Every few years, politicians from Rockland County drum up some outrage over their inclusion in the MTA, and every few years, they demand something — usually more — while bemoaning having to pay more. It’s an odd little dance that isn’t entirely without a sound basis in fact, but it also underscores the inherent contradictions in New York State politics and how no one is ever held responsible for them.
The latest come to us from Rockland County Legislative Chairman Alden Wolfe and Legislator Harriet Cornell who is the Chair of the Special Committee on Transit. As part of the MTA
Every One Has a Pet Project Commission Reinvention Commission, the two sent comments with their views on reinvention. Wolfe’s words were fairly neutral. “Rockland has documented for years the disparity in the tax revenues generated from Rockland,” he said, “which far exceed annual expenditures made by the MTA to serve the County: it’s a $40 million value gap.”
I delved into that study back in 2012 when Rockland started making noises about leaving the MTA. It was not without merit, and SAS commenters found it to be at least discussion-worthy. I thought it didn’t quite account for the positive benefits of regular, if sporadic, train service.
Cornell used her statement as a soapbox. “Institutional, intergovernmental and jurisdictional barriers are at the heart of MTA’s insufficient attention to Rockland’s transit needs,” she said. “Rockland on the west side of the Hudson is a transportation orphan, long overdue for substantial new investment in our transportation infrastructure. The MTA has not met customer needs!”
Most New Yorkers west of the Hudson would love to be as “orphaned” as Rockland which, as I noted, has regular, if sporadic, service. But maybe Rockland deserves an improvement. Let’s see what happened when the state last tried to raise revenue for transit service. If you guessed “complain about the payroll tax,” well, you’re the next contestant on “The Gripe Is Right.”
In 2009, when the state approved the MTA Payroll Tax as a funding measure for the cash-starved MTA, the same two Rockland County legislators complaining this week led the charge to oppose the payroll tax and agitate for withdrawal from the MTA, a threat that seems to disproportionately impact only themselves. Perhaps Rockland needs to learn a lesson in politics: Sometimes you have to give first if you want to receive later.
Ultimately, Rockland does seem to draw a shorter end of the straw than the rest of the MTA counties, but moaning about improvements on the one hand while objecting to funding schemes five years earlier isn’t productive policymaking. It is though business as usual when it comes to transit politics in New York. How frustrating.