Assembly leaders plan to force Cuomo’s hand on the Bloomberg taxi bill

Black car and yellow taxi. (Jason Kuffer, via flickr)
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Following reports today that the mayor’s ambitious outer-borough taxi plan would not be dealt with during the current special session in Albany, Assembly leaders say that they plan to send the bill to Governor Andrew Cuomo at the end of the week, forcing him to sign the bill or veto it. 

Both houses of the legislature passed a bill based on the mayor's plan in June, but Cuomo declined to sign the bill, saying that it needed unspecified changes. The bill's backers in the legislature had hoped that the governor would use the occasion of his big tax overhaul to address the taxi bill as well.

“We'll send the bill to the Governor this Friday and staff will be available to discuss any changes he may want,” said Michael Whyland, a spokesman for the Assembly, via email.

Essentially, they are hoping to compel the governor to outline the specific changes he wants to see made to the bill or finally kill it, rather than waiting for him to reach a decision on an unspecified timetable.

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In a statement, Bloomberg's Albany lobbyist Micah Lasher said, “Over the last six months, the Governor has repeatedly expressed support for the goals of the legislation and also said he wanted to make certain changes in the form of a chapter amendment. He and his staff were finalizing an amendment this morning, but it was never sent to the Legislature. While the Mayor, along with legislative leaders, was prepared to support that amendment, it is not necessary to achieve the goals of the legislation.

“Over the next ten days, we are available to discuss any questions or concerns the Governor has, and strongly urge him to sign this historic legislation.”

The bill that will be presented to the governor will be the same bill that was passed by both houses of the state legislature in June. It called for the creation of up to 30,000 permits for a new class of livery car, called the borough taxi, that would serve the outer boroughs and Manhattan north of 96th Street on the east side and 110th Street on the west. 

The three-year permits would cost $1,500, and would allow livery car drivers to both respond to pre-arranged calls and to do that which they had already been doing, illegally, for years: pick up street hails. The new cabs would come with all the regular taxicab accoutrements: their own special paint-job, a light on top of the cab indicating its availability, meters and credit-card machines inside.

The bill would also have created an additional 1,500 regular taxicab medallions, which now sell for upwards of $1 million apiece.

The bill faced substantial opposition from taxi medallion owners, some cab drivers, some livery base owners, and, later, disabled advocates, who argued that all of the new medallions, as well as all of the 30,000 borough taxi permits, should be wheelchair-accessible. 

According to sources familiar with discussions between representatives from the offices of legislative leaders, the mayor's office and the governor's office, and representatives of various interests in the taxi and limousine industry, all the parties had agreed to a compromise today that they were prepared to send to the governor for approval. That compromise, a "chapter amendment" to the original legislation, called for 17,000 transferable outer-borough medallions, instead of the 30,000 three-year permits originally proposed by the mayor. It mandated that 2,000 of those medallions be wheelchair-accessible, and that the medallions be made available to members of the livery car industry for $1,500 each.

Opponents of the mayor's proposal had been pushing hard to make the medallion-assets transferable investments that would accrue in value. They had also pushed to increase handicapped accessibility, and to reduce the number of outer-borough-taxi permits, to create less competition for regular yellow taxis. All three provisions represented concessions on the part of the original bill's supporters.

There was, in short, a grand bargain. But then, according to the source, the governor's office alerted policy makers that he was not interested in seeing the chapter amendment.

Josh Vlasto, a spokesman for the governor, emailed to say, "There was never a deal. There are several outstanding issues."

"We want to know his position," said Cira Angeles, a livery car base owner who supported the mayor's proposal in its original form. "We have met with his advisers and I believe we have already compromised on this bill and we feel confident that he will answer yes to our industry."

"I'm sure he’s going to be sensitive to the 99 percent, which is actually the livery industry," she added. "We’re not millionaires."

This article has been updated.