Less than a year after the largest tax increase in Connecticut history, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Fairfield County legislators say now is not the time for even more taxes.
That prompted the strong reaction Tuesday against the potential reinstallation of the much-dreaded New York City commuter tax.
The issue arose when the Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer, called for reestablishing the tax that had been repealed by the New York State legislature in 1999. Stringer, a Democrat, is among the leading candidates for mayor of New York City, which could receive as much as $725 million per year if the tax goes back on the books.
“The governor does not support reinstating the commuter tax, nor does he favor raising any other taxes,” said Andrew Doba, Malloy’s spokesman. ”No one questions the need to fund mass transportation projects throughout our region. But enacting a tax that affects traffic moving in only one direction is unfair.”
House Republican leader Larry Cafero of Norwalk blasted Stringer as a publicity seeker.
“It’s a cheap political ploy on the part of this guy who’s trying to get some attention to run for mayor,” Cafero said.
State Rep. Lile R. Gibbons of Old Greenwich said the tax would be levied on top of other costs that Fairfield County commuters encounter on their way to jobs in Manhattan.
“You’re already paying New York State income tax, and it’s substantial,” Gibbons said. “This is a slap-in-the-face tax. Metro-North is the most expensive commuter railroad, per mile, in the country.”
Stringer initially told The New York Times about his plan before delivering a speech Tuesday to the Association for a Better New York, a highly influential group of movers and shakers who are trying to improve the city.
Some insiders said there is very little chance of reinstalling the tax because of strong opposition by Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a powerful Republican from Rockville Centre, Long Island who controls the agenda in the Senate. Skelos helped lead the charge as the key sponsor to repeal the tax back in 1999.
During that debate, the opposition by then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was ignored by Skelos and others as senators from both parties were trying to gain an advantage in a special election that year in a New York City suburb.
The tax of 0.45 percent on earned income would cost about $350 per year for a person earning $75,000 per year and $450 for a worker earning $100,000 per year. An estimated 800,000 workers from the key commuting areas of Fairfield County, Long Island, Westchester County, and New Jersey paid the tax.
Despite opposition from Skelos, Stringer clearly has support from Manhattan residents – who would not pay the tax – and transportation advocates who have been pushing for years for improving the city’s aging infrastructure.
In Manhattan and transportation circles, there is clearly support for the idea. But around the region, there was little support from commuters who would pay the tax. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dismissed the idea as “pennywise and pound foolish,” according to The Associated Press.
A major advocate for mass transit, Stringer, 51, is a former state legislator who supports the opening of the Second Avenue subway line that has been talked about for decades and will cost billions.
State Rep. Livvy Floren, who represents Greenwich’s “backcountry” neighborhood, said that some Greenwich commuters keep a diary because they pay taxes on the income earned on the days that they are in New York City. The tax, she said, only makes it worse.
“I think it’s a terrible idea,” Floren said.
In a counter move, state Rep. Pam Sawyer, a Bolton Republican, said that Connecticut could impose a “reverse commuter’’ tax on all of the workers from Manhattan and other boroughs who now travel to work at Greenwich hedge funds and in the tall office towers in Stamford at financial giants like UBS and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Floren agreed that there has been a huge influx of workers into the local office buildings as some of the financial firms have moved out of Manhattan.
“We have more people coming into Greenwich than going out,” Floren said, “and it’s been that way for 10 years.”