NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday announced a proposal Monday to tax the wealthiest New Yorkers to help pay for repairs to the subway system and buses and to help reduce fares for low-income riders.
The top tax rate would rise from about 3.9 percent to 4.4 percent. It would affect individuals making more than $500,000 a year and couples earning more than $1 million.
“There is a time for fairness when it comes to supporting the MTA. That is why today I am calling on Albany to pass a millionaire’s tax to support the MTA,” de Blasio said. “We need a millionaire’s tax so New Yorkers who typically travel in first class pay their fair share so the rest of us can get around, so the rest of us can get to work, so the rest of us can live our lives here in this city.”
The proposal would affect about 32,000 of New Yorkers filing taxes in the city, or just less than 1 percent, the mayor said.
“We need revenue that will be sustainable, we need revenue that will make sure the system gets stronger and we need fairness — something that, as I’ve said, we’ve not had enough of,” the mayor said. “Too many people who have paid in have not gotten then fair share back and too many people who could have been paying a little bit more haven’t been.”
The mayor said the tax is projected to raise $700 million in 2018 before rising to $820 million a year by 2022.
“I think we’d all like to be making a million dollars a year,” de Blasio said. “That individual will pay $2,700 dollars more in annual taxes — $7 a day.”
As CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported, some were wondering Monday whether the tax proposal was a serious suggestion on de Blasio’s part or a reelection-year ploy.
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 Riders Alliance said the push to help low-income riders “has never been so urgent.”
“It’s time to end a system where low-income New Yorkers have to skip meals, beg for swipes or even jump turnstiles in order to get to work or school,” executive director John Raskin said in a statement.
But Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joe Lhota said a contribution from the city to fix the transit system cannot wait.
“This has to get done now,” Lhota said. “We started it now. What he’s proposed today will not come in until next year. I can’t wait until next year to get paid. We’ve got to do this right now.”
Currently, the MTA is trying to stabilize and improve the system with emergency repairs before the second phase of modernizing it.
Lhota, who proposed an $836 million emergency plan, said Monday that the mayor “has acknowledged New York City’s significant ownership of the New York City Transit Authority and the fact that new funding is needed to modernize the subway system.”
“The bad news is that the mayor has not acknowledged that the MTA needs funding today,” he added in a statement. “You can’t delay an emergency plan to stop delays. The challenges the subways are facing today need immediate resources and solutions right now, not years from now.”
De Blasio responded: “That money is available right now. The state just has to give back the money it took away from the MTA. The money was taken from the MTA budget — put it back.”
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 money for immediate repairs.
Meanwhile, de Blasio faces two potential roadblocks: Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who says he’s exploring a different revenue stream of ways to use congestion pricing to pay for subway repairs, and the state Senate, CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reported.
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan issued a statement, saying “The MTA is implementing an emergency plan now and we must continue to make wise investments to ensure the subways safely meet riders’ needs well into the future.”
“I’m pleased Mayor de Blasio recognizes that additional funds contributed by the city would further that goal, but raising taxes is not the answer,” he said. “While I support increased city investment in the subway, the city already has a $4.2 billion surplus and therefore has the ability to do so with existing resources. Mayor de Blasio doesn’t need to reach into the wallets of city residents to make that happen.”
And de Blasio’s political opponents said he is just suggesting the tax because he is trying to get reelected.
“He doesn’t want to put money toward mass transit, and he’s just crying as if we don’t have money ready to spend,” said Republican mayoral candidate Nicole Malliotakis.
“He rolls that out every single time he needs revenue,” added Democratic mayoral primary challenger Sal Albanese. “It’s obviously a cover-up for the fact that he’s been disinterested in mass transit for three an da half years and this is going nowhere.”
Reaction to the proposal from riders was mixed.
“I think it’s a very good idea,” Brooklyn Heights resident Neil Foreman told Kramer.
“They don’t use it, more than likely, so they’re having to pay for a service that they won’t benefit from,” said Bed-Stuy resident Denise Dean.
“I don’t support that at all,” another woman said. “To be taxed more when we already have had our fares increased.”
“I’m all for fairness across the board but I think it’s a great idea to get people who are sitting on money to give money to the city,” another woman told 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck.
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 LIRR were at the highest level in 10 years, according to a June report.
About 5.7 million people ride the subway on an average weekday.
The Legislature won’t deal with subway funding until next year, so when voters go to the polls in November, they won’t know whether the mayor’s proposal is a good plan or one that just sounds good now.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)