In the heart of New York City's suburban Nassau County presides the upper-middle-class village of Glen Head. N.Y. This village is a place I recall from a few years spent in nearby Sea Cliff, N.Y., then the somewhat downscale counterpoint to the adjacent and definitely upscale Glen Cove (the setting of part of Hitchcock's classic 1959 "North by Northwest" thriller with Cary Grant).
I wasn't paying much attention in those days to the socio-economic status of Glen Head, so I looked it up on the web at city-data.com recently.
I learned that the median family income in Glen Head in 2007 was $92,802, and the median house value was $716,741. The comparable US figures (2005, from the Taxpayers' Network) are $55,832 for MFI and $167,500 for MHV. Vermont figures are $57,170 for MFI and $173,400 for MHV. Income-wise, the Vermont family comes in at 62 percent of the Glen Head family.
Potato farming isn't the economic mainstay of Nassau County today; one of the first post-World War II Levittowns was built there in 1946 and Glen Head's economic lifeline is now the commuter rail line to the Big Apple, where the $93K incomes are earned and brought back to support a high-end, suburban lifestyle.
The original Long Island Railroad, an independent business enterprise from 1832 through its purchase by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1900, went bankrupt in 1949 and went into state ownership in 1966 at which point lower-income quintile taxpayers elsewhere began subsidizing the artificially reduced rail fares paid by its upper-income-quintile commuters.
Presently, the LIRR is part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority which also runs similarly subsidized commuter lines north into the high-MFI and MHV commuter enclaves of New York's Westchester County and Connecticut's Fairfield County.
If you look up the fiscal 2008 accounting for the MTA, you'll see that its $8.2B budget derives only 55 percent (($4.5B) from user fares; the remaining 45 percent ($3.7B) derives from state and federal subsidies paid in by taxpayers mostly of lower income than Glen Head's information-sector class, who, apparently, can't be reasonably expected to pay their own full fares into and out of Penn Station. The subsidy expectation is now, apparently, genetically hard-wired into Glen Head thinking.
This surfaced in a Jan. 1 letter to the editor published in one of Vermont's daily newspapers. The letter was penned by a Glen Head resident who wants the taxpayers of Vermont to continue to subsidize his rail visits to Vermont via Amtrak's Ethan Allen Express.
This quant, anarchronistic rail service to Theme Park Vermont doesn't pay its own costs, although if we could tax the dealers who are rumored to use this train to funnel illegal drugs to Vermont, why it'd pay for itself and then some. No matter, the fares are too low and Amtrak requires a Vermont taxpayer subsidy to continue the Ethan Allen from Penn Station to Rutland.
The full annual subsidy amount is $2.2M, which is revealed by adding the Vermont AoT's figure of $1.4M saved by stopping the Ethan Allen, plus $800K saved by not starting up the bus substitute. It works out to $68 per rider, the Herald reports. That's $3 more than the standard adult fare, which Amtrak posts on its web site at $65. This suggests that the real cost is $133, of which the rider is expected to pay a bit less than half. That's an even better buy for the letter writer than his MTA Penn Station fare, where he has to pay a bit more than half.
I tend to agree with those who speculate that Glen Headers like this letter writer would not readily self-demote in transportation-class from train to bus if only stingy Vermonters were willing to spring for that lesser subsidy.
If I may speculate on the letter writer's family finances: I would guess that his plea for continued Vermont-taxpayer subsidy for their Rutland visits derives from his personal cash-flow challenges, and that, even though his family may be making $93K, maybe they're maxed out on all the plastic?
If I'm correct in my surmise, wouldn't that mean that he's not well-positioned for much discretionary spending once they arrive at the tourism magnet of southwestern Vermont, and wouldn't that pretty much cancel out the pay-to-play-based economic arguments to get him into the state, by subsidy if necessary, so that he can spend lavishly upon arrival? If, on the other hand, the letter writer walks from the new Amtrak station to the nearby charity food and lodging purveyors, that wouldn't project to add much to the coffers of either local private enterprise or the more distant state government.
If I'm wrong, and the letter writer can easily afford to ski, eat, sleep, purchase antiques, leaf peep, and maybe even bar hop, can't he just as easily afford to pay his full train fare? He probably can, or he wouldn't still be a resident of an expensive locale like Glen Head-a town that boasts a 2007 cost-of-living index of 168 compared to a national average of 100-and so he ought to be able to spring for the full $68-per-capita and not cajole the Montpelier Golden Dome folks to take it by threat of force from the locals, less fortunate (a little P.C.-lingo, there) than Glen Headers like him.