Bill de Blasio Will Push for Tax on Wealthy to Fix Subway (NYT)

Bill de Blasio Will Push for Tax on Wealthy to Fix Subway

http://nyti.ms/2vKoKom

“Rather than sending the bill to working families and subway and bus riders already feeling the pressure of rising fares and bad service, we are asking the wealthiest in our city to chip in a little extra to help move our transit system into the 21st century,” Mr. de Blasio said in a statement.

The tax changes would require approval from state lawmakers in Albany — a difficult hurdle, with Republicans in control of the Senate, though the urgency of the subway’s decline has raised the stakes and captured the attention of both parties.

On Sunday, the authority’s chairman, Joseph J. Lhota, responded to the mayor’s proposal by saying that the agency needed emergency financing immediately.

“There’s no question we need a long-term funding stream, but emergency train repairs can’t wait on what the State Legislature may or may not do next year,” Mr. Lhota said in a statement.

Mr. Lhota, who ran unsuccessfully against Mr. de Blasio for mayor in 2013, also took a jab at Mr. de Blasio, saying he was glad the mayor had “reversed himself” after arguing that the authority did not need additional money. Mr. Lhota recently proposed a roughly $800 million plan for immediate subway repairs and called on Mr. Cuomo and Mr. de Blasio to split the costs evenly.

Delays have skyrocketed on the century-old subway system, and several recent accidents have raised safety concerns. At the same time, the authority has been raising fares every two years, with the latest increase taking effect in March, when the cost of a monthly MetroCard rose by $4.50 to $121.

The mayor’s proposal builds on an effort by State Senator Michael Gianaris, Democrat of Queens, to tax the wealthy to support the subway, and a campaign by transit activists to establish reduced fares for poor residents.

The transit system in Seattle began offering reduced fares for low-income riders in 2015 and has signed up more than 40,000 people. San Francisco has a similar program, and cities like Boston and Minneapolis have considered the idea.

Mr. Cuomo echoed Mr. Lhota, saying that waiting to approve a new revenue stream when the next legislative session began in January would take too long.

“The city should partner with us and match the state funding now so we can begin Chairman Lhota’s overhaul plan immediately and move forward,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. “We cannot ask New Yorkers to wait one year to start repairs.”

Mr. Cuomo faces a re-election campaign next year and is thought to be considering running for president in 2020.

For his annual State of the State speech in 2018, Mr. Cuomo’s office was exploring how it might introduce different forms of so-called congestion pricing, including fees on for-hire vehicles, according to a Cuomo administration official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. A decade ago, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg pressed for an $8 congestion fee for drivers in parts of Manhattan during peak hours, but the measure was defeated in Albany.

Mr. Gianaris said state lawmakers should not wait until the next session to take up the mayor’s proposal.

“I would argue that the M.T.A. is in a full-blown crisis and that would justify our return to Albany to enact this measure in an emergency session,” Mr. Gianaris said.

Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senate Republicans, said the city should not discuss raising taxes when it had a large surplus.

“If the city wants to up its contribution to help shore up the subways for commuters and their families — which we support — it certainly has the means to do that,” Mr. Reif said in a statement.

The proposed new tax would raise about $700 million to $800 million a year, with more than $500 million going toward capital costs for subways and buses and about $250 million for the half-price MetroCard program, city officials said. It would increase the city’s highest income tax rate by about half a percentage point, to 4.4 percent from about 3.9 percent, for married couples with incomes above $1 million and individuals who make more than $500,000.

City officials estimate that the tax would be paid by about 32,000 New York City tax filers, or fewer than 1 percent of those who file their taxes in the city. New Yorkers already contribute to the authority through various taxes and fees, and the city has committed $2.5 billion for the agency’s current capital improvement plan.

Mr. de Blasio’s plan comes with several demands, including that Mr. Cuomo keep his promise for the state to pay $8 billion toward the authority’s current capital plan and an additional $1 billion Mr. Cuomo committed for the subway in June. The new funding would also be separate from the authority’s short-term subway rescue plan, which city officials said should be paid for by returning money to the authority that the state had previously diverted.

The mayor’s embrace of half-price MetroCards for poor New Yorkers comes after months of lobbying from transit activists and could be a popular proposal as Mr. de Blasio runs for re-election in November. About 800,000 people in New York City who are at or below the federal poverty level — about $24,500 for a family of four — could qualify for half-price MetroCards, city officials said. Women are more likely to live in poverty in New York City, and the poverty rate is higher among black, Hispanic and Asian residents, according to the city’s statistics on poverty.

Under the program in King County in Washington, which includes Seattle and its suburbs and has a population of more than two million, residents with household incomes of less than double the federal poverty level — about $49,000 for a family of four — can qualify for a special discount card to ride buses and light rail. Riders must apply in person at an enrollment center and provide documentation to verify their income.

John Raskin, the executive director of the Riders Alliance, a New York City advocacy group that has called for reduced fares, applauded the mayor’s push for new revenue and his support for half-price MetroCards.

“We need to get the subway system working again so that New Yorkers can get to work,” Mr. Raskin said, “but we also need to make the system accessible for the poorest New Yorkers so they can find jobs, education and economic opportunities in the first place.”

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August 7, 2017 at 04:27AM