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Words and Wheels: Will NYC Revive the Out-of-State Commuter Tax?

If NYC brings back the commuter tax it will affect every county in New Jersey -- including Cape May.

More than 300,000 New Jersey residents would have to pay a revived commuter tax to New York City, if a proposal by the Manhattan Borough president is enacted.

Right now, though, there seems to be little chance of that happening.

Still, if Borough President Scott Stringer is successful in getting the New York state legislature to reinstate the 0.45 percent tax on workers who do not live in New York City, it would affect people living in every New Jersey county, including the state’s southernmost -- Cape May.

Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Essex) and Stringer have been engaged in a shouting match over the proposal, reminiscent of the border tax wars of the late 1990s. O’Toole’s district includes parts of four counties -- Bergen, Morris, and Passaic, as well as Essex – from which about 130,000 workers commute to New York City,

“I stand by my statement that your plan is discriminatory taxation on New Jerseyans who are not represented at New York ballot boxes or served by city government, while New Yorkers working in New Jersey are not subjected to similar treatment,” O’Toole wrote in a letter Monday he sent in response to a letter from Stringer decrying O’Toole’s announcement that he was planning a resolution to oppose the tax.

Last Friday, Stringer wrote to O’Toole about the proposal, saying the tax would be far less than the taxes New Jerseyans who work in Wilmington and Philadelphia have to pay.

“Nobody wants to pay more taxes,” Stringer wrote. “I get that. But the truth is that we are already paying for our lack of investment in transit infrastructure through soaring debt payments and increased fares.”

Stringer wants the tax, which would total $450 a year on every $100,000 in income, to help fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees the city’s mass transit system and bridges and tunnels. He said he believes the tax, which would generate $725 million, would be fair because suburban commuters also use the city’s subways and buses.

“President Stringer’s shortsighted proposal to stimulate his prospective mayoral run would be unduly burdensome on tens of thousands of New Jerseyans who work in New York City and contribute millions of dollars to multiple economies,” countered O’Toole.

Gov. Chris Christie and Connecticut Gov. Daniel P. Malloy also have come out in opposition to a commuter tax.

At the moment, the debate is a generating a lot of smoke where there is, as yet, no fire. The New York legislature would have to approve, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo would have to sign, the revived tax in order for it to pass constitutional muster.

It also would likely have to be imposed on New York state residents who commute into New York City as well as those from out of state.

It was 13 years ago that New York lawmakers repealed the New York City commuter tax on New York State residents, which had been in place since the mid-1960s. At the time, according to reports, about 6 of every 10 people who paid the tax lived in New York state. In April 2000, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that it was unconstitutional to levy the tax only on out-of-state residents, repealing the tax for New Jerseyans and other out-of-state commuters effective July 1, 1999.

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