RELEASE: Gottheimer Calls Out the MTA for Failure to Comply with Legal Request & Explain Congestion Tax Revenue Calculations

CEO Janno Lieber refuses to meet & be transparent. MTA has been silent for 60+ business days. Announcing new, bipartisan action to stop the implementation of the Congestion Tax

Apr 24, 2024
Press

Above: Gottheimer at the MTA headquarters.

MANHATTAN, NY — Today, April 24, 2024, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) visited the MTA headquarters after the agency failed to comply with an official Freedom of Information Law or FOIL request more than 60 business days ago and ignored more than 30 messages from Congressman Gottheimer’s office, requesting a meeting with MTA CEO Janno Lieber. Following today’s announcement at the MTA headquarters, Lieber was unavailable to meet with Gottheimer.

In January, Gottheimer filed an official Freedom of Information Law, or FOIL, request to the MTA to provide any emails and documents containing the data, calculations, and discussions that went into their Congestion Tax revenue projects. The MTA has refused to share this data and their calculations — the public deserves to know.

The $15/day Congestion Tax would whack hardworking New Jersey and New York commuters with a $4,000 annual bill just to travel south of 60th Street in Manhattan. According to a Congressional report produced by Congressman Gottheimer, the MTA’s Congestion Tax cash grab will raise $3.4 billion — more than triple the amount required by the New York State Legislature.

Video of Gottheimer’s remarks here

According to the MTA’s own reports, the Congestion Tax will price out up to twenty percent of Manhattan commuters, driving up prices and encouraging businesses to leave New York. Additionally, the Tax will result in a $830 million loss to the Port Authority, which provides vital funding for North Jersey infrastructure projects. Finally, the Congestion Tax will increase the concentration of known carcinogens like formaldehyde in the air of Bergen County and the Outer Boroughs because of increased truck traffic.

“Since Janno and the MTA won’t get back to us, I thought I’d just stop by the MTA’s office to pay Janno a visit, share my grave concerns about the commuter-crushing, cancer-causing Congestion Tax, and see if he has the documents I’ve requested,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “Federal lawmakers and the public have a right to review the MTA’s math and understand the Congestion Tax’s impact. What is the MTA hiding? After wasting billions of taxpayer dollars, the public deserves a little bit of transparency.”

Gottheimer’s New Action to Stop the Congestion Tax:

  1. Gottheimer is sending a bipartisan letter to the Chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, with Congressman Kean (NJ-7), Congressman D’Esposito (NY-4), Congresswoman Malliotakis (NY-11), and Congressman Lawler (NY-17) requesting a formal subpoena for the information that Congressman Gottheimer sought in his FOIL request and a hearing where Janno Lieber and other MTA leaders can testify about the Congestion Tax.
  2. Congressman Gottheimer and fellow Problem Solvers Caucus Member Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis (NY-11) have introduced new legislation to block the implementation of the Congestion Tax.

According to a new poll from Siena College this week, opposition to the Congestion Tax is bipartisan. A majority of New York Republicans, Democrats, and Independents are against the MTA’s Congestion Tax plan. One in seven New Yorkers said that they’d travel less to Manhattan to avoid the tax.

Below: Gottheimer at the MTA headquarters.

Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery: 

Thank you for joining us here this morning outside of the MTA’s headquarters.  More than sixty days ago, I put in a freedom of information request to the MTA asking for their math and modeling on the Congestion Tax — their analysis of how they set the price at $15 dollars and exactly how much they planned to raise from the Congestion Tax. What are their calculations? My team calculated it would be far more than the $1 billion New York State law requires — we believe on the conservative side, it would raise about $3.4 billion — and we didn’t even include their plans for surge pricing.

For more than sixty days now, we’ve heard nothing. We’ve even called and emailed the MTA several times a week to see if I could meet with CEO Janno Lieber to discuss it. The response on all fronts — crickets.

This week, the MTA officially passed the sixty business day mark to respond to the formal freedom of information law, or FOIL request, I submitted. My guess on why? 

Maybe the MTA and Janno Lieber are so arrogant or incompetent that they think blowing off the federal government is a smart move — mind you, the US government gave the MTA $2 billion in last year’s budget. Smart move for the future. Perhaps Janno didn’t get my dozens and dozens of messages. Maybe their Congestion Tax pricing documents got lost in the mail. Or, my report is spot on, close to it, or it’s even more — and the MTA just can’t admit that they will actually raise billions more every year from the Congestion Tax than they are supposed to. 

It would blow up their entire cash-grabbing scheme. And it would support my argument that New York and MTA could afford to eliminate the Congestion Tax for all folks coming over the Jersey crossings — the George Washington Bridge, and the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels. Call me psychic, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the MTA is evading us because their plan, which is supposed to start in June, will raise billions more than it’s supposed to.

