With tens of thousands of New Yorkers working remotely because of the pandemic, mayoral candidate Andrew Yang is proposing creating incentives to get people commuting back into the city.
Speaking to the Association for a Better New York, Yang said he wants to provide tax breaks to companies and employees as a way to get workers returning to their offices. He cited recent conversations with executives who have told him they will likely stick to a plan in which workers won’t need to be in the office every day.
"We're going to have to provide either individual or employer incentives or employer tax breaks or incentives for workers who are commuting into the city five days a week," Yang said. "Years ago there was an idea put out that was a commuter's tax, I am suggesting we are going to need essentially the opposite - we are going to need commuter incentives.”
Yang delivered his speech from a podium in an empty Manhattan office building; the setting was chosen to highlight the need to bring office workers back. The ABNY crowd tuned in via zoom as Yang described the empty office behind him which would have been teeming with workers and activity before the pandemic.
The city's Midtown area, where a large number of businesses, offices and buildings are concentrated, has been largely empty since the beginning of the pandemic. The change has had an adverse effect on the neighborhoods surrounding the area as the influx of people who typically flooded its streets and buildings on a daily basis has been absent for over a year now.
Yang’s proposal drew immediate rebuke from other candidates, including City Comptroller Scott Stringer who held an event Thursday afternoon to highlight his bus plan.
"Giving tax breaks to Fortune 500 companies is not going to bring the workers back," Stringer said. "We've seen what's happening in this pandemic, Wall Street firms, the biggest firms made bank on this pandemic. Andrew Yang is wrong, we build back our workforce from the bottom up, we start with our small businesses, give the bailout that we really need to small businesses that are barely hanging on."
The city has tried and failed to bring back a version of a commuter tax since 1999 when it was repealed by the state legislature. Since then, it's estimated the city has lost billions of dollars in tax revenue from people who commute into the city daily for work from nearby states like Connecticut and New Jersey.
Yang's proposal is likely to raise eyebrows among supporters of the commuter tax, who have long advocated taxing the city's commuters to help pay for essential services in the city and improving the transportation network.
According to a 2019 report by the City Planning department, approximately one million people commuted daily into New York City from the surrounding suburbs with 61% of them using transit.