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The Ethan Allen Express subsidy

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.

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