The MTA tax ruling: calling the GOP’s bluff?

by E.J. McMahon |  | NY Torch

Republican pols in New York’s downstate suburbs loudly celebrated last week’s court ruling tossing out a payroll tax enacted by the Legislature in 2009 to subsidize mass transit in the 12-county Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) region.  But as Nicole Gelinas writes in today’s New York Post:

Their reaction … makes you wonder why we have state Republicans. Why are these supposed conservatives relying on one rogue judge to solve problems that elected lawmakers must solve themselves?

As Nicole points out, New York’s Republican lawmakers have scored political points denouncing an unpopular tax hike without putting forth any alternative way to make up for the $1.2 billion it raises.  Which is not to say that there aren’t alternatives.

It would help if the state GOPers would pressure [Governor Andrew] Cuomo and MTA chief Joe Lhota to really cut costs — specifically by making sure the MTA reduces worker benefits. But the GOP-run Senate already enacted statewide pension reform without raising the retirement age for new city bus and subway workers.

And you don’t hear the state GOP suggesting steps that other states have taken — such as passing a law to remove health benefits from the contract-bargaining process, so the MTA could set worker contributions for health care unilaterally and focus on bargaining other stuff.

In other words, state Republicans don’t like taxes — but won’t fight the unions, either.

So how could the MTA make up for the lost payroll-tax money? Well, it could hike fares by 25 percent — meaning a monthly pass from much of Long Island would cost $280, not $223.

Or it could kill capital projects — including bringing the LIRR to Grand Central. Or slash service and maintenance, so suburbanites have more miserable commutes.

You won’t hear state Republicans suggest any of these grim-but-realistic options. Instead, state Sen. Greg Ball of Putnam County rolled out the old canard, saying that the MTA needs an “independent audit” — when the problems are obvious.

One thing that might account for the exultation in GOP ranks: few expect Justice R. Bruce Cozzens’ decision to stand up on appeal.



- E.J. McMahon is the Research Director at the Empire Center for Public Policy.