax credit for low-income drivers is appropriate and in line with New York's tradition of progressive taxation (those who can least afford to pay should not be taxed as much as those who can afford to pay more). $8 is more of a burden for a family that is low-income than for a family with a larger household income because low-income drivers are less like to have EZ-Pass. I believe it is unfair to subject these families to an additional $1 surcharge for not having EZ-Pass, on top of other related penalties.

*New Jersey** Needs To Pay Its Fair Share*

I also believe that we need to see more efforts towards fee equity for New Jersey drivers. The current plan exempts New Jersey drivers from paying the congestion pricing fee, leaving them no incentive to park their cars and take mass transit. Out of state drivers should not be getting what amounts to a discount and leaving New Yorkers to pay the lion's share of this tax.

Last year, I sent a survey to all registered voters in my district and I compiled a report from those findings. In total there were over 400 respondents. 64 percent of residents indicated their support for some form of congestion pricing, but most had reservations about some of the details of the plan, including many of the issues I discussed in this letter. My report as well as my corresponding testimony in front of the Commission on January 16, 2008 are available for you to read on my Assembly website (go to www.assembly.state.ny.us
<http://www.assembly.state.ny.us/> and click on my name, there are links to the testimony and report there).

Congestion pricing is an important and complicated undertaking, but one that I believe is incredibly important for the environmental, health, and economic future of the entire region. I'm glad to have your support on this important issue.

Thank you again for contacting me. Your opinions and feedback are important to me and I hope that you will continue to share them.

Very truly yours,

Micah Z. Kellner
Assembly Member