Sunday, September 17, 2006

Who Should Pay for Metro North?

The Metro North Railroad takes commuters from Connecticut, Westchester and Long Island to Manhattan (and intermediate points).

The railroad is currently in the process of buying new railroad cars for the New Haven line (which goes from New Haven, Connecticut into New York, plus a few additional spur lines). These new Kawasaki railroad cars are being paid for by both Connecticut and New York state, with Connecticut picking up 65% of the tab and New York taking on 35% of the cost. This ratio was worked out by the number of riders from each state.

However, I think that this is a totally unfair division of costs. In the United States, if you work in one state and work in another, you pay income tax to the state where you work. Then, when you file your taxes, you get a credit for those taxes. So if your home state has a lower rate than the state you work in, you will wind up paying nothing in income tax to your home state. This is the case with Connecticut and New York. New York's income tax rates are higher, so Connecticut natives who work in New York pay taxes to New York. For those New Yorkers that work in Connecticut, they pay income taxes to Connecticut, and then since New York taxes are higher, they make up the difference by paying New York the additional amount.

Many more people commute into Manhattan from Connecticut than commute out of Manhattan to Connecticut. While there are some commuters from Fairfield county to Westchester and vice-versa, I would imagine most of these people drive.

My question is, even if Connecticut residents make up 65% of the passengers (or 65% of the passenger miles or whatever metric they used based on ridership), why should it foot 65% of the bill? Most of the Connecticut residents riding the train pay nothing to Connecticut in income taxes! Shouldn't the split be done instead on commuter destination?

Suppose Connecticut cut its funding. The railroads would be no fun to ride. People would either move out of Connecticut (but from an economy perspective the loss is minimal: they didn't work here) or find jobs in Connecticut that they could drive to. This would boost tax revenues (plus add in the fact that we aren't spending money on the railroad).

Since New York gets a big tax bonus by having better commuter trains (which makes commuting easier, which means more commuters), shouldn't it pay for the trains? It just seems odd that Connecticut would spend lots of money so rich people could commute to another state and end up paying nothing in income taxes to Connecticut.

Isn't it also a bit odd that Metro North is subsidized at all in the first place? Yeah, I know, highways are subisidized too. I don't like that, and I don't like this subsidy any better. This is a subsidy so mainly wealthy can take the train to work: in 1998, the average commuter earned nearly $100,000. Why exactly are we subsidizing the entire railroad? And if you say that there are poor people who can't afford the tickets, couldn't we figure out some way to give just the income qualified people a discount?

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