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Officials join in Suffolk to denounce NYC commuter tax

Just the mention of a commuter tax in the New York City mayoral race prompted two state legislators and a town supervisor from Long Island to hold a news conference Tuesday to denounce the idea.

"We want to make it loud and clear before it gains any traction that we will oppose a commuter tax," Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward Romaine said as he stood under the archway leading to the Ronkonkoma Long Island Rail Road station.

Romaine was joined at the news conference, and in his criticism, by two fellow Republicans: state Sen. Lee Zeldin of Shirley and Assemb. Al Graf of Holbrook. Both legislators said a commuter tax was unfair, but conceded after denouncing it that it was not likely to pass.

"I would be very surprised if the commuter tax was to see the light of day in the Senate with the way the Senate is currently postured, the way the Senate is currently structured," Zeldin said.

Former Rep. Anthony Weiner of Queens, a Democrat, is the only mayoral candidate to date who has said he would fight to reinstate the tax. Other candidates have expressed support for the tax, but consider it politically unfeasible.

The income tax on commuters who worked in the city was 0.45 percent -- about $450 a year for someone making $100,000 a year -- when it was unexpectedly abolished in 1999.

The Republican-led state Senate voted to repeal the tax in a symbolic move meant to help a Republican Senate candidate in a special election in Rockland County. The bill was expected to die in the Assembly, then dominated by New York City Democrats, but Democratic Speaker Sheldon Silver pushed the measure through in an attempt to help the Democratic candidate, who lost later that year.

The Republican officials divided their criticism Tuesday between the commuter tax and the city mayoral candidates for mentioning it.

"There are many candidates right now in New York City who think that it's good politics. . . . They feel like there are no votes to be lost," Zeldin said. "The fact is, even if they think that this is good politics, it's very bad public policy."

Even Weiner has acknowledged that getting a commuter tax reimposed was a long shot, but worth attempting. "A lot of things that you confront when you're mayor are highly unlikely," he said in mid-June.

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