2002-11-13 / Political Page

Council Seeks Alternatives To R.E. Tax Hike

By John Toscano

Council Seeks Alternatives To R.E. Tax Hike

By John Toscano

The city’s fiscal situation gets bleaker and bleaker, but City Council leaders have remained consistent in advocating a property tax increase as moderate or small as possible, insisting there must be a mix of revenue-raising taxes to deal with a $1 billion deficit for this year and a $6 billion deficit for Fiscal Years 2003 and 2004.

Councilmember David Weprin, Finance Committee chairman, repeated this last week as Mayor Michael Bloomberg adjusted next year’s deficit upward to $6 billion and hinted he would seek a property tax hike of about 25 percent.

Weprin (D–Hollis) responded that the council would consider such a huge real estate tax increase only if included with other levies—reinstituting a commuter tax, hiking personal income tax, taxing absentee landlords and selling more taxi medallions.

Previously, Weprin said he would only favor a real estate tax increase as a last resort, a position also espoused by Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. (D–Astoria) and several other Queens lawmakers.

Weprin also said again last week that he might agree to a property tax hike if the mayor joined with the council in lobbying Governor George Pataki and legislative leaders to support resumption of the commuter tax, which could bring in $500 million in revenue.

Several weeks ago, Bloomberg said publicly he had changed his mind and was now backing a commuter tax, but Pataki, in the final stages of his re-election campaign, sharply opposed the mayor’s position, saying he would support neither the commuter tax nor a toll on East River bridges, which the mayor had also floated.

With the governor’s campaign over now and Pataki poised to start a third term, perhaps his thinking might change. Weprin certainly hopes so. The northeast Queens lawmaker is basing his hopes for the commuter tax revival on a promise he said he and Council Speaker Gifford Miller received earlier this year from state legislators that they would revive the tax if the mayor and council leaders presented a unified front in Albany.

Meanwhile, a revived commuter tax was also proposed over the weekend by Felix Rohatyn, the Wall Street financier who helped to orchestrate the city’s emergence from bankruptcy in the 1970s. Rohatyn also said the governor should change his mind and back the measure.

Meanwhile, trying to get another economic shot in the arm for his ailing city, the mayor has started a campaign to lure both presidential conventions to New York City in 2004. Sunday night he pitched the idea to Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe and he said he plans a similar visit to top Republicans as well.

PERALTA TO PUSH FOR JOBS: The borough’s first Hispanic Assemblymember, who has a strong labor union background, has listed job creation and economic development among his top priorities as he prepares to take his seat in Albany.

Jose Peralta, who won the 39th Assembly District seat in last week’s elections, also put educational improvements at the top of his list. The 30-year-old Corona resident has held a position with the New York City Central Labor Council (CLC) for several years since graduating from Queens College. He has also served as community liaison for Assemblymember Brian McLaughlin (D–Flushing), who heads the 1.1 million-member CLC.

Peralta is hoping to land a seat on the Labor Committee to launch his Assembly career. He’s also shopping for a storefront where he can set up his district office.

McLAUGHLIN THANKS CAMPAIGN VOLS: Although Assemblymember Brian McLaughlin was unopposed in winning a sixth term last Tuesday, he still conducted a campaign of sorts, walking the streets of this new 25th AD and greeting his new constituents. Last week, he thanked his campaign volunteers "for helping to make my re-election campaign a huge success." (See McLaughlin’s complete letter on page 4.)

McLaughlin said he conducted the campaign so that his constituents would know the name and the face of their Assembly representative in case they need him in the future. The new district stretches south from Flushing through Kew Gardens and into Richmond Hill.

VALLONE JR. SEEKS ‘EYES’ FOR PARKING LOT: Citing a rash of car break-ins in the Ditmars parking lot on 33rd Street between Ditmars Boulevard and 23rd Avenue, Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. (D–Astoria) has asked Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly to explore the possibility of installing security cameras there to make the lot safer.

"The lot is heavily utilized by commuters and shoppers," Vallone Jr. explained. "Recently, there has been a rash of car break-ins and I believe if surveillance cameras were installed, it would certainly act as a deterrent and may help apprehend the criminals involved."

CAMPAIGN TO KEEP RIDGEWOOD IN QUEENS: Assemblymember Catherine Nolan (D–Ridgewood) recently sounded a warning that preliminary drafts of the new City Council districts will move part of Ridgewood, Queens, into a district with neighboring Ridgewood, Brooklyn, and the Bushwick area.

Now, Karl Wilhelm, chairman of the Board of the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association, is seeking support to keep the Queens portion of Ridgewood in the Queens council district. Wilhelm sent letters to United States Senator Charles Schumer, Congressmembers Nydia Velazquez and Anthony Weiner, Borough President Helen Marshall, Assemblymembers Anthony Seminerio and Nolan, state Senator Serphin Maltese and Councilmember Dennis Gallagher, who presently represents Ridgewood, Queens.

"Ridgewood has very little in common with Bushwick or the rest of Brooklyn, Ridgewood has always been Queens oriented," Paul Kerzner, RPOCA president, said. "I have yet to meet anyone living in Ridgewood who wants his neighborhood to be divided with one part added to Bushwick, and that includes our Hispanic homeowners."

The Redistricting Commission, which is drawing up the new council lines based on the 2000 Census, has scheduled a hearing in Queens on Tuesday, November 26 at 6 p.m. at Queens College in Flushing.

KATZ HONORED: Councilmember Melinda Katz (D–Forest Hills) recently was presented the "Friend of Education" award by the Association of Assistant Principals. Katz was honored for her visibility and approachability on education issues in her district.

In a speech to the group at its annual convention, Katz stated, "the importance of quality education can never be stressed enough. And assistant principals are such crucial components in our school system. They are truly indispensable."

Convention Chairperson Susan Bahaloul stated that Katz "is always willing to help with whatever is needed to enhance the education in our schools."

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