Weed and web: Marijuana, internet sales taxes are key in new plan to fund MTA

Congestion pricing still an integral element

February 26, 2019 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have released a 10-point plan for making repairs to the MTA. AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File

On top of the widely publicized congestion pricing proposal that would charge drivers traveling into Manhattan’s Central Business District, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have proposed using money from proposed taxes on cannabis and internet sales to further fund transit repairs and improvements.

The two politicians unveiled a 10-point plan on Tuesday intended to “transform and fund the MTA.”

“Congestion pricing tolls would be supplemented with State and City revenue from a fixed amount of the new internet sales tax derived from sales in New York City, with a growth factor, and a percentage of the State and City revenue from the cannabis excise tax,” a joint statement issued by the Governor’s Office read.

Cuomo and de Blasio added that revenue from these two proposed taxes, combined with the revenue from congestion pricing, would be placed in a “lockbox” for funds exclusively slated for the MTA, “with priority given to the subway system, new signaling, new subway cars, track and car repair, accessibility, buses and bus system improvements and further investments in expanding transit availability to areas in the outer boroughs that have limited mass transit options.”

Repairing the city’s deteriorated transit network will require a significant sum of cash — the 2017 “Subway Action Plan” introduced by then-MTA Chairperson Joe Lhota made clear that to fix the subways alone would call for $836 million in funding.

That estimate does not include repairs for MetroNorth and the Long Island Rail Road, both of which are also run by MTA.

The plan also would restructure the organization of the 51-year-old state transit authority. “Currently,” the statement reads, “NYCTA, LIRR, MetroNorth, MTA Capital Construction, MTA Bus, Staten Island Railway operate as six entities.”

Under the new plan, functions such as construction management, legal, engineering, human resources and advertising “will be consolidated and streamlined in a central operation.”

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The outline also reiterates the previously on-the-table congestion pricing proposal, through which vehicles traveling into the business district south of 61st Street in Manhattan — excluding the FDR Drive — would be electronically tolled.

Also among the plan’s other features are ending members’ terms when the terms of the elected officials who nominated them expire; heightening partnership between the state and city to prevent fare evasion; and assembling a committee of impartial transportation, engineering and government experts to review capital plans.

Riders Alliance, a straphangers’ advocacy group that is frequently critical of MTA, applauded the plan.

“When the governor and mayor put out a plan together, it means real momentum toward enacting congestion pricing to fix the study,” the group said in a statement. “The governor and mayor are working together to address the transit crisis, and now we need the Senate and Assembly to do their part.”

Brooklyn Councilmember Rafael Espinal was less than thrilled, however. “The plan announced today to use some of the marijuana legislation revenue to pay for the MTA is a terrible idea,” he said in a statement. “One hundred percent of that money should be invested into the communities who for generations have been targeted by unjust drug enforcement.”

Cuomo’s position on legalizing marijuana has changed over the years. In 2010, he said he was opposed to medical marijuana. In 2014, he announced that he supported medical marijuana but opposed legalizing recreational marijuana use.

In December 2018, after the state Democratic Party had already done so, he called for the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the MTA is a 41-year-old organization. It’s actually 51 years old.

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