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Weprin touts commuter tax plan at CB 12 meeting

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Imposing a commuter tax on people who work in New York City but live elsewhere would not only help balance the city budget, but it would reduce income tax for city residents, City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) told a Community Board 12 meeting last week.

Weprin, chairman of the Council’s Finance Committee, detailed some of the proposals to close the $3.4 billion budget deficit the city is facing once the fiscal year begins July 1, including a commuter tax and tolls on the East River crossings. Weprin represents the northeast corner of CB 12, which encompasses Hollis, Jamaica, South Jamaica, St. Albans and Springfield Gardens.

Although Weprin’s post is often considered one of the most powerful in the Council, some of that power is diminished when the budget faces large deficits, he said.

“It only works when you have money,” he said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed reinstating the commuter tax, which would tax state residents based on where they work, rather than where they live.

“We’ve already taxed our people enough, and we’d like to see a commuter tax,” Weprin said.

The tax, which Bloomberg has said will net $1 billion for the city, would also reduce the rate at which city residents are taxed from 2.75 percent to 2.5 percent, he said.

The plan has faced considerable opposition from the state Legislature, including Senate leader Joe Bruno (R-Saratoga).

While Weprin agrees with Bloomberg’s proposal to reinstate the tax, he has another method, he said. Bloomberg is asking for a 2.25 percent tax, about six times greater than the 0.5 percent tax which was repealed in 1999. Weprin has suggested a three-tiered plan, which would impose a 1 percent tax for the first three years, a 0.5 percent tax for the next three years, and a 0.25 percent tax after that, he said.

“That’s enough time to get us on the road to recovery,” he said. “I think this is a reasonable plan.”

But CB 12 member James Shights said he was concerned that the opposition from upstate legislators may be too much to overcome, he said.

“We haven’t given up on the commuter tax,” Weprin responded. “We’re going to keep heat on. We still have time.”

Weprin also said he is against Bloomberg’s idea to put tolls on the East River crossings between Manhattan and Queens. The tolls could discourage people from going into Manhattan for shopping, dining or entertainment, and the revenue from the tolls would be canceled out by money lost in economic activity, he said.

“The mayor is very Manhattan-oriented,” he said. “I think he wants to do the right thing but he has a Manhattan mentality.”

And cars may be the only answer for some southeast Queens residents who do not live near mass transit options, he said.

“They’re not on a subway line and not on a bus line a lot of the time,” he said. “These residents rely on cars to get to transportation.”

Others at the meeting, such as St. Albans resident Gertrude Gonesh, were concerned that security, especially since the United States launched the war with Iraq, would suffer due to budget constraints, she said.

“We live near the airport,” Gonesh said of Kennedy Airport. “We don’t have the manpower to protect us.”

But Weprin assured the board that the city would protect its citizens and worry about the bill later.

“Kennedy Airport is a very sensitive location,” he said. “There have been a lot more police out over the past few days and there will be more. There will be a much stronger presence at the airports. The question is how to pay for it.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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