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Romaine Files Legislation To Join Nassau Lawsuit Against MTA Payroll Tax

Originally Posted: August 18, 2010

Riverhead - Joined by several of his colleagues, Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine unveiled new legislation directing the county attorney to join Nassau County's lawsuit against the MTA Payroll Tax.

In its lawsuit, Nassau County calls the payroll tax unconstitutional as it encroaches on the home rule powers of local governments and its implementation violated the state constitution.

Suffolk County is one of 12 counties that receive services from the MTA. In 2009, New York imposed a .33 percent payroll tax on all employers in those 12 counties to bail the MTA out of a $1.8 billion deficit.

As an employer in the MTA district, Suffolk County was forced to increase property taxes to pay its share of the MTA payroll tax. The cost to Suffolk taxpayers is more than $ 3 million per year.

A tax such as the payroll tax requires two-thirds vote in both houses of the state legislature. However, the assembly passed the legislation with just 60 percent, while the senate passed it by a mere one vote.

In addition, Article X of the state constitution prohibits the legislature from "accepting, authorizing, or imposing liability on the state for the debts" of public benefit corporations and Article VII, Section 6 states, "No appropriations shall be made except by separate bills each for as single object or purpose." The same bill that authorized the payroll tax also authorized new drivers' licenses and vehicle registration fees.

The MTA has a lengthy history of inefficient management and exorbitant operating costs. Even with the bailout, the MTA has drastically reduced services and increased fares. The legislators also called on the state comptroller to perform a forensic audit of MTA finances.

Earlier this year, Suffolk County was threatened with complete elimination of train service on the historic Ronkonkoma to Greenport line, but the MTA reversed its decision only after public outcry from East End residents and officials. However, weekend service on the Greenport line will cease in winter months.

Taxes and fees generated by Suffolk residents to operate the MTA are now well in excess of half a billion dollars - or $349 for every man, woman, and child from Lloyd Harbor to Montauk.

"Public authorities are designed to be autonomous agencies, free from subsidization by the state," said Legislator Romaine. "However, taxpayers spend billions propping up the MTA. This must end."

Legislator Cilmi said, "Very simply, increased taxes means fewer jobs, fewer taxpayers and ultimately less tax revenue. The MTA Tax was an ill-conceived, unfair, job-killing money grab which has failed to fix the problems at the MTA. Rather, it has created additional economic problems for Suffolk residents and businesses and should be repealed."

The new democratic MTA tax has hurt and destroyed small business owners in Suffolk County. This tax is unfair and should be repealed," stated Legislator Muratore.

"Suffolk County and its residents cannot afford to pay this onerous and patently unconstitutional tax," added Romaine.

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