West of the Hudson River lies an area of New York State far removed from New York City. Rockland and Orange Counties have far more in common with Northern Jersey and Pennsylvania than they do with the other, closer regions in the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District.
For years, those two districts have had a love-hate relationship with the rest of the state over the MTA. The station at the rural end of the Port Jervis line is over two hours away from Penn Station, and the rolling stock belongs to New Jersey Transit. On paper, Metro-North is responsible for the stations and the service, and as such, Rockland and Orange Counties contribute generously to the MTA.
In fact, these two counties carry more than their fair share of the tax burden. Some studies have reported that Rockland County pays $42 million more to the MTA than the service it receives is worth. Orange county carries a similar burden.
Since these two counties have some access to Metro-North and general MTA services, the payroll tax soon to be levied among business in the 12 MTA counties is heading to Rockland and Orange as well. County representatives are very unhappy about it, and politicians in both Rockland and Orange Counties want out of the MTA.
Duchess County officials are not too happy about it either. Duchess County receives more service than Rockland and Orange Counties and won’t be able to talk their way out of this one. “The passing of the payroll tax is absolutely unacceptable,” County Legislature Chairman Roger Higgins said. “It’s the talk of the town and I think representatives in Albany rally need to hear from us.”
East of the city, the general consensus sounds similar. Officials in Huntington on Long Island expressed their dismay with the taxation impact of the MTA rescue plan as well.
This is, in the end, a messy political issue, and the two counties’ endgames are questionable. Rockland officials say the payroll tax will cost the businesses in the county $18.5 million a year. They want something in return. In the past, more service has been a good enough carrot for those counties, but this time, they may want out.
It’s highly doubtful that anyone in Albany will heed their complaints. The MTA, after all, needs the money, and as long as the state refuses to implement sensible transit reform within New York City, the counties outside of it will carry a disproportionate tax burden.
For now, this is just another in a growing line of stories about the flawed rescue package. Eventually, these pleas won’t make headlines, but the dissent will sit there. Next time the legislature has to address transportation issues, these upstate counties won’t be willing to shoulder more burden, and this problem will merely grow and grow and grow.
Editor’s Note: Don’t forget about the 10 a.m. liveblog. I’ll be covering the MTA Board as those overseeing the transportation authority vote to rollback the service cuts and fare hikes. I’ll be taking reader questions then as well.