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Steve Bellone: Suffolk needs MTA tax funds to avoid bus cuts

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speaks as members

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speaks as members of the Suffolk County Legislature attend an annual organizational meeting inside the Rose Y. Caracappa Auditorium at the William H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge, Monday, Jan. 5, 2015. Credit: Steve Pfost

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone made the pitch to Albany lawmakers Tuesday to send back $32.5 million of the $1.5 billion in revenues from the unpopular MTA payroll tax to the county to help avoid cuts to local bus service.

In a meeting with 15 state lawmakers from Nassau and Suffolk, Bellone urged changes to the state budget that would cut in half the $25 million annual cost the county now pays for rail station maintenance and provide a 50 percent subsidy of the local bus costs—about a $20 million increase.

Bellone, in an interview later, emphasized that he opposes the MTA tax but as long as the levy exists “a fairer solution is to use more of those proceeds to go back to support transit operations in local communities rather than in the city.”

The county executive made the proposal after last fall capping county bus funding for this year at $30 million-–down from the $36 million in in 2015. Even with the cut, he said Suffolk still pays more for bus service than any other suburban county, while Nassau gets $62 million in state aid, Westchester $51 million while Suffolk received only $24.5 million.

“They were all reasonable asks and I think they were well received by the delegation,” said Assemb. Fred Thiele(I-Sag Harbor). “I think it’s hard to look at the disparity of funding for buses between Nassau and Suffolk and not believe Suffolk needs additional aid.”

Bellone also asked state lawmakers to provide an additional $7 million in child care funding to help families, who earn up to 165 percent of the poverty level of $40,012 a year. Without the extra money, Bellone said changes to federal block grant rules—requiring annual eligibility renewals and cutting payments to providers when children are absent—could reduce the number of children helped by 500 to 1,000.

Suffolk officials also joined other counties across the state to seek an expansion of the 911 to include a $1 a month charge for prepaid cell phones. It would mean about $4-5 million in new revenue for Suffolk and $8 million to New York State.

The county now receives 35 cent a month surcharge on land lines and regular cellphones, which generates about $6 million annually—about half the cost to provide 911 services.

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