2002-12-04 / Political Page

Mayor Signs R.E. Tax Hike

By John Toscano

Mayor Signs R.E. Tax Hike

By John Toscano

Bright and early Monday morning, Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed into law the 18.49 percent property tax increase passed by the city council last week, the first such increase in that levy in over a decade and the highest in New York City history.

The legislation will take effect immediately and taxpayers will see it reflected in the tax bills that are scheduled to go out this week. The tax increase is expected to raise $837 million in revenues to meet most of the $1 billion deficit for the current fiscal year; the other portion will come from service reductions.

Councilmember David Weprin (D–Hollis) has the distinction of being the lead sponsor of the measure. Other Queens lawmakers whose names will be associated with the huge tax increase are Councilmembers Tony Avella (D–Bayside), Dennis Gallagher (R–C, Middle Village) and Allen Jennings (D–Jamaica). Avella, Gallagher and Jennings were among six who cast "no" votes on the measure.

Already there are rumors from City Hall that the mayor and Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D–Manhattan) are considering ways to rein in the six for their votes against the measure. One of the ways this might be done, the reports say, is by drawing new districts which might make it difficult for the trio to win re-election next year.

That seems unlikely in Jennings’ case since he represents a district which doesn’t leave mapmakers too much room for change.

In Avella’s case, the Districting Commission, made up of mayoral and Miller appointees, might have room to maneuver since a Republican, Mike Abel, previously represented Avella’s district. Up to now, there’s been no indication of any plans to change district lines. The commission is due to release its second set of maps in a few weeks.

Gallagher was already facing problems with his proposed new district, even before he voted contrary to the mayor’s wishes last week. Early versions of new districts had the Ridgewood portion of Gallagher’s district split. Gallagher was part of a community-wide effort to undo the split and keep the only Republican-held district in the borough intact.

Gallagher’s political mentor, former Council Minority Leader Tom Ognibene, is a Queens member of the Districting Commission. Ognibene is already taking a lot of heat for the proposal to split Ridgewood. A Democrat, Assemblymember Catherine Nolan, Ridgewood’s representative in Albany, is also fighting tooth and nail to keep the GOP enclave as is.

It seems as if the mayor will be hurting himself as well as Gallagher if he conspires to dump him, since the chances of another Republican succeeding the incumbent would appear to be only about 50–50, unless Ognibene were to choose to run again. And if the mayor moves against Gallagher, it would seem logical for him also to be attacking council Republican Minority Leader James Oddo of Staten Island, who also voted against the real estate tax hike.

If the mayor is inclined to exact retribution, it will be a difficult decision since there are only six Republicans in the 51-member council, hardly a formidable opposition. It appears unlikely that the mayor would waste energy going after the few otherwise strong supporters he has in the council. Perhaps he’ll just let Gallagher off the hook this time. Then again, an occasion might arise in the future for Bloomberg to exercise some political muscle and chastise the councilmembers who contravened his wishes.

For their part, Avella and Gallagher both maintain they were justified in voting against the increase.

Avella stated, "We are supposed to be the representatives for the people of our districts, their first voice in government. Homeowners, especially those on fixed incomes such as an elderly couple who have lived in their home for 50 years or a young couple with children who have saved for years to save their own home, are in the least able position to have their voices heard on this issue but the likeliest to be financially devastated by these tax increases."

Gallagher said, "I know the mayor was angry with me because of my vote, but we have different philosophies on this issue. This increase was way, way too deep and it will hurt my middle class constituents."

McLAUGHLIN’S PITCH ON BUDGET: Prior to the Council’s vote on the property tax increase last week, Assemblymember Brian McLaughlin (D–Flushing) cautioned the councilmembers not to vote for a city budget which hits working people hardest.

McLaughlin, who is also a labor leader, said the 18.5 percent increase would be a "double punch," asking for more money and providing less city services.

