U.S. Briefs: NYC transit agency hits funding dead end | WORLD
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U.S. Briefs: NYC transit agency hits funding dead end

The MTA scales back improvement plans after state governor nixes a congestion taxing scheme

Janno Lieber Mary Altaffer / AP

U.S. Briefs: NYC transit agency hits funding dead end
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Factbox Sources: U.S. Census Bureau and World Atlas

New York

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York City will scale back its plans to revamp its bus, subway, and rail systems after the state governor unexpectedly canceled a taxing plan meant to fund the overhaul, MTA CEO Janno Lieber said June 10. Days earlier, Gov. Kathy Hochul had announced her decision to kill a first-in-the-nation congestion toll that would have charged most drivers $15 to enter the heart of Manhattan. The city’s independent budget office had estimated the toll would generate $1 billion annually after its first year, and the MTA had already earmarked the funds for $15 billion worth of projects. But Hochul cited concerns the scheme would place an undue burden on working-class commuters. She didn’t immediately outline an alternative plan for supplying the funding. Without the revenue, Lieber said his agency would have to shift its focus to basic upkeep and repairs. “It’s not something we do lightly,” Lieber said. “But we simply ­cannot award contracts without dedicated funding in place.” In the meantime, the MTA will continue advocating for ­congestion pricing, despite getting hit with at least eight ­lawsuits that sought to block the taxation plan. —Grace Snell


As legal challenges to the state’s pre-Roe protections for unborn babies head to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, a liberal judge is spotlighting her support for abortion in a race for a seat on the bench. Dane County Circuit Judge Susan Crawford is running against conservative Judge Brad Schimel in a race to replace a retiring liberal justice. Crawford announced her campaign June 10, highlighting on her website her past experience representing Planned Parenthood as a private attorney to “defend access to reproductive health care.” In 2023, vocally pro-abortion Judge Janet Protasiewicz won the Wisconsin Supreme Court election, ending the court’s 15-year conservative majority. The result of next year’s April 1 election will determine whether abortion supporters maintain their majority on the court. —Leah Savas

Northern Mariana Islands

Both the Hyatt Regency Hotel and Asiana Airlines on June 30 will cease local operations in Saipan. Both companies had done business there for 30 years, but since tourism peaked in 2017, the number of visitors to the U.S. territory’s Pacific islands has decreased by 54 percent. Hotels report only 35 percent occupancy, even with lower daily rates. The Saipan Chamber of Commerce says the territory needs at least 12 daily international flights and 500,000 tourists annually for businesses to break even. Gov. Arnold Palacios has refused calls for a simpler visa system for Chinese visitors amid tensions between Washington and Beijing. Chinese tourists once accounted for 40 percent of visitors. They have dropped to just 3 percent. —Amy Lewis

Joseph Thompson

Joseph Thompson KARE11 screen capture


A federal jury found five of seven defendants guilty June 7 on multiple counts in a massive pandemic-era fraud scheme. Prosecutors said the defendants stole more than $40 million intended to feed low-income children during the COVID-19 pandemic and instead blew the funds on luxury cars, jewelry, travel, and real estate. Ringleader Abdiaziz Shafii Farah owned an Islamic restaurant and market that enrolled in feeding reimbursement programs, then falsified claims. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Thompson described the crimes as depraved and said they invoked outrage in his office and across the state: “Evidence showed how brazen the scheme was, and how extensive and shameless it was.” Charges ranged from wire fraud and money laundering to federal programs bribery. The defendants were the first of 70 Minnesotans expected to stand trial in what has been called the largest pandemic-era fraud in the country with $250 million in swindled funds. In a surprise development, defendants also faced arrest after a juror reported that a woman visited her home and offered two plastic totes stuffed with $120,000 in cash in exchange for acquittal. —Kim Henderson

Photo illustration by Rachel Beatty


People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sued the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport after officials rejected the group’s anti-leather luggage ad depicting a handbag with a cow’s head and legs. The animal-rights group said in a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for Wyoming that airport administrators violated the U.S. Constitution’s freedom of speech protections by not identifying a compelling government interest to decline the billboard. It also alleges airport officials are hostile to animal rights, citing previously approved rodeo ads and taxidermied animal heads adorning the concourse. The suit filed June 4 also alleges the public airport lacked advertising guidelines before PETA submitted its ad and created a vague policy to justify rejecting it. PETA asked the court to order the airport to run the ad “on the same terms offered to other advertisers.” The airport director has not yet responded. About 50,000 people come through the airport yearly. —Todd Vician


A couple seeking to provide foster care says the state’s Department for Children and Families retaliated against them for refusing to “affirm” kids under their care who could identify as transgender. Casey Mathieu, 42, and Melinda Antonucci, 44, received their foster care license in January. One month later, the married couple fostered their first child in a two-week-long emergency situation. But the department began questioning the couple’s stance on transgender issues after Antonucci posted support on social media for a petition calling for a parental notification policy in the local school district. In an April 4 email, the department threatened to revoke the couple’s foster care license if they did not agree to use a child’s preferred pronouns or facilitate transgender medical interventions. After that, the couple stopped receiving placement calls. In a May 29 letter, the Center for American Liberty, a free speech nonprofit representing the couple, threatened legal action against the state for what it called “discriminatory actions.” It also demanded protections for foster parents. —Mary Jackson


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