A Jamaica bound train waits on the platform at Grand...

A Jamaica bound train waits on the platform at Grand Central Madison last month on the second day of the terminal's operation. The MTA chairman said Long Island should be willing to pay more after the MTA completed major projects like Grand Central Madison. Credit: Craig Ruttle

Pointing to billions of dollars in recent LIRR investments, the head of the MTA on Monday said Long Island should be willing to pay more to support transit, even if many of its residents are still working from home.

Speaking at a budget hearing held by the State Legislature in Albany, Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman and CEO Janno Lieber defended a proposal made by Gov. Kathy Hochul last week to increase the state’s payroll mobility tax by 47% — from 34 cents for every $100 of payroll to 50 cents for eligible employers.

"I don't think it's unreasonable to ask the businesses who are, for the first time, getting reverse commuting … to participate in [the payroll tax],” said Lieber, referencing the Long Island Rail Road’s enhanced ability to bring workers from New York City to jobs on Long Island.

Lieber pointed out to skeptical lawmakers from Nassau and Suffolk that Long Island has benefited from several recent MTA megaprojects, including the $2.5 billion new Third Track between Floral Park and Hicksville, and the LIRR’s $11.1 billion Grand Central Madison station, which opened last month.

The $800 million the state expects to generate from the bump would go to the MTA, which says it is facing a recurring $2 billion deficit caused by low ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Noting that Long Island could be “particularly” impacted by the tax bump, Assemb. Ed Ra (R-Franklin Square) questioned whether the plan would solve the MTA’s problem, given the agency’s long history of financial struggles.

“Every decade, or so, we tend to end up in the kind of situation we’re in now,” Ra said.

The MTA chairman also said he believes major employers in New York City should pay, even if many former LIRR commuters from Long Island are working from home. The alternative, Lieber said, would be underfunding a transit system that is still relied upon by those less fortunate.

“They deserve the same frequent reliable, safe service they’ve come to depend on, even if very affluent New Yorkers, mostly in white collar jobs, aren’t using mass transit as frequently,” Lieber said. “It doesn’t make sense that low income folks should see service slashed because others can work from home or dial it in from East Hampton.”

Lieber also defended the MTA’s plan to raise fares by 5.5% this year — the highest amount in a decade. He noted that programs are in place to provide discounted fares for low-income New York City residents.

“I understand that we all would like a very affordable system. I’m not as down for subsidizing better-off people,” Lieber said.

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