Residents raise objections to proposed commuter tax

By mary dempsey
Staff Writer

Residents raise objections
to proposed commuter tax
By mary dempsey
Staff Writer

A proposed New York City tax on commuters has some area residents wondering why they are being tapped to fill a large void in the city’s budget.

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg recently announced a proposal to tax commuters who work in the city to help cover a budget gap of more than $7 billion over the next 20 months.

"It’s sort of like being punished," said George Anthony of Middletown.

Anthony works for the New York City Department of Education in Staten Island, N.Y.

"I know it’s going to affect me in a big way. I’m not happy about it at all," he said.

The money he is forced to pay in taxes is less money he can put toward the economy and his children, he said.

He said the city should save money by cutting down on some of the bureaucratic jobs it gives out.

"You’re talking millions and millions of dollars in salaries there," he said.

The proposed tax, if approved by the New York Legislature, would force commuters to pay a personal city income tax in addition to the personal income tax paid by anyone who works in the state, Bloomberg said at a Nov. 14 press conference.

"The [city] personal income tax is currently levied only on residents, with a maximum rate of 3.65 percent. Restructuring the city’s personal income tax base to include income earned in New York City by nonresidents will provide an immediate, across-the-board reduction to the city’s personal income tax, reducing the top rate from 3.65 percent to 2.75 percent," Bloomberg said.

The proposal would raise over $1 billion in fiscal year 2004, he said.

"I don’t think commuters, who pay high enough taxes in their hometowns, should be taxed twice just to help balance the budget deficit in New York City," said North Brunswick resident John Swetkowski, 23, who attends school and works part time in New York City. "I commute into the city at least five times a week to go to Hunter College. I’m trying to save my parents money by commuting. I love the city, and I contribute to its economy daily by attending school there, working there and shopping and eating there."

"Bloomberg shouldn’t balance the budget on the backs of commuters who, despite the bad economy, continue to commute to work in the city every day," said North Brunswick commuter Patricia Pulda, 37, a recruiter for William Bradley Associates. "It doesn’t look like I’ll be getting a Christmas bonus this year, but I don’t plan on leaving my job. I know a lot of people who aren’t getting Christmas bonuses. Some don’t even expect raises."

The city’s commuter tax was repealed in 1999 by the New York state Legislature.

At that time, the tax rate was set at a flat rate of .45 percent of wages and .65 percent of self-employed income.

John Rafferty of Matawan, who is the manager of operations for a large New York bank, said the commuter tax is a bad idea.

"Considering three years ago New York declared [the commuter tax] an unconstitutional act, I don’t think it’s going to get passed," he said.

He said it’s enough hassle to pay the costs for taking public transportation.

One justification given for the proposed tax is that commuters use city services, including fire, police and emergency, while they are at work.

Lindy P. Crescitelli, a Staten Island resident, said commuters should be taxed by the city.

"Everybody who works here, whether they are from New Jersey or Long Island, if they want to have 911 or sanitation pickup, they are going to have to pay for that," she said.

Joe Donnelly of Morganville, who is vice president for business development for a company in midtown Manhattan near Pennsylvania Station, said he dreads the prospect of the new tax.

"The trains are expensive enough, especially with the way the economy is. The heightened tax doesn’t help things," he said.

Staff writers Josh Davidson and Jennifer Kohlhepp contributed to this story.