9:36 am Dec. 16, 2011
During his regular Friday morning radio appearance, Mayor Michael Bloomberg criticized Governor Andrew Cuomo’s, and the state legislature’s, decision to give a tax break to small businesses that could undercut the M.T.A.’s revenue stream, saying, “Right, but somebody else is going to have to pay.”
“You say, ‘Why should somebody upstate be paying for mass transit in the New York City region?'” said the mayor. “The answer is, I suppose, the city is the economic engine of the state. We export money to other counties. They don’t quite see it that way, but that is in fact the way the funds go, and we’re all in this together.”
The M.T.A. payroll mobility tax was implemented in 2009, as the result of a 2008 commission tasked with finding ways to stabilize the mass transit authority’s finances.
It works by levying 34 cents on every $100 of employer payroll in New York City and the surrounding counties that rely on services like the Long Island and Metro-North railroads. Despite the role the M.T.A. plays in making the regional economy function, the tax has been wildly unpopular in the counties surrounding the city, particularly among the Long Island Republicans who play a dominant role within the Republican majority in the State Senate.
The governor succeeded in getting the Republicans to sign on to his big tax-code overhaul—which technically violated their pledge to not raise taxes—by agreeing to give a $320 million M.T.A. tax cut to small businesses. (The cut technically starts at $390 million and over the ensuing years goes down to $320 million.) According to the terms of the agreement between the governor and the legislature, the M.T.A. will be reimbursed for this revenue loss from other sources.
Mass transit advocates, however, aren’t particularly inclined to believe that that will happen. The tax is estimated to comprise 14.3 percent of the operating budget of the M.T.A., and is integral to the struggling authority’s capital plan.
As a potential replacement for the lost revenue, the mayor floated, almost as a morbid joke, a concept that was shot down by the state in years past: congestion pricing, which would have collected a fee from drivers entering parts of Manhattan during high-traffic hours.
“You know, I got a great idea,” said Bloomberg. “That would be to give you an incentive to leave your cars at home, and maybe get some money from it and make mass transit better.”