They Have a Say Over the Subways, From Hundreds of Miles Away

Either approach would require the Legislature’s approval, and winning passage would be difficult, if not impossible. The Senate has been particularly averse to imposing any new taxes or fees that would flow directly to the city.

“The political dynamics of the State Senate have allowed New York City to be consistently outmaneuvered,” said Mitchell L. Moss, a professor at New York University and the director of its Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management.

“There’s a long history of the upstate legislators treating New York City as if it was a wayward, profligate political entity,” he said. “The truth is just the reverse — upstate gets a disproportionate amount of attention and resources, given its half-century of economic decline, and that’s hurt the New York metropolitan area, which is driving the state’s economy.”

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Mayor Bill de Blasio has suggested a tax on high-income New Yorkers to fund the subway, but the State Senate has been averse to imposing any new taxes that would flow directly to the city. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

Almost as soon as Mr. de Blasio proposed the so-called millionaires’ tax this month, the majority leader of the State Senate, John J. Flanagan, dismissed it. The Senate Republicans have not staked out a position on congestion pricing, but a similar plan championed by former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg expired in Albany before it even came to a vote.

Public transit is not the only New York City issue that has run into trouble in Albany. In February, Mr. Cuomo signed a bill passed by the State Senate and the Assembly that blocked the city’s plastic bag law just before it went into effect. Opponents in the Legislature maintained that the city law, which would have imposed a five-cent fee on disposable plastic bags, amounted to a regressive tax and would have hit poor shoppers the hardest.

Republicans have a narrow majority in the State Senate, thanks to Democratic defectors aligned with the Republicans. Of the 63 state senators, 24 represent districts in New York City. Two others come from districts that cover sections of the Bronx and Westchester County.

The New York Times contacted the remaining 37 about when they last visited New York City and whether they took the subway during the trip. Eleven replied.

Among them was Carl Marcellino, a Republican from Long Island, who said the subway was generally “a good way to go,” although he did not take it on his last trip to the city, after the birth of a grandchild about a month ago. He said he rode the Long Island Rail Road to Pennsylvania Station and then took a taxi to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center on the Upper East Side.

He said he opposed both the millionaires’ tax and congestion pricing. Of the mayor and the governor, he said, “They should come together and stop playing silly games.”

But it is not just Republicans in the State Senate who are not regular riders. David J. Valesky, a Democrat who represents part of the Syracuse area, said through a spokeswoman that it had been several years since he had taken the subway.

George Latimer, a Democrat from Westchester, said he usually travels to Manhattan a couple of times a month. The last time, on July 31, he took the subway, but said he prefers to walk when he can. He also said he was wary of raising taxes, given the property taxes that Westchester residents already pay.

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is working on a separate plan for financing the subway, which would involve charging drivers traveling in the busiest parts of Manhattan. Credit Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

The mayor’s proposed tax would raise about $700 million a year, with nearly three-fourths going toward capital costs for new subway cars and $250 million funding half-price fares for low-income riders, a plan that is gaining momentum among some lawmakers. City officials estimated that about 32,000 people earn enough to be subject to the new tax.

Mr. Cuomo argues that the severity of the subway system’s problems has shifted both the political landscape and public opinion and has made congestion pricing “an idea whose time has come.” But Mr. de Blasio said last week that he “does not believe” in the proposal.

“I’ve never been in favor of this strategy,” he said. “I’ve never seen an example of it that I thought was fair.”

Mr. Cuomo controls the transportation authority, but he has said that Mr. de Blasio should help fix the subway system, including contributing half of the $800 million cost of an emergency plan that is focused on urgent repairs to tracks, signals and subway cars. So far, the mayor has refused.

It was another governor who wrested control of the subways from the city: Nelson A. Rockefeller, in the 1960s. In the process, he displaced Robert Moses, who had shaped the physical and political landscape in New York for generations and whose many titles had included chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. The authority had a large amount of surplus cash on hand. Rockefeller and William J. Ronan, whom Rockefeller named to run the new Metropolitan Transportation Authority, wanted to use money from the bridge-toll surplus to avoid a subway fare increase.

“The city was pleased to shed the responsibility for operating and financing the transit system,” Mr. Moses said.

Peter W. Herman, who later became chairman of the Regional Plan Association, wrote in an article in 1970 for a law review journal that the creation of the transportation agency was “certainly a high-water mark in outside control over what was once a municipally owned and operated transit system.”

Mr. Herman, who stepped down as chairman of the planning group in 2010, was asked recently if the city’s transportation system was at the mercy of upstate lawmakers, Mr. Herman said, “It absolutely is, and always has been.”

“I don’t know why a Republican legislature is so ignorant or selfish,’’ he added. “Maybe, that they don’t understand the economy of the entire state will be harmed if New York City’s own economy is harmed.”

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Source: New York Times

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