2002-02-27 / Political Page

Mayor, Council Clash On Taxes, Traffic Ban And Bridge Tolls

By John Toscano

Will the first major clash between Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council be over taxes?

So it appeared last week when the mayor, asked about reports that the Council was exploring a possible property tax increase, gave the idea a firm and unequivical "no".

But Council Speaker A. Gifford Miller (D–Manhattan) and Finance Chairman David Weprin (D–Hollis) used the same term in slightly different ways to say, "Not so fast."

Miller said, "Everything is on the table." He said given the city’s $4.7 billion budget gap, all possibilities to bring in some revenue must be considered.

Weprin put it negatively, saying, "Nothing is off the table at this point." But Weprin left some wiggle room regarding the property tax hike, adding that if the city had to choose which tax to raise, he would prefer the commuter tax.

Weprin stated, "Certainly, the real property tax is something that affects middle-class homeowners and allows us to compete with the suburbs. Its something that we have to consider."

Weprin said he was concerned about the pain a real estate tax hike would cause the city’s property owners. He didn’t bother to add that they could get even at the polls in two years when many Councilmembers will be up for reelection.

The commuter tax, imposed on suburbanites who work in the city, would also inflict pain, but such commuters can’t get even at the polls here.

The mayor is also against the commuter tax, again putting him at odds with Miller. Bloomberg does favor a cigarette tax, and proposed an increase from the present 8 cents a pack to $1.50 per pack in his budget proposal.

The mayor feels a property tax increase would hurt more than help the city’s situation. "You don’t want to give people reasons to leave or not come to New York City," he said.

Neither Councilmember said how much of a tax increase they have in mind, but according to a report, a civic group projected that a 5 percent increase would cost the average homeowner about $100 more a year and raise more than $400 million for the city. The commuter tax would raise about the same amount, but the state legislature would have to impose the commuter tax while the city can raise property taxes unilaterally.

OTHER HOT POINTS: Weprin has also clashed with the mayor on the latter’s proposal to do away with local school boards. Last week Weprin also called for ending the ban on motor vehicles below 60th Street, which the mayor favors. Weprin said the ban is blocking about $200 million from coming into the city’s economy. The day after Weprin made his proposal, the mayor declared that he would keep the ban in place if a municipal traffic study shows it still is beneficial to the city.

Bloomberg has resurrected the always unpopular idea of imposing tolls on East River bridges to raise revenue. The 2002–2003 budget would not be affected, but the move could possibly come in the future. East River tolls could raise some $800 million a year once in place, the mayor said, but the idea brought a chorus of opposition when he floated it recently.

Among East River tolls opponents was Queens Borough President Helen Marshall. Adopting a let’s-look-it position was Councilmember John Liu (D–Flushing), the Council Transportation Committee chairman.

Most Councilmembers have adopted wait-and-see attitudes toward the mayor’s budget.

GIOIA CALLS FOR ACTION: In the search for more revenue to help meet the city’s budget demands, Councilmember Eric Gioia (D–Woodside) feels the mayor and City Council should apply more pressure on President George W. Bush and Governor George Pataki.

"The president was quick to promise but the federal government was slow to produce the $20 billion in aid to the city after September 11," Gioia pointed out. "We must continue to impress upon the president the urgency of our city’s needs."

Pataki, Gioia said, should drop his appeal of the court decision which held that more city school aid is due to the city "and let our city receive needed funding to give our children the education they deserve."

Speaking of Bloomberg’s budget, he said "we all agree cuts have to be made." He also called for belt-tightening and everybody doing more with less.

KATZ’S BUDGET POSITION: Councilmember Melinda Katz said in a recent release that faced with a $4.7 billion budget gap the Council and the Mayor must work together to pull the city out of the mess.

She then went on to point out her disagreement with the mayor in proposing schools, library and police cuts.

The 7 percent cut to the Board of Education "is of great concern," she stated. It seems pretty certain the cut will be felt most in the classroom, she said, but she added: "Funds which provide much needed after-school programs that expand children’s minds and increase their opportunities to be exposed to art, culture, music must be protected".

Katz said the $40 million, 15 percent cut to the Queens library system "is unhealthy for our society." If service is affected, "the impact on our seniors and children will be drastic," she declared.

The Forest Hills lawmaker said she’s also greatly concerned with any police cuts, but agreed with the mayor’s proposal to release cops from desk jobs and replace them with civilians.

Katz, a former Assemblymember, said, "We need to make a concerted effort to get our fair share from the state and federal governments."

PRAISE FOR GIULIANI: Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has been criticized recently over holding on to the official papers from his administration and also in connection to his administering a World Trade Center survivors’ fund, but he was praised lavishly by Councilmember Dennis Gallagher (R–C, Middle Village) in a Council resolution.

Gallagher called Giuliani "America’s Mayor" and cited the sharp drop in crime during Giuliani’s eight years in office and his success in keeping the economy revived up during his tenure.

Gallagher introduced his resolution after Councilmember Allan Jennings (D–Richmond Hill) introduced a resolution condemning Giuliani for hurting vital services, such as Head Start programs, fire and police protection and health care.

Gallagher blasted Jennings’ resolution as "appalling and irresponsible."

LIU’S TOWN HALL MEETING: Councilmember John Liu (D–Flushing) will host his first town hall meeting on March 5 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Flushing Library, 41-17 Main St., Flushing. Liu plans to hold the meetings on a quarterly basis, he said, in order "to provide an update of what’s happening at City Hall and with legislation that affects residents in the district."

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