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Long IslandTransportation

Advocates: Long Island bus commuters deserve ‘fair share’ of funding

Elected leaders from Nassau and Suffolk gather Monday, Jan. 30, 2017, in East Farmingdale to urge state and federal governments to boost aid to Long Island's two county bus systems. (Credit: Alfonso A. Castillo / Newsday)

Commuters on Long Island’s two financially struggling bus systems deserve their “fair share” of billions in transportation spending planned by state and federal lawmakers, transit advocates and local legislators said Monday.

At a news conference organized by Vision Long Island, a planning group, a bipartisan coalition of Nassau and Suffolk lawmakers put forth a five-point plan to generate increased, and recurring funding for the Nassau Inter-County Express, or NICE Bus, and Suffolk County Transit. Both have faced major funding crises in recent months.

At the center of the plan are calls for the state to redirect some of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s revenue streams to the two local transit agencies, including by allotting them a portion of the MTA’s payroll mobility tax, which charges employers in the MTA region 34 cents for every $100 of payroll, and for a 50-cent surcharge on rideshare services such as Uber to be earmarked for the counties’ transit needs.

The coalition, which met in East Farmingdale, also said that any federal transportation and infrastructure spending plan considered in Washington, D.C., should include funds for NICE and Suffolk Transit.

“We hear about dollars on the federal level for transportation — trillions and trillions,” Vision Long Island Executive Director Eric Alexander said. “And then on the state level — big plans for billions and billions. We hear about [the LIRR’s proposed]third track. Well, how about the buses that get people to work every day?”

The calls for more state and federal transit aid come as NICE faces a budget its latest seven-figure operating deficit that could result in major service reductions. Suffolk eliminated eight routes in October to cut $4 million from its budget.

A Cuomo spokesman said the governor’s proposed budget “continues a record-high commitment of more than $92 million in direct support for bus service in Nassau and Suffolk County.” The proposed aid is flat from last year’s amount.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Flanagan and other Republican state lawmakers have previously pointed out that Nassau receives more state transit aid than any county in the state, about $66 million annually. NICE gets about $2.5 million from its owner, Nassau County — the bare minimum the county can contribute in order to keep state aid.

In comparison, even with its recent cuts, Suffolk contributes about $35 million to its bus system, which has a $73 million budget. Suffolk receives about $26 million from the state.

Nassau lawmakers pointed out that they only reduced their transit subsidy under pressure by an interim finance board to reduce spending. Still, Nassau Democratic Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams acknowledged that the county “could do better.”

“And I think we plan to do better,” Abrahams added.

The coalition’s five-point plan also called for emergency funding to immediately prevent and restore service cuts in Nassau and Suffolk, and for both counties to look for ways to reduce costs.

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