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NYC needs more than a ploy to fund the MTA

Mayor Bill de Blasio at a news conference,

Mayor Bill de Blasio at a news conference, Monday, Aug. 7, 2017, at Brooklyn Borough Hall to announce a proposal to levy a tax on the city's wealthiest residents to fund an upgrade of the city's beleaguered subway system. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

When is a “fair fix” not so fair?

When it’s little more than a political ploy.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his subway plan on Monday: an income tax increase on city residents who earn more than $500,000 and couples who earn more than $1 million. The so-called “millionaire’s tax” would add about $700 million a year initially to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s coffers, de Blasio said.

De Blasio’s new tax seems like a simple way for the city to contribute more to the MTA. But the plan requires approval from the State Legislature, including the Republican-led State Senate, which in the past has rejected de Blasio efforts to impose a similar tax. So the mayor’s idea is not an immediate fix, and it’s likely a no-go as a permanent source of funds. It’s also not quite the revenue boost it appears, because $250 million a year would go to half-priced MetroCards for low-income riders, a good idea de Blasio rejected previously as too expensive.

The mayor should be fighting for innovative and probable solutions. That includes a tolling and congestion pricing plan to reduce traffic, encourage public transit use, and generate as much as $1.5 billion a year for bridges, roadways and subways. But de Blasio has called congestion pricing a “non-starter” because Albany wouldn’t support it. Why then is he fighting for a millionaire’s tax, a weaker policy Albany also won’t support?

Even Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has hinted he is coming around on the idea drivers should pay more for traveling at peak traffic hours. The governor should consider real estate-related or sponsorship revenue streams, too. The state and the city have to pay for the subways’ short-term emergency needs now. But a more comprehensive, more realistic long-term strategy is needed. That would be a fair fix.