Down a suburban street in Selden, in Newfield High School library, school community leaders rallied against a proposal that would affect all taxpayers on Long Island. The proposal is a payroll tax on all employers on Long Island to help balance the budget for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).
The message of the school community members was for the state lawmakers not to use employers such as school districts, which have hefty payrolls, to balance the MTA's budget. "Don't balance the MTA budget on the backs of our children," said Karen Lessler, board of education president of the Middle Country Central School District. "Stop this approach that mismanaged agencies are entitled to bailouts. We are not the MTA's ATM."
The recommendation for the .33 percent payroll tax came from the Ravitch Commission, a commission that studies ways to support the ongoing operating and capital needs of the MTA. The payroll tax comes in the form of a regional Mobility Tax in the 12 counties comprising the MTA Commuter District in order to support the ongoing operating and capital needs of the MTA.
The Ravitch Commission report states that, "Among the many revenue options considered, the Commission views a regional Mobility Tax as the fairest feasible way to spread the burden of financing the capital needs of our regional transit services to those businesses and organizations that most directly benefit from it. An excise tax equal to one-third of one percent of wages paid (as measured by the current FICA tax base) would be imposed on all employers within the region and would represent a deductible expense for federal tax purposes. The Mobility Tax would also be imposed on self-employed individuals. The imposition of this tax is expected to raise $1.5 billion annually."
The Senate Democratic Majority has introduced a plan to address the MTA's budget shortfall that includes a payroll tax of 25 cents per $100 of payroll as well as a reduced fare increase of 4 percent for MTA, LIRR, and Metro-North. "Particularly during these times of severe economic distress, it was absolutely essential that we protect working families' access to an affordable and reliable means of mass transit with an MTA recovery plan that minimizes fare hikes and prevents the loss of services and jobs," said Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith.
However, Governor David Paterson doesn't favor the Senate Majority's plan since it may not be enough to close the MTA's budget deficit.
Those opposed to the payroll tax feel it unfairly shifts some of the burden to balance the MTA's budget off of commuters and spreads it to employers including school districts, which are among the largest employers on Long Island.
However, some school board members and educators feel that it is unfair to take resources away from education to fund public transportation. Ron Friedman, president of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents and superintendent of the Great Neck School District, believes asking employers such as school districts to pay for the mismanagement of the MTA is out of line. "We're robbing Peter to pay Paul," he said, noting that school districts are beholden to taxpayers while agencies such as the MTA are not.
Some also feel that those who do not use the MTA services shouldn't be forced to pay for them. Republican Senator John Flanagan, who represents the 2nd Senate District, said none of the Long Island Republican Senators would be voting to approve a payroll tax. He pointed out that the tax takes something away from school districts without giving them anything in return. "The MTA needs to do a better job controlling its expenses before going to the taxpayers to bail them out," he said.
The Mineola School District had a payroll of $44,134,344 in 2007-2008. With that payroll, under the proposed .25 percent payroll tax, $110,336 would come out of the district's budget to fund the MTA. Under a .33 percent payroll tax, the amount would be $145,643.
If a plan is not in place to close the MTA's budget deficit, the MTA will impose hefty fair increases that could be as high as 23 percent as well as service cuts.