Tax day this year was a reminder, according to State Assembylman Fred W. Thiele Jr., about the annoying and costly Metropolitan Transportation Agency payroll levy, which most businesses in the downstate region have to come up with. The tax was put in place two years ago to help the M.T.A. with its budget problems. It is especially galling on the East End, where service by the M.T.A.’s Long Island Rail Road is almost a minimalist joke.
The tax snatches 34 cents of every dollar of payroll for businesses in nine counties, and it does not even exempt the self-employed. Critics, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have said it is a drag on the state’s economy at a time when businesses are hard pressed.
Mr. Thiele has proposed three related bills to repeal the tax. At one extreme, he would see it repealed immediately; at the other, it would be phased out over five years. His middle course, and the one that seems most fair, would end the tax in the six eastern Suffolk towns. The M.T.A. could continue its payroll surcharge in the commuter communities it serves best, but it would be blocked from collecting it where the trains and buses are an intermittent part of the transportation picture. Others in the State Legislature, particularly those from other poorly served districts, have proposed their own bills to end or limit it as well.
However it is accomplished, the M.T.A. should be forced to solve its own problems without asking struggling downstate entrepreneurs and business owners to bail it out. Mr. Thiele’s proposals and those of the others would be a place to start.