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NYC Council seeks commuter tax revival

Melissa Mark-Viverito on Nov. 19, 2013.

Melissa Mark-Viverito on Nov. 19, 2013. Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

A restoration of the commuter tax on Long Islanders and others living outside of but working in New York City is one of 35 wish-list items the City Council Tuesday named as its budget and legislative priorities for state approval this year.

The last commuter tax was eliminated in 1999, and efforts by former Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg to revive it were rebuffed in Albany.

"People who work in New York City should have to contribute something to the ambulances and fire engines and sanitation services," said Council Member Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), who voted as a State Assembly member to retain the tax in 1999. "I think it's fair."

The tax would be 0.45 percent of wage earners' income and would raise $856 million for the city in fiscal year 2015, the council said.

The council would have an uphill fight in winning approval in Albany, Weprin admitted. "It is a very difficult task to restore it as long as the Republicans are running the New York State Senate and certainly in an election year," he said.

State Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), one of several Long Island leaders opposed to the tax, said the city "should not be trying to balance their budgets on the backs of anyone else from outside the five boroughs." Before it was killed, the commuter tax had been in effect for 33 years.

The council, according to its wish list, also wants to eliminate the property tax exemption for Madison Square Garden.

"Unlike the MSG exemption, most other exemptions that the City makes available to encourage economic development and business retention are given for a specified and finite period of time," a council's agenda statement said. MSG, exempted since 1982, will save at least $17.3 million per year for "the foreseeable future."

The Madison Square Garden Company responded in a statement: "Madison Square Garden is the only venue in the City that has used its own money, more than $1 billion, to build a brand new arena inside an existing building. All other teams, including the Yankees, Nets and Mets, have received, and continue to receive, significant public subsidies, including property tax exemptions, that are estimated to total more than $2.3 billion."

The Dolan family owns controlling interests in MSG and Cablevision. Cablevision owns Newsday and amNewYork.The council additionally seeks to raise the age of criminal responsibility for nonviolent offenses to 18 from 16, saying criminal records hurt young offenders' chances at getting a job or into college.

Its highest-profile requests for state legislators are an increase in the city's minimum wage and a tax hike on the city's rich to fund universal prekindergarten. Both are championed by Mayor Bill de Blasio but opposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said the measures on the list "are critical to New York City's continued success" and "a more equal and just city."

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