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Commuter tax better than tolls: Weprin

City Councilman David Weprin (D−Hollis) is helping to lead a rallying cry to reinstate the commuter tax instead of charging tolls on the four East River bridges.

The commuter tax, rolled back in 1999 and which would be levied upon people who work in the city but do not live there, would bring in about $713 million to the city, according to a report released earlier this year by the city’s Independent Budget Office.

Weprin, chairman of the Council Finance Committee, said those funds raised by taxing non−resident commuters who work in the city “could be dedicated to specific uses that are likely to benefit commuters, such as transportation infrastructure or police, fire and sanitation.”

Though Gov. David Paterson has said he opposes the commuter tax, state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D−Manhattan) has recently backed Weprin’s support for the tax the councilman said would be a better solution than making residents pay to use the four bridges.

“Charging a toll on any of the four bridges is the equivalent to charging residents to cross the street — however, in this case it’s a river,” Weprin said in a prepared statement.

“It doesn’t matter if you come from Queens or not. You could be from Brooklyn, Staten Island or even Manhattan . When it comes to implementing tolls on the East River crossings, we are doing a disservice to all New Yorkers,” Weprin continued in the statement. “We are taxing our residents to drive within their own city.”

Officials of the Ravitch Commission, a state commission on Metropolitan Transportation Authority finances, said last week they were thinking about imposing the tolls on the bridges in an attempt to raise funds for the agency that faces a $1.2 billion budget deficit in 2009.

Without a financial boost, MTA President and CEO Elliot Sander said public transportation users could be significantly affected and has said transit fares could increase.

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D−Forest Hills) denounced the commission’s toll proposal.

“Like a specter from a Shakespeare play, the ghost of tolling the East River bridges has popped up again,” Weiner said in a prepared statement. “This idea should stay dead. It’s a regressive tax on middle class and working New Yorkers, it falls on residents of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and State Island and it would create untenable traffic jams.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg first proposed tolling the four bridges in 2002, when the city was facing a budget gap of $3 billion.

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