Christine Quinn calls for the commuter tax and more city control over transit

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Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the frontrunner in this year's mayoral election, called on Friday night for the restoration of a commuter tax to benefit the city's mass transit, a system over which she believes the city should exert more control.

"We ... have to all come together and really wage a campaign to get the commuter tax back," said Quinn during a mayoral forum on transportation hosted by the Transport Workers Union.

"And if you talk about the commuter tax in the context of funding mass transit, it makes perfect sense for commuters," she continued. "Because what do they do when they get off the Metro-North or the LIRR or the PATH? They get on the subways and the buses."

Quinn also said that the mayor of New York City should have more control over the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is run by the state.

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"I agree that we need to find a way to have the city of New York actually have control over its mass transit," she said. "None of us mind subsidizing Nassau or Suffolk or Westchester, we almost assume its our responsibility at some level as New York City residents. We mind subsidizing their mass transit as much as we do, and that's not gonna stop until we have real control over our own mass transit."

The M.T.A.'s finances, which are heavily dependent on economically sensitive taxes, are in a fragile state, and have been for a while now.

Before he dropped out of the race for mayor, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer similarly called for the resurrection of the commuter tax.

Unlike its former iteration, Stringer's commuter tax would dedicate the resulting revenues  to mass transit, rather than to the city's general fund.

Former comptroller Bill Thompson has also long called for the return of the commuter tax. (He'd also like to see a new, weight-based vehicle registration fee and the repeal of the payroll mobility tax, which is deeply unpopular in the suburbs.)

Former M.T.A. chairman Joe Lhota, who's running for mayor and who, oddly enough, did not attend Friday's forum on a topic that falls right in his wheelhouse, has called for the commuter tax's restoration, but he'd like to see it in its original form, which didn't specifically benefit mass transit.

Here's where the other candidates stand: Sal Albanese, like Quinn, said the M.T.A. should "be responsive' to the mayor and the City Council, and touted a congestion pricing scheme that would rationalize the city's bridge-tolling structure.

Media executive Tom Allon reiterated his recommendation that the M.T.A. sell subway station naming rights, called for rationalizing tolls on bridges, and called for a gas surcharge.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio called for defending the M.T.A.'s existing revenue sources (namely the Payroll Mobility Tax, which Governor Cuomo has allowed Senate Republicans to chip away at) and for more federal funding and public-private partnerships.

Comptroller John Liu also wants more federal funding, as well as more state funding and said landlords should "contribute revenue" to the M.T.A.

Former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, who's already secured the Independence Party line, said that some sort of plan to make tolls fairer made sense, and said he also supported a commuter tax, even if its prospects are "very unlikely," which basically gets to the nut of it.

The chances of Albany legislators approving a new tax on their constituents to support a public authority that suburban legislators deplore is very hard to imagine.

What is, arguably, more practicable, is a congestion pricing scheme that levies tolls on drivers entering Manhattan's central business district, through East River bridge tolls or other means.

But most of the politicians on the dais Friday night seemed to have come to the conclusion that in an election year, with millions of outer-borough votes at stake, that stance amounts to electoral suicide.