01/15/14 5:00pm
01/15/2014 5:00 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | A state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday controversial Metropolitan Transit Authority payroll tax is unconstitutional.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | The state Court of Appeals upheld a controversial Metropolitan Transit Authority payroll tax as constitutional Tuesday.

The MTA payroll tax is constitutional, according to the state’s highest court.

The New York Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling in June backing the controversial tax, which has long been opposed by Republican lawmakers and fiercely defended by Metropolitan Transit Authority officials.

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano had sought to have the tax declared unconstitutional, and filed an appeal against the lower court’s ruling. But without comment, the Court of Appeals declined to hear the case Wednesday, dismissing the suit.

The tax was approved in 2009 and imposed a .34 percent levy on payroll for all employers, including schools and governments, in New York City and the seven surrounding suburban counties.

“This concludes a series of court rulings confirming that the [tax] is constitutional, and that funding the operation and improvement of essential transportation services provided by the MTA is a matter of substantial state concern,” the MTA wrote in a statement.

Mr. Mangano had claimed that the tax was unconstitutional because it altered tax policies of municipalities to fund something that wasn’t state-wide.

In a statement, Mr. Mangano’s office didn’t comment on the dismissal, choosing to claim victory for a partial rollback of the tax it said was inspired by the suit.

“County Executive Mangano’s lawsuit to protect Long Islanders against the MTA Payroll Tax was victorious in 2011 as it resulted in Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature eliminating the burden of the MTA Payroll Tax for thousands of small businesses.” said spokesman Brian Nevin in an email.

Then-County Legislator Ed Romaine and State Assemblyman Dan Losquadro, both Republicans, had also opposed the tax.

“I strongly disagree with the decision of the court,” said Mr. Romaine, now Brookhaven’s Town Supervisor. “I think there were constitutional grounds to challenge [the tax].”

Mr. Romaine said the tax would “make New York uncompetitive” in attracting new businesses, saying the levy was an unfair burden on local government, schools and taxpayers.

“We don’t see the dollar that we send to the MTA come back as investment in public transportation in Suffolk County,” he said. “We’re being taxed to provide services to New York City.”

psquire@timesreview.com

08/02/13 7:00pm
08/02/2013 7:00 PM
LIRR

STEVE ROSSIN PHOTO | LIRR riders board an train out of Riverhead about 1:30 p.m. last week.

The Long Island Rail Road will extend its summer schedule on the Greenport to Ronkonkoma line by 10 weeks, stretching into November, Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said.

The Long Island Rail Road, through its parent company, the MTA,  has been discontinuing all weekend service between Greenport and Ronkonkoma after Columbus Day and before Memorial Day since 2010.

Summer service, as it’s now called, will now begin in April and end in November, said LIRR spokesman Sal Arena.

After November, there will again be no weekend service between Greenport and Ronkonkoma, he said.

“The MTA was able to identify additional money, revenue from dedicated state taxes as well as internal cost-savings, that could be used to enhance train service and other customer amenities,” Mr. Arena said. “The LIRR is making a number of improvements with its share of that money, including the extension of weekend service on the North Fork.

“It made this decision based on customer demand and specifically to expend service to the fall harvest period, an important tourist season for the region.”

About seven years ago, the LIRR was considering discontinuing service between Greenport and Ronkonkoma altogether, but backed off that plan.

“This service investment shows that the MTA and LIRR are committed to expanding and improving service to the East End,” South Fork state Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) said of the move.

Mr. Thiele has been an advocate for increasing train service on the East End, and one of the projects he has touted also got some money from the MTA. A proposal to establish a network of smaller “scoot” trains between Greenport and Ronkonkoma, as well as in other areas on Long Island, received $37.2 million from the state.

Currently, the LIRR is exploring the possibility of diesel-powered Scoot service on the Oyster Bay Branch and on the Main Line east of Ronkonkoma, Mr. Arena said.

The $37.2 million funding for such a purchase is in the current (2010-2014) MTA Capital Program, and will remain available even if it is not expended by the end of 2014, Mr. Arena said.

“Scoot” is a railroad industry term used to describe a train that would shuttle regularly between the first and last stops on a particular branch or branch segment, according to Mr. Arena.

Currently, the LIRR runs only about two trains per day in each directions between Greenport and Riverhead on weekends in the summer, and about three trains per day between Greenport and Riverhead during weekdays, prompting calls from East End residents and officials for better service.

“As envisioned by the LIRR, scoot service would allow for more frequent train service than currently provided,” Mr. Arena said. It “would encourage intra-branch and intra-Island travel, but also would require a transfer to electric trains for those traveling on to New York City.

