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

07/19/11 5:32am
07/19/2011 5:32 AM

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | LIRR employee Bryan Jecklin pours a glass of Nautique Esprit de Blanc for part-time Southold resident Ed Meredith

Long Island Rail Road passengers boarding the Greenport-bound train from the Ronkonkoma station Friday nights now see a menu on their seat offering refreshments for purchase during the long ride out east.

But other than soda and water, options are limited to two choices — red or white.

The 5:21 p.m. eastbound train from Ronkonkoma, now dubbed the “North Fork Wine Train,” will feature a white and a red wine from six different North Fork wineries each week. The idea is to encourage travelers to use the train and to familiarize North Fork visitors with the region’s wineries.

“This is a kind of pilot project,” said Long Island Wine Council executive director Steve Bate. “But it does seem to be quite popular.” The promotion was made possible through a collaboration between the MTA, the wine council and the North Fork Promotion Council.

This week’s selection on the wine train were Peconic Bay Winery’s Nautique Esprit de Rouge and Nautique Esprit de Blanc.

Other participating wineries include Jason’s Vineyard, Duck Walk, Macari, Pindar and Laurel Lake.

The wine train began Memorial Day weekend and will run until Labor Day. The wine is $5 per glass.

A steady stream of passengers lined up at the bar cart last Friday and more than two-thirds of the wine was gone before the train reached Riverhead. The cart was reportedly out of vino before stopping at Riverhead the Friday before the July 4 weekend. That train carried about 300 passengers, LIRR officials said.

“I think it’s really cool,” said Ed Meredith, a part-time Southold resident who takes the train nearly every weekend. “Now I don’t have to buy beer at Penn Station and keep it cold.” He noted that driving after his trip would not be a problem as his daughter planned to pick him up at the station.

Part-time North Fork resident and LIRR rider Dorothy Rooney enjoyed a glass of wine Friday night, though she said she didn’t need another incentive to take public transportation.

“It’s so much more relaxing on the train,” she said. “I love it.”

For some, it was their first-ever encounter with Long Island wine.

While waiting on line for a glass, Patrick Mahon of Brooklyn said he was so unfamiliar with the area he did not know the name of the place where he and his wife were staying that weekend. But he did say he might come back to visit a vineyard and to taste some more North Fork wine.

“It’s an opportunity to promote our local wineries,” said county Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), who came up with the idea and sought its implementation. “I have a lot of other ideas I’d like to push in trying to promote the wine industry.”

Mr. Romaine called the promotion “a right step” for the MTA, after the transit authority proposed cutting virtually all LIRR service east of Ronkonkoma, save for summer weekend trains, as a cost-saving measure last year.

Mr. Romaine said he would eventually like to see Saturday and Sunday wine trains working in connection with tour buses to shuttle visitors to the vineyards and local bed and breakfasts.

The LIRR does offer some tour packages, though not for overnight trips and only in the summer.

The wineries do not make much money off the promotion, it’s main benefits come from the advertising, Mr. Bate said. The vineyards sold the cases of wine to the MTA at a discounted rate and the transit authority keeps the proceeds. An LIRR employee mans the cart and pours the wine into small plastic cups for customers.

Though the MTA has reportedly broken even so far with wine sales, officials say it is too early to tell if the promotion has increased ridership.

“The LIRR’s North Fork Wine Train has been well-received by customers. They have been very enthusiastic and positive with their comments,” said MTA spokesman Sal Arena. “It’s too early to make a fair comparison to ridership on the same train last summer without the wine available. But the data is coming in and we will have that answer later in the summer.”

The promotion sits especially well with East End public transportation advocates, who have been calling on the MTA to explore ways to make public transportation more attractive for years.

“It’s like the first time the LIRR has done something for the North Fork,” said Jim Ellwood, a Riverhead resident who sits on the Five Town Rural Transit Board. “I’m just happy they’re offering these amenities.”

vchinese@timesreview.com

06/06/11 9:52am
06/06/2011 9:52 AM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO

Local state senators introduced a bill in the Senate Monday that, if approved, would repeal the Metropolitan Transit Authority payroll tax for all employers in counties outside New York City.

Approved in 2009, the tax imposes a .34 percent levy on payroll for all employers, including schools and governments, in New York City and the seven surrounding suburban counties.
Many local lawmakers have challenged the fairness of the tax since its inception, claiming that eastern Long Island receives paltry service from the MTA. Bill cosponsor state Senator Ken Lavalle (R-Port Jefferson), who represents the North Fork and voted against the original legislation, called the payroll tax “ill conceived and onerous.”

He’s not the only one who feels that way.

“There is absolutely no doubt that the MTA, without increasing fares or cutting services, can balance its books after this legislation is implemented,” state Senator Lee Zeldin (R-Mastic), one sponsor of the bill, said in a statement.

Mr. Zeldin gained traction in his bid to oust former senator Brian Foley by campaigning on Mr. Foley’s vote to support the MTA tax.

As ways of relieving the transit authority’s budget woes, the freshman senator, who took office in January, cited real estate transfer taxes, eliminating overtime abuse in the MTA and investigating having a private agency run the MTA.

Under the proposed legislation, small businesses with 25 employees or less, as well as schools, would not have to pay the tax as of January 1, 2012.

The payroll tax would be reduced to .23 percent for all other employers in the seven counties outside New York City, including Suffolk, as of that date. It would be further reduced to .12 percent as of January 2013 and repealed as of January 2014.

