2003-04-16 / Seniors

Senior Spotlight

Seniors Urged To Battle For Budget Share
By John Toscano
Senior Spotlight By John Toscano

Seniors Urged To Battle For Budget Share

Trying to enlist the support of New York City’s senior population in the campaign to fend off cuts in services in both the city and state budgets, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller met last Thursday with members of the SelfHelp Benjamin Rosenthal Senior Center in Flushing, accompanied by the area’s Councilmember, John Liu.

About a week ago, the Speaker and Councilmember Eric Gioia held similar meetings at the Sunnyside and Woodside Senior Centers, both in Gioia’s district. At both meetings the message was the same: seniors must make a strong statement that they must receive their fair share of funding to Governor George Pataki.

They encouraged the seniors to call the governor a 518-474-8390 to urge him not to cut funding for seniors, to reinstate the commuter tax and ensure that New York City receives its fair share from Albany.

The state is saddled with an $11 billion deficit and budget negotiations in the state capital are muddling along. The state budget was due to be enacted by April 1, but again the deadline wasn’t met. On the city scene, the city is facing a deficit of about $3.5 billion. The mayor unveiled his budget yesterday, and further cuts in senior services were included as part of his vast across-the-board rollback.

In their talk to the Woodside and Sunnyside seniors, Miller (D–Manhattan) and Gioia (D–Woodside) emphasized the fact that New York City residents, through tax payments and other levies, give more to Washington and Albany than we get back in return.

"Just last year," Miller said, "New York City sent Washington $6.3 billion more than we got back, and sent Albany $3.5 million more than we got back.

"Simply put, we pay more than our fair share, we get back less than our fair share, and the result is that we are forced to compete with both hands tied behind our back. It’s been going on too long, it’s wrong and it’s time we put an end to it".

The solution that can be provided at this particular time, they said, is for Pataki to put his weight behind reimposing the commuter tax, which is paid by people who live outside the city but work here. Before the tax was scrapped about seven years ago, commuters paid 0.45 percent of their incomes, bringing the city just under $500,000 income.

Now the mayor is asking that the commuter tax be reinstated and at a 2.75 percent tax rate to bring the city about $1 billion.

Pataki and the Republicans in Albany are dead set against it, but Gioia said, "The commuter tax is a reasonable way to ensure the high quality of New York City’s services, which are provided to residents and commuters alike. The governor needs to start taking the needs of New York City seriously—because right now, he’s just not."

The governor is the target at the moment in the effort to give New York City seniors their fair share. If the recent past is any indication, senior service cutbacks will be proposed in the mayor’s budget and the council will fight tooth and nail to get any cuts restored in the final budget. The mayor was successful in making some service reductions stick last year, but this is a new year and a new fight and it’s hard to predict what the outcome will be.

But seniors, if they act with a single voice, can make a difference in Albany and Washington and in New York City, too. So get out your pencils and pens and give our leaders at all levels of government and our elected representatives an earful.

As Gioia put it, "We owe everything we have to those who came before us—our seniors." He and Miller pledged to fight to assure that seniors get their fair share. But seniors must be right there in the thick of the battle to help to get reasonable services.

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