There are fewer taxes more controversial in New York State right now than the payroll tax passed a few years ago to support the MTA. Levying a tax of 0.34 percent on businesses in the 12 counties serviced by the MTA, the tax has generated around $1.3 billion annually for the MTA, and it has drawn the non-stop ire of New York Republicans, some of whom have made trying to repeal it their life’s goal. Yet, a new poll shows reasonably strong support for it throughout the state.
According to a Quinnipiac poll, 56 percent of voters support the payroll tax. Forty-five percent say the tax is fine as is while 11 percent would increase it. Meanwhile, 24 percent of voters would like to see the tax repealed completely while nine percent would prefer it decreased. These results seem to jibe with other numbers that show a strong upstate/downstate divide over MTA support.
A whopping 59 percent of upstate voters oppose additional state support for the MTA while 55 percent of New York City voters want more state subsidies. Overall, New Yorkers oppose additional support for the MTA by a 51-42 margin, and voters seem to realize that repealing the payroll tax in the 12 MTA counties would lead to more state subsidies in another form. The MTA, after all, is counting heavily on the money to avoid service cuts and unplanned fare hikes.
Yet, despite this showing of support, the Republicans in the Assembly have been tirelessly advocate for a repeal. On Staten Island, business leaders and politicians have been railing against the tax, and state GOP representatives held an anti-tax hearing earlier this week with a focus on Staten Island and Brooklyn. Former New York City Comptroller and failed Mayoral candidate Bill Thompson called for a payroll tax repeal in The Post this week, but his plan includes other state subsidies.
The complaints for business leaders and politicians deserve a closer. Especially among Staten Island and Bay Ridge residents who seemingly suffered the most from the 2010 bus cuts, complaints focus around services. Business owners claim their employees drive and derive no benefit from public transit while others say they are taxed more for even less service. Of course, it’s tough to take these forums too seriously when people start calling the taxes “basically un-American” and “discriminatory.”
The concurrent problem is one of politics. State GOP Assembly representatives know a payroll tax repeal won’t make it through Sheldon Silver’s Assembly, and they have offered no better solution. Taking a page from the Lee Zeldin handbook of incomplete ideas, Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis said the MTA could, according to SI Live, “could make up the shortfall by selling off real estate, streamlining bloated executive salaries and renegotiating vendor contracts.” If the authority could generate $1.3 billion through those measures — most of which provide only one-time benefits — I have a bridge to sell Ms. Malliotakis.
Ultimately, the end of the payroll tax will come as part of a bargain: Institute congestion pricing or toll the East River Bridges, and the payroll tax can be similarly reduced. I can’t imagine suburban residents or Staten Island politicians would be too thrilled with that bargain, but the only other outcome would be a seriously starved MTA forced to cut services and hike fares. Who wants that anyway?