'New York is not going to relent'
'New York is not going to relent'
This week’s issue of NJBIZ includes the latest developments in the congestion pricing fight between New Jersey and New York, which ramped up recently following federal approval to advance the plan, along with Gov. Phil Murphy filing a lawsuit on behalf of the Garden State in response.
“From the very beginning, we have been vehemently against it,” New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Bracken recently told NJBIZ regarding the controversial issue. “We continue to be vehemently against it. It’s a real slap in the face to New Jersey.”
The situation has rippled through the Garden State in a number of ways, even bleeding into the potential 2025 gubernatorial race.
Bracken, who has long opposed congestion pricing, has applauded efforts by state leaders to fight back, including with the filing of that aforementioned lawsuit as well as the signing of legislation (Senate Bill 3128/Assembly Bill 4694) over the summer to combat unfair taxation of New Jerseyans, provide tax credits to companies who open a satellite office in New Jersey, and more.
“I think they [leaders] are resigned to the fact that New York is not going to relent,” Bracken explained. “They are going to do this. So, they are trying to find ways to mitigate the damage.”
U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th District, is another longtime opponent of the plan – which he describes as the “congestion tax” – for a number of reasons, such as the economic and environmental impacts for New Jersey, especially for his constituents in North Jersey.
“The economic impacts are severe for a lot of families,” Gottheimer told NJBIZ, pointing to the already high costs drivers face to cross the bridges and tunnels even before the up-to $23 congestion pricing toll hits as early as this spring.
Last month, Gottheimer held a rally with labor unions to highlight how New York’s plan would impact these workers.
“Our men and women of labor often have no choice but to drive to work – they have to get in early or late to make a shift, or their job requires a vehicle. Yet the MTA’s answer to the problems they created is to take a two-by-four to the hardworking men and women of labor,” said Gottheimer at that press conference in Fort Lee. “Many of them won’t be able to afford this new tax, so they may have to leave their jobs. Others won’t apply – and you’re talking about jobs that are already experiencing massive shortages.”
Gottheimer stressed that the lawsuit filed by the state is calling for a more in-depth study because of all of the potential ramifications – arguing that the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) violated the National Environmental Protection Act, which requires a full environmental impact review for projects of this anticipated impact and scope, as well as the Clean Air Act.
Gottheimer said that the FHWA essentially flipped New Jersey the bird during the review process.
“They basically saw the facts. They saw the devastating impact it would have on families and health – and still decided to drive ahead without actually doing the proper study they should have,” said Gottheimer. “And that’s what this lawsuit is going to try to understand – why?”
Federal officials have not publicly commented on the lawsuit, citing pending litigation.
One prominent Democratic leader, and declared 2025 gubernatorial candidate, has taken a different approach to the issue.
Beginning his campaign, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop recently rolled out a comprehensive transportation plan that hits on a number of points — including the perspective that congestion pricing presents an opportunity for New Jersey.
With its own version of the toll at certain entry points from New York, under Fulop’s plan, New Jersey could help fund its transportation system “on the backs of” New Yorkers, similar to how the Empire State’s congestion pricing plan would fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) at the expense of New Jerseyans. He also has suggested that there could be a potential regional congestion pricing plan with neighbors.
“The DNA of New Jersey is not to whine and complain and just file legal challenges that go nowhere,” said Fulop. “We are action oriented. We punch back and we try to find solutions.”
Fulop’s plan drew some criticism, which he has also pushed back against.
“There’s an opportunity to exempt – I want to be clear – this is not a double-tax on New Jersey residents. Because there’s ways to carve out New Jersey residents so that you are only taxing New York residents,” Fulop explained. “And the reality is that we need funding sources to fund our infrastructure here.
“The crux of what I am saying is that you need a regional solution,” he continued. “But you are not going to get a regional conversation by just whining, having press conferences, and filing lawsuits. You need to actually show some strength, which is applying pressure the same way that they are applying pressure to us.”
Gottheimer – rumored to be a potential 2025 gubernatorial candidate, as well – has a number of concerns about Fulop’s plan, questioning whether it is even plausible or constitutional.
“What will end up happening under his proposal is that people driving from New Jersey will get whacked three times: once on the bridge and tunnels; two, the congestion tax; three, coming home back into New Jersey, they’ll get tolled again,” said Gottheimer. “I do not want to tax people more and have a third toll. So, I don’t really understand why we’d want to hit people with a third toll. I understand he’s thinking we’ll just get New York drivers. But you are also going to get New Jersey drivers. And that’s unacceptable.”
Gottheimer added that the state wants New Yorkers to come here to shop, use our local businesses, and contribute to the economy. And he just does not believe that a congestion tax is a great idea whatsoever.
“That third toll, which I’ll just call the ‘Fulop Tax,’ I think, is wrong for Jersey,” said Gottheimer. “And there’s a reason why everyone – Democrats and Republicans are opposed to it, including the governor and our congressional delegation, our senators. I just think we all need to stand together.”
Fulop has stood by his proposal – stressing that people respond to strength.
“And I think that New Jersey’s DNA is – if somebody pushes us, we push back,” said Fulop. “That’s it.”
Following a press conference last week, Murphy was asked about Fulop’s transportation policy rollout.
“I say this constructively, politely – I think he’s been a terrific mayor I have to say, and we do a lot with him,” Murphy told reporters. “I wasn’t in agreement with a lot of the points on it.”
In the meantime, New York continues to move forward with the controversial plan while New Jersey digs its heels in to continue the fight. Bracken expects it to be a long slog.
“I know the governor of New York is adamant about doing it. I know our governor is adamant in finding a way to mitigate it,” Bracken explained. “So, when you have two very forceful people on different ends of the issue – do the math.”
Gottheimer says that between the governor and congressional delegation and other leaders and stakeholders, they are continuing to build on efforts for that fight.
“I think we’re at the 50-yard line here. You have to see how this lawsuit works out,” Gottheimer explained. “We’ve introduced several pieces of bipartisan legislation in Congress to actually defund the MTA if they move ahead with the congestion tax.”
Gottheimer derided the plan as merely a cash grab.
“This is just unfortunate that something like this can happen. And the underlying premise of taxing New Jersey residents coming to work in New York to fund the MTA – I just don’t get the logic there,” Bracken added.
The MTA has continued to push back on that assertion, defending congestion pricing, and pointing to its potential impacts for both New York and New Jersey.
“Congestion pricing will not only be good for the environment, reduce traffic, and improve regional air quality, but it will also continue to boost the Garden State’s economy by investing billions of dollars in New Jersey-based companies that design and build projects for the MTA,” said MTA Spokesperson Eugene Resnick in a statement.