Long Island lawmakers tilt at the M.T.A. again, Lhota notwithstanding

long-island-lawmakers-tilt-mta-again-lhota-notwithstanding
The LIRR in Massapequa. (HBarrison via Flickr)
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M.T.A. chairman Joe Lhota may recently have given Long Island commuters expanded service, but he apparently hasn't earned the financially struggling regional transit authority any slack from Long Island legislators.

Today, Newsday reports that Republican assemblyman Joseph Saladino of Massapequa and the Democratic assemblyman from Setauket, Steven Englebright, are introducing legislation that would exempt two area community colleges from a 2009 tax dedicated to transit.

If the plan were to go through, Nassau Community College and Suffolk County Community College would each get a $400,000 tax break, according to the legislators.

"For far too long the MTA has used taxpayers, businesses, school districts and our community colleges as an ATM," said Saladino, according to Newsday.

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Long Island, and the rest of the region, rely on the M.T.A. for economic sustenance. The finances of the authority, which runs subways and buses in New York City, not to mention the Long Island and Metro-North railroads, remain precarious and are hugely reliant on borrowed money.

Nevertheless, suburban legislators routinely use the M.T.A. as a punching bag (it is not politically difficult to make the case to suburban constituents that they are paying too much to support it) and Governor Andrew Cuomo is not immune from their entreaties.

Last year, as part of his grand budget compromise, Cuomo allowed a large cut to the payroll mobility tax, in exchange promising to make up the difference from the state's general fund. He has kept to his promise so far, but it's not all clear that he, or future administrations, will continue to do so.

"The M.T.A. is always an easy target for people who don't like the fact that public transportation is a public good that needs to be paid for," said authority spokesman Adam Lisberg. "The payroll mobility tax supplies more than $1 billion to the M.T.A.'s budget. And as the state legislature recognized this year, if that is to be cut at all, it needs to be made up in other ways."