NEW YORK —Higher taxes could very well be on the way — that is, if you're a millionaire. It's all intended to provide a constant stream of funding to improve the quality of subway service as well as slash the cost of metro cards for some of New York City's poorest public transportation passengers.
First though, the proposal would have to be approved by the state legislature. That may be a long shot, but in any case, it underscores the longstanding division between City Hall and Albany that may delay some key improvements to the subway system that the MTA says need to be made immediately.
"I am interested in taxing the wealthy," said Mayor Bill de Blasio at a photo op rally at Brooklyn Borough Hall on Monday morning. "I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I think it's about righting the wrongs of the last few decades, where the one percent have been asked to pay less and less in the way of taxes."
Under the mayor's proposal, individuals making $500,000 a year or more and couples making $1 million or more annually would pay about one-half of one percent more in income tax.
About 32,000 New York City residents would fall into the category. That higher amount would provide, by law, according to the mayor, half-price metro cards for 800,000 of the city's neediest residents — people whose income is lower than $25,000 for a family of four, or its equivalent for individuals or members of smaller families.
The plan has the support of Democratic leaders of both houses of the state legislature, but because they don't have a firm hold over the state senate, approval is not guaranteed. Another obstacle is Mayor de Blasio's longstanding political rivalry with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
If the governor, also a Democrat, were to approve the measure, it still would not happen until next year, a fact that does not sit well at all with the head of the MTA.
"This has to get done now," said MTA Chairman Joe Lhota at a news conference Monday afternoon. "What [the mayor has] proposed today won't come in until next year. I can't wait 'til next year,."
Lhota has called for an $800 million system upgrade to repair immediate problems on the subway that's caused an increased number of delays, derailments and other problems over the past five years. Lhota's plan would result in the city and Albany splitting the cost evenly.
Mayor de Blasio has long maintained that responsibility for the subway lies with the governor, and therefore Albany needs to foot the bill for Lhota's plan for major, immediate fix.
However, members of the Transport Workers Union showed up at the mayor's photo op on Monday and photo bombed it, holding up signs that denigrated him. One even read "Liar, Liar, Track's on Fire."
At various points in the rally, TWU members heckled the mayor, and after the event, Local 100 Secretary Treasurer Earl Phillips emphasized the union's position: that the city should pay for 50 percent of the Lhota Plan for a subway overhaul immediately.
The mayor "is the one saying 'crisis, crisis, crisis,'" Phililips told PIX11 News. "If it's a crisis, let's address it now."