As of January 2014, the tax would remain at .21 percent for all businesses within the five boroughs.

Marcus Povenilli, Mr. Zeldin’s deputy chief of staff, said the bill was introduced Monday but it is not known when senators will vote on it. He added that state Assemblyman George Latimer (D-Mamaroneck) will introduce the same bill in the Assembly.
“We hope that it moves swiftly through the system,” he said.

But Desmond Ryan, a New York State political analyst and the executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island, said it might be hard for the bill to gain momentum in the Assembly, which would also need to approve the repeal.

“It will probably gain some traction in the Senate, but I’m not sure where the Assembly stands on the bill,” he said. “The Assembly is predominately made up by people who are city-centric.”

An MTA spokesperson defended the tax Monday, calling it vital support for the transit authority.

“The payroll mobility tax, passed by the Legislature in 2009, provides a vital $1.4 billion in annual support for public transportation across the downstate region — 15 times more money than was saved by last year’s painful service reductions,” said MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan in a statement. “The MTA’s focus is on using this revenue as efficiently as possible, which we are achieving by identifying savings projected to reach $1 billion annually by 2014.”

Mr. Donovan indicated that higher fares could be coming down the line.

“Because we have already taken these steps, finding additional savings from means other than fare increases or service reductions would be very painful,” he said. “As we continue cost-cutting, further reductions become harder and harder to achieve.”

The repeal of the MTA payroll tax would be welcome news to William Schoolman, owner of the Bohemia-based Classic Coach company, which directly competes with the MTA yet pays more than $15,000 to the agency due to the tax. In 2009, Mr. Schoolman filed a lawsuit against the transit authority claiming the payroll tax is unconstitutional, and he has also started the website www.mtataxpayerabuse.com.

“This year [the company’s payroll tax] will be more than last,” he said. “We certainly hope [the local senators] are successful in their efforts.”

vchinese@timesreview.com

02/19/11 12:00pm
02/19/2011 12:00 PM

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter (left), Greenport Mayor David Nyce, County Legislator Ed Romaine and Southold Supervisor Scott Russell are calling for the MTA to restore winter weekend train service to the North Fork.

County Legislator Ed Romaine came to the Greenport Long Island Rail Road station with other local elected officials Friday afternoon to call for restoration and expansion of weekend Long Island Rail Road service to the North Fork.

“We are the stepchild of the Long Island Rail Road,” Mr. Romaine said. With the Winterfest: Jazz on the Vine concerts taking place on weekends at area wineries, the railroad should be poised to offer weekend service, he said.

Facing a yawning budget deficit, the MTA last year imposed a payroll tax on businesses and governments within its service area. The MTA also curtailed train service to the East End, a move Southold Supervisor Scott Russell described as “taxation without transportation.”

At a time when there’s so much emphasis on green environmental initiatives, it doesn’t make sense to force tourists to use their own vehicles rather than the railroad to visit the East End, Mr. Romaine said.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said the solution is establishing an East End light rail service. That would cost an estimated $48 million. The East End towns pay a combined $60 million annually in payroll taxes to the MTA.

“The business model for the railroad doesn’t work,” Mr. Walter said. “The amount of money we send up west is staggering. Let me keep the payroll and property tax and cut service at Yaphank” and provide service east through light rail trains.

That message resonates with North Fork Environmental Council president Bill Toedter, who called for a comprehensive East End transportation plan.

North Fork Promotion Council managing director Andrea Parks said that her organization’s mission to improve tourism is thwarted by a lack of public transportation.

Mr. Romaine said he will continue to speak out until service is enhanced by the Long Island Rail Road or the money going to the MTA is instead put to use operating an East End light rail service.

“We’re giving them our money; they’re supposed to give us service and they’ve failed,” he said.

jlane@timesreview.com

10/31/10 7:41pm
10/31/2010 7:41 PM

Looking to board a train to Ronkonkoma or Greenport Village this weekend? Seek alternative plans.

This Saturday marks the first weekend until Memorial Day that the MTA will not be running LIRR trains to the North Fork.

The service cuts, along with other measures, come as part of the MTA’s efforts to close a looming $900 million budget gap. The reductions, in total, will save approximately $950,000 this year and $3.8 million annually starting in 2011, MTA officials said. The cuts have affected train and subway schedules across the 12 counties, including five in New York City, served by the agency.

“The LIRR will be monitoring the changes in the new timetable and will make schedule adjustments, as necessary, based on additional ridership and possible crowding on trains,” the MTA website now reads, though no changes are expected for the Greenport Line, which runs from Ronkonkoma to Greenport.

But the cuts in services to eastern Long Island, which many locals feel has been underserved by the MTA, were not has harsh as originally proposed.

In late January, the agency announced it was planning to halt nearly all train service to the North Fork along the Greenport Line, and eliminate one westbound train on its Montauk line serving the South Fork. It had only planned to run trains to the North Fork on summer weekends.

That news — delivered just eight months after state lawmakers approved a payroll tax in 2009 — was immediately decried by locally elected leaders. The tax, which took effect on Sept. 1, 2009, charges 34 cents on every $100 in employee wages for all businesses, governments and nonprofit groups operating in counties served by the MTA.

Facing public outcry that seemed to intensify by the day, the MTA in March scrapped its drastic plans for the Greenport Line, and approved cuts that would apply just for weekends between Memorial and Columbus days.

mwhite@timesreview.com


This post was originally published Oct. 15, 2010