response to an op-ed by Larry Penner that was critical of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s proposal to reinstate a
I firmly believe that the only way to maintain New York City’s global edge is to address our crumbling infrastructure—its decaying bridges and tunnels, antiquated energy grid, slowing subways and gridlock-choked highways.
That’s why I made transportation the focus of my recent speech at the Association for a Better New York. My office has hosted two transportation conferences in the past year, with national and local leaders, experts, business and labor leaders from all over the country, and there was broad consensus on one key point: The current state of New York’s transportation network - transit desserts, long commute times, structurally deficient bridges and airports described as “Third World” – is unacceptable, and fixing this problem must be one of our city’s top priorities.
Mr. Penner writes, “Each weekday several hundred thousand...suburban residents travel to jobs in New York City. Many others enjoy sporting events, theater, museums, restaurants and shopping.”
Indeed they do. And in addition to enjoying our city’s robust economy and rich culture, these commuters are using our roads, bridges and rails to get here. They’re relying on our police, fire, transit and sanitation services when they arrive. I believe it is only fair that commuters pay something in return for the use of these services, because the region’s economic health depends on them.
We can’t maintain and expand our transportation network without a steady steam of money to pay for it. That’s why I proposed the creation of New York City’s first Transit Trust, an infrastructure bank much like the one just developed under Mayor Rahm Emmanuel in Chicago that would leverage private dollars and be tied to a new dedicated revenue stream – the Mortgage Recording Tax – that now helps fund the MTA’s operating costs. In order to move the Mortgage Recording Tax to the Capital side, however, we need to replace its source of funding for operating costs.
My proposal is that we restore the commuter tax, which affects people who work in New York City but live outside the five boroughs. This levy produced billions of dollars in revenue for New York City between 1966 and 1999, before it was unwisely killed by the state legislature in a cynical political deal.
If we reinstated it at the same rate as 14 years ago, we would raise $725 million a year to support the region’s transportation network and fund the MTA’s operating costs. This is not only an effective solution to transit funding – it’s the right thing to do.
We need to start thinking today about our transit future. Yes, it will be hard – but it’s time to do the hard things.
Scott Stringer is the borough president of Manhattan and a candidate for mayor in 2013.