Nearly 1 million people live outside of New York and commute to the city each day.
Now, Manhattan Borough President and potential mayoral candidate Scott Stringer is calling for the reinstatement of a commuter tax, which was repealed in 1999.
This tax has a long, contentious history here: it existed for more than 30 years.
Bringing it back could be just as fraught.
SOUND: Ding-dong of train doors opening and closing, and conductor announcing.
And Mark Schweitzer is on his way to work.
IC: “I’m a lawyer—I take the train into the city every day…”
OC: “…I work all the way downtown, so I have to get onto the subway.” (0:05)
SOUND: Fade up thunk-thunk of train going by, and tick-tick of tickets being clipped.
The train is filling up with dozens of commuters just like Schweitzer. And that’s exactly Scott Stringer’s point.
SOUND: Fade out train and ticket-taking.
IC: “Every day, commuters pour into New York City…”
OC: “…and small surcharge of 0.45 percent.” (0:15)
That was Stringer last week, proposing that commuters kick in half a percent of their yearly earnings.
Stringer thinks the tax money would add up to $725 million dollars for the city. And he’d funnel that directly into the the budget for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Noah Budnick helps run a non-profit called Transportation Alternatives. He thinks Stringer’s way of funding the MTA is better than raising fares.
IC: “When elected officials don’t come up with new ways…”
OC: “…of any transit system in the country.” (0:10)
The commuter tax could ease that burden.
But Queens Assemblyman David Weprin says the tax is a hard sell in Albany.
IC: “We have a governor that’s taken a public position against…”
OC: “…where they have a large commuter representation.” (0:12)
Weprin has sponsored his own version of the commuter tax. He says it’s Albany lawmakers who have to approve it.
But the mayor can weigh in. It’s just that Michael BLOOMberg — has chosen not to.
IC: “There’s no question if the mayor got up there…”
OC: “…could have gotten back, certainly, the old commuter tax.” (0:14)
Back in 1966, it was another Mayor, John Lindsay, who had proposed the first commuter tax.
And just like today, there was a group of reluctant Republican legislators from the suburbs.
State budget negotiators spent three days in Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s mansion. Staffers slept on the rug, and the politicians ran out of clean clothes.
IC: “They were sending their aides out…”
OC: “…at the haberdashery store on State Street.” (0:05)
New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg covered those negotiations. They concluded at 4:00 in the morning on the last day.
He got his information from the governor’s butler at the time.
Schanberg said that it was Rockefeller, with his presidential aspirations, who brokered the final deal.
IC: “He didn’t want to see a bunch of guys…”
OC: “…without a solution.” (0:06)
Transportation and rising fares could be a key issue in the 2013 mayoral campaign, according to Transportation Alternatives’ Noah Budnick.
IC: “There are seven and a half, eight…”
OC: “…you can have a huge slice of New York City voters.” (0:13)
The commuter tax wouldn’t cost those voters a single cent. But that doesn’t help its chances in Albany.
Nat Herz, Columbia Radio News.
–The tape from Scott Stringer’s speech is courtesy of WNYC.
To read Schanberg’s compelling account of the 1966 negotiations, click here.