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Brookhaven GOP: Lesko paid MTA tax without consent

Brookhaven Republicans are grappling with Supervisor Mark Lesko over the payment of a state-mandated MTA payroll tax, which they accuse him of approving without their consent.

Town officials, including Lesko, a Democrat, have opposed the payroll tax, which cost the town more than $244,000 this year.

Republican and Conservative board members, including Tim Mazzei and Jane Bonner, floated the idea of withholding payment and suing the transit authority.

The town board tabled a vote to authorize payment of the tax Nov. 10. But the board approved the funding as part of a housekeeping resolution Dec. 8.

Bonner Tuesday accused Lesko of hiding the funding in the resolution. The resolution, which included dozens of other routine budget transfers, did not clearly state that it included the MTA tax, she said. Bonner said Lesko allowed finance Commissioner Charlene Kagel to pay the tax without the board's consent.

"It was hidden, which makes this even more particularly offensive," Bonner said.

Lesko adamantly denied that he tried to hide the funding, and added the town was required by law to pay. He said he believed the board had reached consensus that Kagel would pay the tax under protest. "This is just political grandstanding, and it's put our finance commissioner in a terrible spot," he said.

The tax charges 34 cents for every $100 in payroll to employers - including government entities - in the counties served by the transportation authority.

The tax was the foundation of the State Legislature's $2.3-billion rescue of the cash-strapped transit authority in May, but earlier this month, MTA officials announced that revenue from the tax had fallen 20 percent short of projections. Officials from several Long Island towns have condemned the tax because of fears that it will hurt jobs.

Bonner said she believed Lesko approved the MTA tax payment as cover for his predecessor, State Sen. Brian X. Foley (D-Blue Point), who approved the tax in the Senate. Lesko denied the charge.

Bonner tried to bring the MTA tax back before the town board for a vote Tuesday, but the motion failed 4-2, with Mazzei casting the other approving vote. But Bonner said she would continue to pressure Lesko to sue the MTA. "No pun intended, but I'm not being railroaded into this," she said.

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