PUBLIC DENIED TAX SAVINGS: Since March 2000, clothing and footwear that cost less than $110 have been exempt from the 8.25 percent city and state sales tax. But investigators from the City Council Committee on Oversight and Investigations, chaired by Councilmember Eric Gioia, have found that at least one-third of stores are still collecting the tax on these exempt items.

To correct the situation, which is denying some consumers their rightful savings, the council is considering a bill requiring retailers to post a list of the tax-exempt items.

Testifying on the bill at a recent hearing, Gioia (D–Woodside) stated, "The high percentage [of those still collecting the tax] may be due to a lack of information on the retailers’ part. A posted sign would also better inform retail employees and eliminate the error of assessing sales tax incorrectly. This measure is definitely a step in the right direction."

Gioia said another effect of the bill would be to put money back into the hands of consumers.

"We need to ensure that all working New Yorkers and visitors to our city are informed about this targeted tax release so that they can continue to purchase clothing, shoes and other exempt items successfully," Gioia stated.

MAYOR MILLER, SHOP IN QUEENS: Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave Queens retailers a boost for the holiday shopping season as he and Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D–Manhattan) shopped in the Target department store at 135-05 20th Ave., College Point, last Friday.

"The speaker and I wanted to come out here to Queens to start our shopping just to point out that there are stores throughout all five boroughs and not just in Manhattan," the mayor told reporters. He also bought his mother a $19.99 George Foreman grill and one of his daughters a $9.99 cheese grater.

On a political note, Miller joined the mayor at City Hall on Monday when the chief executive signed into law the 18.5 percent real estate tax increase. The apparent growing closeness between the two hasn’t been lost on political observers. Many attribute it to the city’s budget doldrums and the need to present a united front in Albany and Washington when the pair go seeking financial aid.

The bill signed on Monday will help to close a $1 billion gap in the budget ending June 30, 2003. Next on the agenda will be some very difficult choices the mayor and the council must make in order to close a $6 billion gap in the 2003–04 budget.

Basically, the two highest leaders in city government are in the same boat so they’re forced to pull together to get the city out of a deep rut.

CROWLEY APPLAUDS PELOSI PICK: The election of Congressmember Nancy Pelosi of California as the first woman to serve as Democratic minority leader in the House was applauded by Congressmember Joseph Crowley (D–Queens/Bronx) last week.

Describing Pelosi as a successful, hard-working and dedicated lawmaker, Crowley pledged to help her lead the Caucus towards reshaping and renewing the goals and priorities of the Democratic Party and the country as a whole.

In the past, Crowley worked under Pelosi as an at-large Whip when Pelosi was Minority Whip. Pelosi, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, was helpful in getting several large grants for educational programs.

NOLAN ANNOUNCES ART GRANTS: Seeking to encourage community programs, the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) has awarded grants to the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, Socrates Sculpture Park, and Thalia Spanish Theatre, Assemblymember Catherine Nolan (D–Ridgewood) announced. All three organizations are in the Long Island City/Sunnyside area, she noted.

Nolan said she was happy the grants had been awarded and called on everyone to visit the three "reputable and extraordinary and yet very different venues" to learn more about sculpture, design and performance in Queens.

The Noguchi Museum is located at 32-37 Vernon Blvd., the Thalia Theatre at 41-17 Greenpoint Ave. and the Socrates Sculpture Park at Broadway and Vernon Boulevard.

CON ED FUNDS ANTI-GRAFFITI EFFORT: The North Shore Anti Graffiti Volunteers, founded by Councilmember Tony Avella (D–Bayside) several years ago, recently received a $1,000 grant from Con Edison, Avella announced. Although he is no longer president of the anti graffiti organization, Avella still works closely with the group, now headed by Bernie Caulfield.

Thanking Con Ed for the grant, Avella stated, "Our quality of life is very important and a contribution such as this makes it possible for us to continue the fight against graffiti."

Caulfield also thanked Con Ed for the gift, saying he looked forward to further eradicating graffiti from the neighborhoods.

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