De Blasio To Push For Tax On Wealthiest New Yorkers To Fund Subway Fix

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to tax the wealthiest 1 percent of New Yorkers to fund repairs and improvements to the beleaguered subway system.

The proposal comes as the mayor and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats, continued to squabble over responsibility for paying for repairs to the nation’s largest transit system that has seen growing delays, mechanical failures, power outages and even derailments.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota recently unveiled an emergency plan that would cost $836 million to stabilize the system. The governor offered to split the cost of the plan with the city, but the mayor refused to commit money to support it.

City officials said that the mayor’s plan is meant as a long-term solution, not a quick fix. It aims to generate nearly $800 million annually and must be approved by state lawmakers. A formal announcement was expected Monday.

“Instead of searching for a quick-fix that doesn’t exist, or simply forking over more and more of our tax dollars every year, we have come up with a fair way to finance immediate and long-term transit improvement,” de Blasio said in a statement Sunday.

The tax would increase the top income tax rate from about 3.9 percent to 4.4 percent for married couples who make more than $1 million per year and individuals making more than $500,000, city officials said. It would affect about 32,000 of New Yorkers filing taxes in the city, or just less than 1 percent, officials said.

“Rather than sending the bill to working families and subway and bus riders already feeling the pressure of rising fares and bad service, we are asking the wealthiest in our city to chip in a little extra,” de Blasio said.

Queens State Senator Mike Gianaris (D-12th), who proposed a similar plan in Albany, says better subways are a benefit to all New Yorkers — including the top one percent.

“Now at a time, when people are doing well as a result of an efficient transit are doing better than ever, I think it’s completely fair to say that we should ask them to do a little bit more,” Gianaris told WCBS 880’s Mike Smeltz.

Some straphangers told 1010 WINS’ Roger Stern they thought it was a good idea.

“People with money should definitely help fix the subway system,” said a woman named Martina.

An advocacy group also endorsed the plan Sunday.

“We think it’s a good plan,” Nick Sifuentes, deputy director of the Riders Alliance. “We think it’s the right step for the mayor to be taking at this time.”

New Yorkers already contribute to the agency through other taxes and fees. De Blasio’s plan also includes funding to offer half-price fare cards for low-income riders.

The current five-year transit system capital plan, which covers upkeep for the subways, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North, plus other pieces of the transit system, is about $29 billion. The city has pledged $2.5 billion and the state $8.3 billion, plus Cuomo recently pledged an additional $1 billion.

But that doesn’t include the cost of the emergency funds transportation officials say are necessary to fix immediate problems. Lhota said in a statement Sunday that the agency needs additional short-term emergency funding now.

“There’s no question we need a long-term funding stream, but emergency train repairs can’t wait on what the state legislature may or may not do next year,” Lhota said. The MTA chair learned about the de Blasio proposal from reading a report in the New York Times.

Cuomo echoed the sentiment, calling on the mayor to fund the emergency plan.

“Riders suffer every day and delaying repairs for at least a year is neither responsible nor responsive to the immediate problem, or riders’ pain,” he said in a statement.

The number of subway delays has tripled in the past five years, to 70,000 per month, and rush hour cancellations and delays on the Long Island Rail Road were at the highest level in 10 years, according to a June report.

“There is no doubt that we need a long-term dedicated funding stream,” Cuomo’s statement continued. “But there is also no doubt that we cannot wait to address the current crisis.”

About 5.7 million people ride the subway on an average weekday.

The finger-pointing by city and state officials is due in part to the transit agency’s messy ownership structure. According to Lhota, 1981 law was meant to help the city during a major financial crisis, when it could not pay capital costs and the subways were in much worse shape than they are now. The state picked up the tab, but it was never meant to be permanent, he said.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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