If the MTA eliminates service on the Greenport branch, in keeping with its announcement Friday, the state should at least repeal the MTA payroll tax instituted last May to bail out the financially troubled transportation authority, according to state, county and local elected officials.
Gathered outside the shuttered Riverhead railroad station in the blowing rain Monday morning to protest the MTA’s plan to axe service on the Greenport branch, Assemblyman Marc Alessi, County Legislator Ed Romaine, Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter and Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell were united in their expressions of outrage over the transportation authority’s plans to cease train service on the Greenport branch east of Ronkonkoma beginning in September. They all called for an immediate repeal of the new MTA payroll tax, imposed over the objections of local state legislators last year. Alessi said he and Senator Ken LaValle, who was not at the press conference because the State Senate was in session, would immediately introduce bills in both chambers of the State Legislature to repeal the controversial new payroll tax. The new tax — 34 cents on every $100 of payroll, including municipal, school and special district payrolls, was passed by the legislature last year to avert massive fare hikes and drastic service reductions throughout the system of trains, buses and subways serving the metropolitan area.
“Even with a new payroll tax, at the end of they year, they said, ‘Whoops! we’re still $400 million short. Who do they hire to do their bookkeeping?'” Romaine asked.
In a press release issued Friday, the MTA said it found a $400 million budget shortfall had “developed” in December, and therefore devised plans to reduce or eliminate service to help plug the budget gap. The elimination of service on the Greenport branch, which was part of the original main line of Long Island rail service connecting Hunts Point Market in L.I. City with Greenport in 1844, would save the MTA a projected $991,000 in annual operating costs, according to a chart released by the agency.
Romaine said Suffolk County pays the MTA $347 annually for every Suffolk resident, a total of $26 million a year — representing half of all property taxes collected by the county.
“Unlike Nassau, Queens and Westchester, Suffolk County buses don’t get one cent of subsidy from the MTA,” Romaine said.”It’s outrageous.”
Alessi said too much of the MTA’s revenue — “hundreds of millions of dollars in MTA headquarters alone” — goes to support its “bloated bureaucracy” filled with “political cronies” and patronage appointments. He released a 42-page document listing MTA employees working in “headquarters,” many of them police officers and police brass, including 612 employees earning six-figure salaries (as of 2008). Alessi decried MTA president Jay Walder’s pay hike right after assuming his duties and on the heels of the new tax.
“The MTA must chop from the top,” Alessi said, “not eliminate crucial services on the East End.”
He was joined by the other officials gathered outside the train station building in calling for the state to allow the East End to cede from the MTA and form its own transportation authority, to connect the twin forks with light rail and bus service.
The railroad’s right of way is not owned by the LIRR or MTA, Romaine said. “The right of way was given to the State of New York,” he said. “I’m asking the state to seize the right of way and turn it over to a new authority, one that will serve the East End.”
Town Supervisor Sean Walter, who said his son rides the LIRR to Mineola every day, said the MTA’s plan to eliminate service was “an affront” to the people of the East End. “it’s time to start looking at Peconic County again,” he said, referring to a movement about a dozen years ago to establish a new county for the five East End towns, which would effectively secede from Suffolk County.
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