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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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MTA’s Albany Rescue

Need to raise a quick $1 billion? The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the New York State Legislature can show you how.

Employing incredible understatement, the MTA issued a press release on Nov. 18 saying its “2010 Final Proposed Budget is balanced with no fare increase or reductions to scheduled service, with the help of rescue legislation enacted in Albany in May.”


Ah, yes, Albany’s help. Where to begin? Let’s start with the $1 billion extraction from the populace which began when the MTA’s payroll mobility tax went into effect earlier this year, requiring all employers and the self-employed in the state’s 12 downstate counties, known as the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District (MCTD) to set aside $340 for every $100,000 in payroll for the MTA.

The MCTD consists of the city’s five boroughs, Long Island, and five other counties served by the MTA: Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester.

The payroll mobility tax is slated to generate $1.02 billion this year for the MTA, a figure listed under the ‘new state taxes and fees’ section of the MTA’s 2010 final proposed budget. Indeed, when the MTA’s payroll mobility tax is in effect for a full year, for the first time in 2010, the tax could deliver $1.54 billion to the MTA’s coffers, the budget proposal anticipates.

But, wait, there’s more. When the state Legislature enacted rescue legislation for the MTA in the spring of 2009, lawmakers also asked teenaged drivers, their parents, taxi cab drivers and their patrons, and rental car companies and their customers to chip in, too. The reason: the state Senate’s city-based Democrats insisted that the toll-free, city-owned East River and Harlem River crossings remain that way. Before he became Lieutenant Governor, Richard Ravitch estimated the MTA could receive $600 million a year if those 13 crossings had cashless tolls placed on them, and were priced in line with the MTA’s tolled bridges and tunnels.

With the Ravitch Commission’s toll proposal nixed by the state Senate’s Democrats, and urban driving permitted to remain a cost-effective alternative to mass transit, the state Legislature needed a Plan B.

Given the state’s approval to do so, the MTA now envisions collecting $328.3 million in 2010 from four additional sources of revenue levied on those either residing or doing business within the MCTD; 1) a supplemental fee of $1 for each six month period of validity of a learner’s permit or license; 2) a supplemental fee of $25 per year on those either registering or renewing a motor vehicle; 3) a tax of 50 cents per ride on taxicab trips originating in the city and terminating within the MCTD, and; 4) a supplemental tax of 5 percent on all car rentals.

What’s truly remarkable about the MTA rescue legislation is that the ‘new state taxes and fees’ section of the MTA’s budget, which stood at zero dollars in 2008, will total $1.86 billion in 2010, if the MTA’s estimates materialize. To put this into further perspective, the state Legislature in 2009 enacted taxes and fees which will generate revenues next year equal to more than 15 percent of the MTA’s $11 billion-plus 2010 budget.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: