Congestion Pricing Deal Reached

Governor Spitzer’s office just sent out an announcement confirming earlier press reports that state leaders reached a deal on congestion pricing that will allow the city to complete its application for federal pilot funds. They did not approve congestion fees per se, however, but succeeded in pushing the debate back a few months and also off onto the City Council.

Basically, the leaders agreed to a bill that will set up a 17-member commission, the New York City Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, appointed by state and city officials, to develop a “traffic mitigation” plan. The plan will, if approved by the City Council, move to the Legislature. In the interim, the city “can begin necessary preparatory steps, but cannot impose any congestion pricing fees,” according to the statement.

It was part of a kitchen-sink deal that included resolutions on campaign finance and property tax relief for senior citizens.

Here’s the full release from the Governor:

AGREEMENT REACHED ON CONGESTION MITIGATION PLAN, CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM, CAPITAL INVESTMENTS AND SENIOR PROPERTY TAX RELIEF
City authorized to move forward with congestion mitigation

First significant changes to campaign finance laws in more than 30 years

Agreement on new investments to spur economic development

Low and middle income seniors to get additional property tax relief

Framework to continue discussions on open issues

Congestion Pricing

Governor Eliot Spitzer, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith, Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco and Mayor Michael Bloomberg today reached an agreement to adopt a statute authorizing a New York City congestion pricing plan to address severe traffic congestion in Manhattan and its related public health, environmental and economic consequences.

The bill creates a 17-member New York City Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission composed of appointees of State and City officials. The Commission will review the City’s plan as well as other congestion mitigation proposals, and will develop a plan for implementing the traffic mitigation proposals. That implementation plan will be subject to review and approval by the State Legislature, following receipt of a resolution by the City Council. Under the agreed upon legislation, the City can begin necessary preparatory steps, but cannot impose any congestion pricing fees until the implementation plan has been approved by the State Legislature.

Today’s agreement is an essential step towards the City’s efforts to obtain federal funding. The U.S. Secretary of Transportation is expected to make final decisions on the submitted proposals by August 8, 2007.

Campaign Finance Reform

Governor Eliot Spitzer, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith and Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco today announced that an agreement has been reached to reform New York State’s campaign finance laws. The agreement involves significant changes to the campaign finance laws in a number of areas,
including:

Lower Contribution Limits

- Significant reductions of the limits on contributions to individual
candidates for State and local offices, with state office contribution
reductions as follows:
– Statewide candidates – from $52,427/$55,900 (depending on party) to
$25,000
– Senate candidates – from $15,500 to $11,500
– Assembly candidates – from $7,600 to $4,600

- Closing the corporate subsidiary loophole;

- Prohibition against contributions from sham LLCs by banning
contributions from LLCs that have little or no assets, income, or that
have been recently created;

- Prohibition against contributions from registered lobbyists;

- Imposition of a $300,000 annual cap on contributions to parties’
housekeeping accounts to take effect in January 2009, with a gradual
lowering to $225,000 in January 2011, and $150,000 in January 2013;

- A reduction from $94,200 to $50,000 in the aggregate annual cap on
donations to party committees; and,

- Provisions to level the playing field when a race includes a wealthy
self-financed candidate.

Enhanced Enforcement

- Creation of a statutory enforcement unit within the Board of Elections;

- Expansion of the jurisdiction of the Board of Elections;

- Increases in civil penalties;

Enhanced Disclosure and Transparency

- Disclosure of bundling by registered lobbyists and other individuals;

- Requirement that contributors disclose employer and occupation
information;

- Prohibition against candidates maintaining more than two authorized
committees;

- More frequent filing requirements;

- Increased reporting of information about contributions and expenditures
that occur close to the day of the election;

- Increased itemization of expenditures; and,

- Greater public access to computerized campaign finance information.

Capital Investments

In addition the leaders agreed to enact substantial new capital investments tied to economic development initiatives across the State. The investments will jump start efforts in communities, particularly Upstate, that are looking for help with job-producing projects that might not otherwise move forward.

New Relief for Low and Middle Income Seniors

The leaders have agreed to enact an additional senior property tax cut that will help alleviate the tax burden on seniors making $67,850 or less, many of whom are living on fixed incomes and need help the most.

Policy Discussions to Continue

In addition, the leaders agreed to continue talks on legislation discussed in the open leaders' meetings and conference committees on issues involving video violence, an expanded DNA data bank, additional Capital investments for higher education, the healthy schools initiative, Paid Family Leave, Wicks, Article 10, Empire Zones and Brownfields reforms.

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Good Government Groups Offer Support for
Campaign Finance Reform Agreement

The Brennan Center for Justice

Michael Waldman, Executive Director of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law said "This was a great day for breaking gridlock in more ways than one. This campaign finance reform bill is a significant step forward in improving New York's laws and strengthening our democracy. It shows what a difference real leadership can make. Gov. Spitzer's dogged insistence on progress on reform made a dramatic difference. We congratulate him and the legislative leaders for this important first step.
We will continue to work for further progress in areas including public financing, reforms for judicial selection and improved redistricting procedures."

The New York Public Interest Research Group

Russ Haven, NYPIRG Legislative Counsel, said, "This agreement represents a real step forward in reducing the influence of special interest political donations, giving the public more information about who funds and greases campaigns, and strengthening enforcement of the laws. The Governor deserves tremendous credit for his perseverance and leadership in advancing these improvements to New York's campaign finance system. Democracy, however, is a work in progress and the work of reform is never done. We're all obliged to be vigilant, closely monitor the impacts of these changes, and continue to press for items that were left for another day."

The League of Women Voters of New York State

Barbara Bartoletti from the League of Women Voters of New York State said, “The LWVNYS believes this agreement will improve significantly the disclosure and enforcement of campaign financing in NYS. This moves us in the right direction and we congratulate the Governor and legislative leaders.”

Citizens Union

Dick Dadey, Executive Director of Citizens Union of the City of New York, said, “Today, the public interest earns a win against the special interests
that have sometimes stymied progress on important state issues The
announcement by Governor Spitzer that an agreement in principle has been reached to strengthen the campaign finance laws of New York State for the
first time in decades is good news for the citizens of New York. These
improvements hopefully will begin to weaken the strong influence that campaign dollars have on how important issues get decided in Albany and give New Yorkers better information on how money is raised and spent in
campaigns. The Governor and the legislative leaders are to be commended
for finally making some headway on a long neglected issue.”