Joe Lhota: Let’s talk about bringing back the commuter tax

The Dan Janison article. ()
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Joe Lhota, the recent M.T.A. chairman who is now running for mayor, thinks New York State should resurrect the commuter tax. 

In an interview with Newsday's Dan Janison, Lhota said, "A lot of people who live outside the city of New York are protected every day by the police department and the fire department and all of our emergency services. There needs to be a way to have that discussion."

Lhota did not immediately respond to a follow-up request for comment by Capital, but his words seem to indicate that he'd want a new commuter tax to work much like the old one did, with the ensuing revenues going directly into the city's general fund.

The tax pumped revenue into city coffers until 1999, when Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver killed it, in a campaign-season maneuver (which turned out to be a political flop in any event).

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The last time the commuter tax idea made news was last year, when Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who was then running for mayor, proposed resurrecting it and dedicating its revenues to the financially beleaguered M.T.A.

Stringer, who is now running for comptroller, estimated the tax could send more than $700 million a year to the M.T.A.

At the time, Lhota's spokesman at the M.T.A., Adam Lisberg, told reporters that “we’re glad that he’s started this conversation about how to get more funding for the M.T.A., because the M.T.A. needs money.”

Now, Lhota seems more interested in propping up the city's finances.

Regardless of whether the revenue would be directed to the M.T.A. or to the city's general fund, bringing back the commuter tax would be a remarkably heavy political lift.

The insitution of a commuter tax would require the acquiescence of the state legislature, and the State Senate is still partly controlled by a Long Island-centric Republican conference that staunchly opposes it.