NEW YORK—Imminent fare hikes for transit riders—all but passed—have prompted advocates to ask the state and Governor Andrew Cuomo to dedicate more funds to the system so riders won’t have to pay more.
A petition from Transportation Alternatives (TA), a bike, pedestrian, and mass transit advocacy group, has garnered more than 17,000 signatures from New Yorkers who want Cuomo to step up. They’ll deliver the signatures to the MTA at Tuesday’s public fare hike meeting at Baruch College.
Meanwhile, TA and three other area groups that promote non-auto transportation sent a questionnaire to state legislative candidates. The answers give insight into what officials’ plan as far as trying to avoid future fare hikes—another set of hikes is planned for 2015—and fix aging infrastructure across the state.
Twenty-nine candidates for Assembly and 14 for state Senate responded to the series of questions. Based on unofficial election results, 15 of the Assembly respondents and 5 of the Senate respondents were elected, not including two current ties.
Payroll Mobility Tax a Big Concern
One of the biggest transportation funding issues centers on a recent decision made by the state Supreme Court. The ruling was that the Payroll Mobility Tax is unconstitutional. The tax takes between .11 percent and .34 percent of a company’s payroll expense and garners the MTA more than $1.3 billion a year. The MTA has appealed the ruling. A decision is expected early next year. If the tax ultimately falls through, a scramble for funding would take place.
Candidates were asked in the questionnaire if they support the elimination of the tax and, if so, how would they address the ensuing budget gap.
Most of the respondents who were elected—13, including 10 Assemblymembers—do not support a repeal.
“I cannot support a repeal unless there are other revenues to take its place,” wrote Joseph Lentol, a Democrat for the 50th District in Brooklyn.
Two respondents favor a partial repeal.
“For example, residents of northern Dutchess County, which I represent, receive no MTA services at all (not even a shuttle bus!), yet they and their communities are saddled with a variety of taxes to support the MTA,” wrote Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, Democrat for the 103rd District.
Of the five who support a full elimination of the tax, several explained they want a more stable system in place.
“All of the interested parties should come together around the table to discuss how to better fund the MTA, including the potential use of tolls on East River bridges, aspects of congestion pricing, and a more equitable cost versus service level methodology, taking into account the fact that certain communities are served by 24-hour service, while those who ride the Metro-North are not,” wrote State Senator George Latimer, Democrat for the 37th District in Westchester.
Finding Money to Fix Aging Infrastructure
Asked if they support finding new sources “to help maintain and repair our existing road and bridge infrastructure and invest in our transit systems,” all the respondents said “yes.” Several co-sponsors of an Assembly bill called the Transportation Infrastructure Bond Act said the bill would make $4.5 billion available through bonds to fund mass transit, roads, and bridges.
The state currently spends $4.5 billion on highway, road, and bridge projects, according to Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, of southeast Brooklyn’s 45th District.
This year’s budget also includes $770 million in direct funding for the MTA’s five-year capital plan, but the MTA has had to sell $7 billion in government-backed bonds to fund the rest of the plan, according to the website Capital New York.
Assemblyman David Buchwald, newly elected to the 93rd District in Westchester and previously chairman of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council, said in his response that the state should study the “Fair Plan” laid out by engineer Sam Schwartz, which proposes a myriad of changes to the current transportation system, including balancing tolls, since four East River bridges are currently free.
A multiple choice question asked if new transit funding should be found to increase the state contribution to the MTA, instead of raising subway, bus, and commuter rail fares. The state currently contributes about 40 percent of MTA revenue through dedicated taxes, according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, one of the organizations involved in the questionnaire.
Many officials responded that they support a proposal for new transit funding. Four respondents, however, said a funding increase should be a mix of new revenue and raising fares, while Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci, Republican for the 10th District on Long Island, checked the box labeled “I support a fare hike.”