Did she even count the MTA votes?

Last updated on June 6, 2024

With help from Shawn Ness

The MTA board learned about Gov. Kathy Hochul's pivot away from congestion pricing at the same time everyone else did: when reporters broke the news. They will now likely have to hold a vote on whether to implement the policy or not.

MTA SURPRISE: The MTA board will likely have to vote on whether to implement congestion pricing. But those tasked with formalizing Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision to indefinitely pause the tolling plan got no advance notice.

“I was not consulted, and other board members were caught off guard,” Midori Valdivia, a member of the MTA board appointed by the mayor, told Playbook.

Another board member, who agreed to speak on background due to the sensitivity of the situation, put it more bluntly.

“We have no idea what the fuck’s going on,” the person said. “We haven’t since this all started.”

The problem for Hochul is that the Legislature has signaled it will not implement a last minute payroll tax on the last day of the legislative session, leaving the state in a $1 billion hole if it moves through with Hochul’s call to suspend congestion pricing.

“I believe the governor did misjudge this,” State Senate Finance Chair Liz Krueger said. Regarding the willingness of Senate Democrats to support a tax, she added, “I do not believe we have an appetite for that.”

There is still speculation about how and if the governor can unilaterally implement her last-minute decision to shut down the congestion pricing program. Rachael Fauss, a senior policy advisor with Reinvent Albany, said that if the Legislature doesn’t act, the move will go to the MTA board, putting intense scrutiny on the 23-person board.

“She hires and fires the MTA board,” Fauss said of the governor. “But there’s a whole section of state law that requires MTA board members to fill out an oath and to essentially say that they are going to be fiduciarily responsible for the MTA. That is in complete conflict with the governor’s plan because they would have to vote to defend themselves. I think that that opens the MTA to lawsuits.”

The board is made up of 14 votes, but one vacancy on the board (a Cuomo appointee) leaves it at 13 votes. Five gubernatorial appointees, four mayoral picks and one each from Suffolk, Nassau and Westchester counties comprise the body.

Representatives from Rockland, Dutchess, Orange and Putnam counties each get one-fourth of a vote, totaling up to one vote from the upstate counties. MTA Chair Janno Lieber, a champion of congestion pricing, can break a tie.

This all means that pro-congestion pricing advocates would need to convince seven members of the board to kill the governor’s new anti-congestion pricing plan to have a majority should a vote come before the body.

“If this doesn’t come to a board vote, then I am confused as to our role as a board,” Valdivia said. She also pointed out the board had already voted on the issue twice.

Since the governor’s announcement, two top city officials and mayoral appointees to the board, Meera Joshi and Daniel Garodnick, have come out against the governor’s move. Fellow board members David Jones, Valdivia and Samuel Chu also support congestion pricing.

That’s five board members who want the tolling plan, meaning they would only need two more to undo Hochul’s reversal.

In a March MTA board meeting, almost all board members spoke in strong support of congestion pricing.

Mayor Eric Adams gently endorsed the governor’s anti-congestion pricing move.

“I think that if she’s looking at analyzing what other ways we can do it and how we do it correctly, I’m all for it,” Adams said. “We have to get it right. This is a major shift in our city and it must be done correctly.”

Fauss anticipated this “will not be an easy fight for the governor at the board level if the Legislature washes their hands of this and says it’s your problem, governor.”

As the Legislature scrambles to consider other options to make up the $1 billion, and MTA board members continue to piece together what happened, the governor who started this all remains behind closed doors.

She hasn’t spoken once with reporters since making the consequential decision, and nothing’s on her public schedule today either. — Jason Beeferman

Hospital lobbyists unsuccessfully tried to kill state Sen. Gustavo Rivera and Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon's bill that would reform the state's regulatory process for closing state hospitals.

CLOSING REMARKS: Hospital lobbyists made an unsuccessful, last-ditch effort Thursday to stop the Assembly from passing legislation to reform the state’s regulatory process for hospital closures.

