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Skelos: MTA tax repeal drive may be delayed

Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), walks to a

Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), walks to a meeting with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at the Capitol in Albany. (March 25, 2011) Credit: AP

ALBANY -- Repeal of the MTA payroll tax -- a hot issue in Long Island Senate elections last fall -- may have to wait until next year, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said Wednesday.

Skelos said it was possible to try to scrap the Metropolitan Transportation Authority tax in the next three months of the legislatures' session. But that might give him less leverage over Assembly Democrats, who largely support the $1.4-billion tax, than he would have in 2012-13 budget negotiations.

"When we can, we will take it up," said Skelos (R-Rockville Centre).

Two Republicans -- Sens. Lee Zeldin of Shirley and Jack Martins of Mineola -- effectively campaigned on repealing the tax, a 34-cent levy per $100 of payroll on businesses, schools, nonprofits and municipalities in downstate counties. Zeldin had called it the "Foley Payroll Tax," after his opponent, former Sen. Brian Foley.

Democrats, who ushered in the tax in 2009, Wednesday on the Senate floor questioned why Skelos declined to make the MTA tax a part of budget talks after campaigning for its repeal. "Republicans are once again breaking a promise they made to New Yorkers," said Austin Shafran, a Democrat spokesman.

The Senate voted this year to exempt schools from the tax, but it was lost in the compromise budget package with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat.

A Cuomo spokesman said the tax should be "revisited as part of an overall restructuring of the MTA's finances."

Zeldin said before introducing a repeal bill, he is studying ways to make up for revenue losses that would occur. He called the Senate Democrats' argument "disingenuous" and a "political stunt" because most voted for the tax.

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