On Wednesday, Governor Kathy Hochul performed one of the great rug-pulls in New York history, telling the Metropolitan Transit Authority “indefinitely” to pause Gotham’s imminent congestion-pricing program, which she had vocally supported throughout her time in office. The initiative, which would have been the first of its kind in the nation and was scheduled to start June 30, planned to collect $15 from most motorists and $36 from large trucks entering Manhattan south of 60th Street during daytime hours.

Setting aside the merits of congestion pricing, which have been debated for decades, Hochul’s abrupt cancellation of a progressive-favored policy has led some on her left to question her leadership. The governor’s clumsy handling is yet another example of the political ineptitude that has marked her tenure.

Hochul inherited the congestion-pricing plan from her predecessor Andrew Cuomo, and she has backed the program since assuming office. She expressed some hesitation about the implementation timeline in a 2022 debate, but soon afterward reiterated her “100 percent“ support. Her fiscal year 2025 executive budget even proposed criminalizing congestion-toll evaders.

Hochul stressed that the resulting revenues would be used to improve the MTA’s aging infrastructure. The congestion-pricing law required the MTA to raise at least $1 billion in annual revenue from the program, through which the agency could issue $15 billion in new bonds for infrastructure needs. But tying the plan to the MTA’s funding enabled opponents to characterize it as a cash grab for the dismally inefficient authority, not a genuine attempt to boost Manhattanites’ quality of life by reducing vehicular congestion. The program also offered few benefits for suburban areas and failed to placate public-sector workers facing extremely high living costs.  

For months, the state’s lawyers have defended the plan in court against federal lawsuits that brought New Jersey, the city’s teacher’s union, Republicans, the NAACP, the Long Island town of Hempstead, and truckers together in common cause; elected Republicans even joined the United Federation of Teachers’ suit as co-plaintiffs. Initially, the barrage of legal action didn’t deter Hochul. In response to a reporter’s question about the fate of the congestion-pricing plan, the governor declared, “It’ll happen. We get sued every day. I say, ‘Get in line.’”

In the end, however, it was Hochul who fell in line with political realities. Neither she nor the MTA nor transit and climate advocates had turned the tide of public opinion, which resolutely opposed the measure. An April Siena poll showed that 64 percent of city residents, and 63 percent of New Yorkers statewide, gave thumbs down to the plan. These numbers apparently drew Washington’s attention: Politico reported on Tuesday that House Minority Leader Hakeem Jefferies had signaled his worries over the program’s electoral consequences for Democrats come November.

Democrats feared that congestion pricing could become for Republicans in 2024 what crime was in 2022, when Hochul’s party lost four House seats in downstate purple suburban districts—where car-dependent voters live. Staring down the barrel of a repeat electoral embarrassment that could potentially spill over into New Jersey and Connecticut districts, the governor decided that backlash from congestion-pricing advocates would amount to less of a political hit in November than motivating suburban auto commuters, public employees, Republicans, and other opponents to come out to the polls.

The governor’s short-term calculation will likely put pressure on Mayor Eric Adams, one of her highest-profile political allies. That’s because the very constituency the governor deems less of a political liability this year—transit and climate activists—may mobilize to become the mayor’s headache. The low-turnout Democratic mayoral primary is favorable terrain for such advocates, who will use the congestion-pricing issue as a litmus test.

Hochul’s decision, regardless of its merits, undermines her leadership. It effectively erases her meaningful political achievements from April’s enacted state budget, which saw notable progress on housing reform and pot-shop enforcement and resisted progressives’ demands for strong tenant protections, rent controls, and higher taxes. To her allies, she now appears unreliable; to her opponents, weak; to interest groups, malleable; and to voters, indecisive.

As economist Arpit Gupta points out, the cancellation will also encourage interest groups to forgo formal lawmaking processes and try to force a last-minute veto of future government plans. If a program publicly deliberated for years, and on which the state spent $500 million to set up toll-camera gantries across Manhattan, can be abandoned at the eleventh hour, no proposal is safe from political vicissitudes. Unlike her predecessor in the governor’s office, Hochul lacks the political capital and will to see her priorities through. In the remote chance that she eventually un-pauses congestion pricing, she will look yet more indecisive. New York’s governor has an unsteady hand on the wheel.



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