Hours after the Healthcare Association of New York State circulated a four-page opposition memorandum criticizing the bill as imposing “proscriptive and duplicative” requirements on hospitals, the Assembly passed the bill by a vote of 106-38.

The bill, which was sponsored by Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon and state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, would institute new public engagement and regulatory requirements for hospitals that seek the state’s approval to either close entirely or significantly reduce services. Currently hospitals must obtain the Department of Health’s signoff on a closure plan, but local health advocates have criticized the process as opaque.

The longtime legislative proposal was inspired by the 2014 closure of Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn but gained momentum this session amid debate over the potential closure of SUNY Downstate Medical Center, also in Brooklyn.

“This week’s action in the state Legislature to give final passage to the LICH bill is a major step forward in ensuring that affected communities get a say when their hospitals are proposing to close entirely or eliminate such vital services as maternity, emergency and mental health care,” Lois Uttley, co-founder of Community Voices for Health System Accountability, a statewide health advocacy network, said in a statement.

More than 40 hospitals across the state have closed in the last decade. Maya Kaufman

‘LASALLE LAW’ MOVING AGAIN: Lawmakers are taking another crack at a bill that arose from the fallout over last year’s blocked nomination of Hector LaSalle to the Court of Appeals. Following a pro-LaSalle effort from unidentified donors, legislators passed a bill that would subject lobbying efforts for or against gubernatorial nominations to the same disclosure rules as regular lobbying.

Hochul vetoed that bill, pointing to concerns that the retroactive rules would subject groups to requirements they weren’t prepared for. It has since been rewritten to make it only proactive in an attempt to avoid another veto. The Senate passed a version by Deputy Leader Mike Gianaris a few months ago, and a version from Assemblymember John McDonald has been moving through committee this week.

“The bottom line is when anybody’s being considered for nomination before the Senate, whether it’s for an agency head or the Court of Appeals, those individuals should be under the same rules for transparency,” McDonald said. — Bill Mahoney

CITY WORKER CHARGED BY FEDS: Tommy Lin, a longtime aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio and donor to Eric Adams, was arrested today on federal charges, and accused of scheming to defraud banks out of at least $10 million by filing false claim reports.

Lin is accused of providing names and birthdays of potential targets to two other defendants and running background checks on them to make sure they weren’t under investigation. Lin is also accused of arranging a $20,000 bribe with an federal immigration officer to arrest somebody who has been scheming with them, but became disgruntled.

Lin was a constituent services director in de Blasio’s Community Affairs Unit, and was a senior advisor to the NYPD’s Asian Advisory Council. U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams accused him of “leveraging his connection in law enforcement” to further the scheme in 2019 and 2020.

Lin gave a max-out $2,000 donation to Adams after he won the mayoral primary in 2021. Lin now works in the Adams administration as a community relations specialist in the Department of Environment Preservation. The Adams administration didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Those in municipal offices are expected to conduct themselves with rectitude and obedience to the law, not engage in the purposeful manipulation of our economic infrastructure,” FBI Assistant Director in Charge James Smith said in a press release. Jeff Coltin

— NEW YORK TO CONFORM: New York and Nevada are the only two states in the country that do not follow the CDC’s guidelines on HIV screenings. Lawmakers want that to change. The new bill would require notification that an HIV test will be performed and provide information on pre and post-exposure medications. (State of Politics)

— RACEHORSES DYING AT ALARMING RATES: A Newsday investigation found that Belmonte racehorses are dying at rates higher than at other racetracks, despite Belmont and the state’s efforts to reduce horse racing deaths. (Newsday)

— IT’S A POST-DOBBS WORLD: A bill that would protect New Yorkers’ health data that is not usually included under the purview of federal health privacy protections is all set to pass the state Legislature, despite tech companies attempts to stall it for the last year. (POLITICO Pro)