Long Island Pols React to MTA Payroll Tax Ruling

A Long Island Rail Road train arrives at a station (LIRR)

A New York State Supreme Court judge’s ruling Thursday that the MTA’s payroll tax is unconstitutional drew mixed reactions from Long Island lawmakers, transit officials and commuter advocates.

Nassau County led Suffolk and 20 other municipalities in a 2010 suit against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and state leaders that passed the Payroll Mobility Tax in 2009, seeking to block the law. Under the Payroll Mobility Tax, employers in the MTA’s transportation region are charged 34 cents for every $100 of payroll, raising more than $1.2 billion in revenue.


“We expect it will be overturned, since four similar Supreme Court cases making the same argument were previously dismissed,” said MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan, who called Judge Bruce Cozzen Jr.’s ruling “erroneous” and vowed the MTA will “vigorously appeal it.”

For now, the tax remains in effect.

State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who recaptured control of his chamber last year by harnessing voter discontent over the MTA tax—ousting two Democratic state senators from LI in the process—was chief among those who cheered the ruling.

“Senator Skelos has always maintained that the MTA payroll tax, which was imposed by the Democrats without a single Republican vote, was an unfair and onerous tax on jobs that never should have been implemented in the first place,” Skelos said through his spokesman, Scott Reif.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who was among the defendants in the lawsuit, is “examining the decision and considering its consequences and impact,” according to Michael Whyland, his spokesman.

On LI, both county leaders crossed party lines to praise the ruling. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, declared the decision “a big victory for Suffolk County taxpayers, many of whom get little to no service from the MTA.”

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, a Republican and the lead plaintiff, described it as “a historic victory for tax relief and tax reform. I am proud that Nassau led counties and villages around this state to a tax relief victory.”

But celebration is premature, said Mitch Pally, Suffolk’s representative on the MTA Board.

“We’re about in the third inning,” Pally told the Press. “The State Legislature and the governor could today eliminate the tax…or we will wait for the judiciary to make a final determination, which I don’t believe will come for another year.”

Pally added: “For those of us who would prefer the tax not to be there and something else to be there—that’s a whole different issue.”

The ruling troubled transportation advocates such as Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. She’s worried that “persistent raids” by state lawmakers on the MTA’s budget has forced the authority “to operate in a climate of fiscal uncertainty.”

“If today’s decision stands,” Vanterpool said, “Albany must take action. New revenues must be found, through congestion pricing, tolling or other means. The 8 million daily commuters who depend on the LIRR, Metro-North, and subway and bus service deserve better, and the metropolitan region’s economy depends on it.”

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