“The LIRR is currently looking for alternate (smaller) diesel trains that would be more cost-effective to operate and maintain, as compared with both the LIRR’s existing diesel fleet and with electric trains.”

The LIRR does not have specific timeline or start date for either purchasing the alternate diesel fleet and/or initiating expanded Scoot service for East of Ronkonkoma, he said.

“The scoot train could be much smaller to than the standard 10 or 12 car consist,” Mr. Arena said, “perhaps just one, two cars or three coach cars, depending on demand.”

tgannon@timesreview.com

10/09/12 4:28pm
10/09/2012 4:28 PM

Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) filed a bill on Tuesday urging the county to go to court to seek a refund of about $12 million in MTA payroll taxes the county paid to the state over the past four years.

A similar resolution was submitted in Brookhaven Town by Councilman Dan Panico, who said that town is seeking a refund of about $917,000 from the MTA.

Mr. Romaine is also running for Brookhaven Town supervisor in November.

Read more about the bill in Thursday’s paper.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine and Brookhaven Town Councilman Dan Panico discuss plans for Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven to receive refunds from the former MTA payroll tax.

08/31/12 2:04pm
08/31/2012 2:04 PM

 

Hometown Taxi owner Bryan DaPalma of Southampton and Supervisor Sean Walter talked about relocating part of his taxi business to the Riverhead train station.

Media members outnumbered prospective tenants at Friday’s tour of the 102-year-old Riverhead train station, which the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is trying to lease out.

The MTA has issued a request for proposals from companies who might want to lease space at the station, which hasn’t been used as a railroad station since 1972. The station has been vacant for most of the time since then.

The deadline for submitting proposals is Sept. 28.

The MTA gave a tour of the building at noon, and only two prospective renters showed, though representatives from three media outlets did, along with some Riverhead Town officials, including town historian Georgette Case.

One company that is definitely interested is Southampton-based Hometown Taxi, which runs cars throughout the East End.

Owner Bryan Deparma said he’d like to use the building to dispatch cabs. The company currently runs cars in Riverhead but has to monitor them from an office in either Southold or Southampton, he said. It also has contracts for medical transport to local hospitals, and a contract Maureen’s Haven to transport homeless to local shelters in the winter, he said.

“This is perfect for what we want to do,” he said of the train station, though he said the building might be a bit big for his needs.

“I don’t need a big space,” he said. “If I just could use the ticket counter” and someone else could occupy the rest of the station, “that would work”, he said.

The only other prospective tenant to take the tour was Ike Israel of Riverhead-based Richmond Realty Corp., who said the company just wanted to see what was available.

Anthony Coates of Riverhead, an adviser to the town supervisor, did not take Friday’s tour, but told the News-Review in an interview that he and his 20-year-old daughter, Courtney, who is a business student at Stony Brook University, plan to submit a proposal to rent the train station as a restaurant/cafe type establishment.

Mr. Coates, who has been involved in the restaurant business in the past, said that with the recent closure of Riverhead establishments like East Enders and Off Main,  “there’s no place to capture a quick doughnut or muffin in town.”

John Coyne of the MTA’s real estate department, who gave the tour, said the public authority has contacted some businesses, such as Dunkin’ Donuts, about the possibility of leasing space in the Riverhead station, as well as in other MTA train stations.

The MTA doesn’t usually receive proposals to rent its stations until its close to the deadline for submissions, he said, adding that depending on what the response is, the MTA may push the deadline back.

A decision on whether to rent the entire site to one company or subdivide it among more than one company also will depend on the response, he said.

Mr. Coyne said he’s grateful Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter was able to get publicity for the tour and the lease opportunity by reaching out to the local media.

The MTA undertook about $1 million in renovations to the Railroad Avenue station and then leased it to the town at no charge in 2002, with a condition that it be occupied by a nonprofit organization. But the town has had little success in finding a tenant since then, even when it offered the building rent-free.

Mr. Walter said the conditions the MTA had put on the lease in the past made it difficult to find a tenant.

The MTA taking the lead in looking for tenants is a new strategy, he said.

“I was getting ready to write a letter to the MTA telling them we were condemning the building because of the condition it was in,” Mr. Walter said in an interview. But before he got the chance to send the letter, Police Chief David Hegermiller suggested he talk to Long Island Rail Road president Helena Williams, whom the chief knows.