Either way, since Janno and the MTA won’t get back to us, I thought I’d just stop by the MTA’s office, pay Janno a visit, share my grave concerns about the commuter-crushing, cancer-causing Congestion Tax, and see if he has the documents I’ve requested. Federal lawmakers and the public have a right to review the MTA’s math and understand the Congestion Tax’s impact. 

As a quick reminder, the Congestion Tax will impose a $15-a-day charge on hardworking families, coming in from New Jersey, Staten Island, and the Outer Boroughs — plus 25 percent surge pricing, parking, and gas. That’s on top of the regular tolls. Those without E-ZPass will have to shell out even more — $22.50 to go south of 60th Street. Oh, and the MTA can raise the Congestion Tax by 10 percent this year — yup, they pre-approved an increase before it even started.

Here’s the good news for the bean counters at the MTA, I brought my duffle bag and my business card, so, hopefully, I can get the documents I legally requested explaining the Congestion Tax. After all, they’ve had plenty of time for double talk over the last several months, careening between reasons and excuses for their outrageous Congestion Tax. They accidentally spent $1 billion extra on the new 2nd Avenue subway stop. Fare skippers cost them $700 million last year. They inadvertently spent $1.42 billion on overtime pay in 2023. A judge called the MTA an “orgy of overtime fraud.” 

After all, the MTA is the worst run mass transit system in the country. They’re running a $3 billion annual budget deficit. There’s one thing they have admitted to: the Congestion Tax will lead to more traffic and cancer-causing pollution in northern New Jersey and the Outer Boroughs. That’s in the one document they have been willing to release — maybe that’s because it was required by law.  

But, if Janno doesn’t come down with the documents, and they still won’t sit with me today, we will try another way. Don’t worry, I have a backup plan. Later today, along with a bipartisan group of members from New York and New Jersey, I’ll be sending a letter to the Chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee urging him to subpoena the MTA and get the data that I asked for in my FOIL request. It also requests that Janno and other MTA’s leadership testify before Congress. The MTA can ignore the freedom of information request, but let’s see how Janno responds to a Congressional subpoena. 

I’m also announcing today new bipartisan legislation with my fellow Problem Solver Caucus member from Staten Island, Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis to block the Congestion Tax. Our legislation will block the implementation of the Congestion Tax this June and protect commuters, families, and businesses. If the MTA is going to keep taking federal dollars, we’re going to make sure they’re accountable to the federal government.

The bottom line: the MTA thought that they could ignore our comments, our emails, and our calls. They rammed the Congestion Tax through a bureaucratic process, and now, they’re playing every legal trick in the book to fend off lawsuits from Jersey, Staten Island, Rockland County, the NAACP, and the teachers’ union. 

Those tricks can’t distract from the fact that opposition to the Congestion Tax is bipartisan. According to a new poll just this week from Siena College, a majority of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents in New York all oppose this cash grab. One in seven people said they’d travel less to Manhattan to avoid the toll. Commuters won’t tolerate the tax.

The Congestion Tax will cause a domino effect. The new costs on truckers will translate into higher prices for groceries. According to the MTA’s own analysis, up to twenty percent of drivers could be priced out of commuting to Manhattan. Businesses in the New York metro area will lose out on talent and close up shops — hardworking folks just won’t be able to afford to go into the City.

And, the Congestion Tax will take an $830 million bite out of the Port Authority’s capital fund because of reduced traffic to the Lincoln and Holland tunnels. As a result, we will lose out on infrastructure funding that would make our bridges safer, our airports more efficient, and frankly, our region more attractive for investment.

But economics is only part of this equation. I have serious concerns about the environmental and health impacts of this tax as well. As the MTA has admitted, trucks will get backed up deeper in Bergen County and the Outer Boroughs. According to the MTA’s own reports, the Congestion Tax will emit more dangerous pollutants into the lungs of our children — including formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. 

We’d get a better return on investment lighting our money on fire than putting it into this black box of mismanagement.

So let’s speak up. Let’s speak up for the nurses, teachers, and cops who will have to decide whether they can still afford to work. Let’s speak up for the tri-state residents who will have fewer job opportunities and pay higher prices because of the Congestion Tax. Let’s speak up for the children who will be irreparably harmed by the carcinogens. 

And, if we speak with one voice, we’ll be too loud for the Janno Lieber and the MTA to ignore.  

Thank you so much for joining us today. Never forget: no one messes with Jersey. If we stand against this Congestion Tax, I know that here, in the best region of the greatest country in the world, our best days will always be ahead of us. 

May God bless you, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

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