- Lawmakers are threatening to introduce legislation that would charge out-of-state drivers extra when they cross between New Jersey and New York if New York City moves forward with its congestion pricing plan for lower Manhattan.
- U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., joined fellow Democrats State Sen. Joe Lagana, Assemblyman Chris Tully and Assemblywoman Lisa Swain in saying Monday they would add the New Jersey state sales tax only to out-of-state drivers, applying it to every toll charged between the two states.
- Every dollar the state collects from the added tax would go into what the legislators called a congestion tax relief fund, which they said would help alleviate costs for New Jersey commuters who get "whacked" by the congestion charge in New York. Gottheimer also promised to advise U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg of the plan and urged the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to pause approvals of New York's congestion pricing.
In prepared remarks, Gottheimer said the impact of congestion pricing on New Jersey drivers could be tremendous. He said that 276,000 trucks and cars travel over the George Washington Bridge each day, while a combined 212,000 go through the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels daily. The average toll is about $16 for cars, he said, and more than $100 for trucks, which goes into New York's coffers. This proposal would look to give the extra money drivers would pay under New York's congestion pricing scheme back to New Jersey commuters.
"In short, if New York is going to attack our wallets, we’re going to give them a taste of their own medicine," Gottheimer said. "We'll fight fire with fire."
New Jersey elected officials have raised concerns for some time about the effects of congestion pricing on drivers from their state. Gottheimer and Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., introduced the Anti-Congestion Tax Act in May 2019, which would prevent Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) projects from receiving federal grants and offer New Jersey drivers a federal tax credit equal to what they have paid entering Manhattan. That bill died without receiving a hearing or vote.
New York's congestion pricing plan continues to move forward with the support of the federal government. In late March, USDOT's Federal Highway Administration greenlit state and city authorities to undertake an environmental assessment of the project, which includes community engagement. At the time, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement that the scheme "will play a critical role as New York and the nation begin to recover from the pandemic and build back stronger and better than before." He also said it would generate $15 billion needed to help address MTA's capital needs.
Mitch Schwartz, a spokesperson for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, did not respond to questions about the planned legislation, but he said congestion pricing would be crucial for helping the city improve its public transportation service. Representatives with Cuomo's office did not respond to requests for comment.
"Mass transit is the present and future of New York City, and congestion pricing is a valuable tool to fund our subways and buses while finally tackling traffic head-on," Schwartz said in an email. "The Mayor has spoken to USDOT Secretary Buttigieg about advancing the plan, and we’re excited to move it forward."
Local transit advocates, who have consistently supported New York City's congestion pricing efforts to help pay for maintenance to the public transportation system, said nearby residents should be supportive of that push.
"New Yorkers pay each and every time we take the Turnpike or the Parkway in Jersey," Riders Alliance Policy & Communications Director Danny Pearlstein said in a statement. "Jersey residents have everything to gain by supporting New York's effort to invest in the infrastructure at the core of our region's economic recovery. The federal government and Governor Cuomo must ensure the rapid and robust implementation of congestion pricing, with no new exemptions, so that New Yorkers — and Jerseyites — get the modern, reliable, accessible subway we all deserve."
Other local leaders have said that congestion pricing could be a win for the whole region, so long as it is done properly. In an opinion piece last month for NJ.com, former New Jersey Gov. James Florio and Tom Wright, president and CEO of the Regional Plan Association, said it can help pay for transit needs, alleviate congestion and reduce emissions. But they warned leaders to think carefully about any exemptions and how the scheme will work in practice.
"The bottom line is that congestion pricing will be a big win for the entire region, but the MTA needs to consider the impacts it will have on both sides of the Hudson River and implement it fairly and equitably," the pair wrote.