Mr. Walter said he called Ms. Williams earlier this year and she told him she would issue the RFP for the train station. Of the town’s inability to get anywhere with the MTA in the past, she told him he wasn’t talking to the right people, the supervisor said.

tgannon@timesreview.com

08/30/12 7:00pm
08/30/2012 7:00 PM
MTA, LIRR,

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | The Riverhead station hasn’t been used as a train station since 1972.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has issued a request for proposals in hopes that a private company would lease the long-vacant Riverhead train station on Railroad Street.

l Irr River Head Station Building r Fp

The RFP was issued in early April and calls for proposals to be returned by Friday, Sept. 28 at 5 p.m. A site visit for prospective renters is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 31, at noon.

The MTA is looking for to lease out the 102-year-old, 1,500-square-foot building for 10 years.

Prohibited uses for the site include vending machines, the sale of firearms, tattoo parlors, massage parlors or any other use that might be known as an “adult use,” the RFP reads.

The tenant would be required to make the bathroom in the facility available to LIRR customers during morning and afternoon peak hours, and the tenant would be prohibited from storing flammable materials on the site.

The tenant would also be required to pay for utilities at the site. The station hasn’t been used as a train station since 1972.

The MTA, which owns the Long Island Railroad, put about $1 million in renovations into the Railroad Avenue station and then leased it to the town at no charge in 2002, with a condition that it be occupied by a nonprofit organization.

But the station has been vacant for almost all of that time period, as the town has been unable to even give it away rent free.

The current RFP makes no mention of a prohibition on alcohol, although that could be defined as a “adult use,” and it makes no requirement that the tenant be a non-profit.

tgannon@timesreview.com

Read more in the Sept. 6 edition of the News-Review newspaper.

08/23/12 12:00pm
08/23/2012 12:00 PM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | A state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday controversial Metropolitan Transit Authority payroll tax is unconstitutional.

Local lawmakers are celebrating this morning following a state Supreme Court decision Wednesday calling the controversial Metropolitan Transit Authority payroll tax unconstitutional.

Many legislators have challenged the fairness of the tax since its inception, claiming that eastern Long Island receives paltry service from the MTA. Approved in 2009, the tax imposed a .34 percent levy on payroll for all employers, including schools and governments, in New York City and the seven surrounding suburban counties.

In June 2011, the state Senate, which has a narrow Republican majority, passed a bill to repeal the MTA payroll tax, but the legislation didn’t pass in the Democratically dominated Assembly.

Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), who sponsored a bill to have Suffolk join Nassau County’s lawsuit, described the recent decision as “wonderful.”

“This is an illegal tax never that should never have been imposed,” Mr. Romaine said Thursday morning on his way to Mineola for a press conference about the court’s ruling.

Mr. Romaine called the MTA payroll tax “wrong, morally and legally” because East End service was cut after the tax was imposed. Since that time, Mr. Romaine said the tax has cost Suffolk County $10 million and $150 million for small businesses in the county

Mr. Romaine said although he’s pleased with the court’s recent decision, he believes the fight isn’t over because the next step would be local municipalities and business owners getting reimbursed from paying the tax over the past few years.

MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said in a statement the MTA will “vigorously appeal” the decision.

“We believe this opinion will be overturned, since four prior challenges to the constitutionality of the law making the same argument have been dismissed,” he said.

State Assemblyman Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham) said Thursday he’s “thrilled” about the decision and believes it will be upheld upon appeal.

“Myself and my colleagues have been fighting this egregious tax and I think [the decision] is certainly a step toward its complete removal,” Mr. Losquadro said.

jennifer@timesreview.com

06/05/12 9:01am
06/05/2012 9:01 AM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | State Senator Ken LaValle voted in favor Monday of exempting libraries from the MTA payroll tax.

The state Senate passed legislation Monday to exempt libraries from the controversial Metropolitan Transit Authority payroll tax.

Approved in 2009, the tax currently imposes a .21 percent levy on payroll for employers, including schools and governments in Suffolk County with payrolls above $1.25 million.

The new legislation aims to help libraries meet the needs of their communities since library usage has increased by 11 percent since 2007 while state funding for libraries has declined by 23 percent, according to the bill.

Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said in a press release that he supported the legislation sponsored by fellow Long Island Republican Jack Martins.

“Repealing the tax would save libraries in the downstate MTA region $1.3 million annually,” Mr. LaValle said.

Now that the bill has passed in the Senate, where Republicans have a narrow majority, it has been introduced in the Democratically dominated Assembly.

In January, the Senate passed a bill co-sponsored by Mr. LaValle to repeal the MTA payroll tax for certain small businesses, public and private schools and other entities with payrolls under $1.25 million.

jennifer@timesreview.com