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It's Back: Plan To Toll East River Bridges Revived In State Senate

After failing to attract enough support in 2009, Republican legislators in a renewed push to charge drivers at city crossings.

For Republican members of the state Senate, there's a saying that comes to mind when it comes to proposed tolls on the city's East River crossings. 

"If at first you don't succeed..."

Almost exactly two years after the plan to charge drivers over four spans connecting Brooklyn and Queens with Manhattan died in the State Legislature's upper chamber, GOP state senators are giving the idea another try. 

A group of five Republicans introduced a bill last week that would eliminate a controversial payroll tax levied on businesses in seven suburban counties — a key part of a 2009 bailout plan engineered by Richard Ravitch to help balance the MTA's books. 

In order to make up for the lost revenue on the state transportation agency's budget, the legislators revived an idea many Queens drivers hoped was dead: East River tolls.

And with no GOP members currently serving in the state Senate from Queens, the task of opposing the toll plan this time around fell entirely to minority Democrats. 

"We need innovative ideas to address the challenges facing mass transit, but there is nothing innovative about forcing outer-borough commuters to pay more than their fair share while upstate and Long Island enjoy a free ride," said state Sens. Toby Stavisky, D-Flushing, and Tony Avella, D-Bayside, in a joint statement Tuesday.

The payroll tax —which is paid not only by suburban business owners, but those in the five boroughs as well — currently brings in $1.3 billion in annual revenue, according to this Capital Tonight report.

The proposal would levy tolls on four bridges: the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and the Ed Koch Queensboro.

Noah Budnick, president of mass transit and bike advocates Transportation Alternatives, did not take a position on the legislation when contacted Tuesday afternoon. However, he acknowledged that to keep the city's buses and trains running, the money had to come from somewhere.

"There's a dire need to provide stable financing for the city's transit system," Budnick said. 

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