Councilman David Weprin and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz held a press conference on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge to denounce charging drivers to cross any of the four bridges that span the East River to help close a huge MTA budget gap.
The Ravitch Commission, a 13-member panel appointed in June to identify solutions to the agency’s dire financial situation, is expected to include tolls on some or all of the East River bridges when it makes its recommendations next month.
“Charging tolls on the East River bridges is in no way a solution to any problem,” said Weprin, before offering a solution of his own. “Instead of charging tolls, why not bring back the commuter tax?”
The commuter tax was done away with in 1999 by the State Legislature. It charged a tax of .45 percent (.65 percent for the self-employed) on the annual income of people who worked within New York City limits, but lived outside the city.
According to a report issued last year by the Independent Budget Office, if the commuter tax were reinstated at its former rates, the city’s income tax collection would increase by $713 million in 2009 and $835 million annually by 2012.
“It is, of course, imperative to find ways to close the city’s growing budget gap in these tough economic times,” conceded Markowitz. “Let’s do it the right way, and bring back a commuter tax or increase the state’s gas tax with proceeds to fund mass transit projects in the five boroughs. Scrap the tolls. Dedicate the tax.”
Crossing the East River bridges has been free to New Yorkers since 1911. In 2002, Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested charging tolls on the bridges to help close what was then a $3 billion gap in the city’s budget. The plan was met with intense opposition from elected officials in Brooklyn and Queens, whose constituents would be most affected by the tolls.
“As I have always maintained, East River bridge tolls are discriminatory and place an unfair burden on the outer boroughs,” said Markowitz, “especially Brooklyn, which has three of the four un-tolled bridges.”