Very shortly, budget negotiators from the mayor’s office and the City Council will start discussions aimed at securing a final budget by some time in May. This spending plan will take effect on July 1 and will cover the year ending June 30, 2005.
Both sides have made preliminary proposals on senior issues that differ sharply. For his part, Mayor Michael Bloomberg would give a one-time $400 rebate to owners of residential properties to offset the extra real estate taxes they paid during the past fiscal year as a result of the 18.5 percent real estate tax increase.
This proposal is already being discussed in Albany where the legislature and Governor George Pataki would have to approve it before it goes through.
The mayor also has proposed in next year’s budget an $11 million reduction in senior services. It eliminates weekend meal service and some other services provided at senior centers.
Recently, Council Speaker Gifford Miller delivered his annual State of the City address which included his budget proposals. As the leader of the Council, the Speaker because he has the votes, can do nearly anything he wants to do in government, within reason.
This makes him the second most powerful man in the New York City government, after the mayor. He can sometimes defeat proposals made by the mayor because he has the votes to override bills, even though those bills carry the mayor’s signature.
This applies even to budgets. In the past, when Peter Vallone Sr. was Council Speaker, the council passed their own budget when they didn’t agree with the mayor’s plan. The Council budget was then in force for the whole year.
With that in mind, we’ll move on to what Miller’s budget proposals are as far as seniors are concerned.
In his own words, he stated:
"First, I am proposing the total and permanent elimination of the 18.5 percent property tax increase for the 140,000 senior homeowners living on a fixed income and their families."
Miller said this should be done because, "If you’re a senior living on a fixed income and your property taxes go up, there is nothing you can do. You are stuck with a choice between buying medicine and paying your tax bill. We will not allow this to happen. This proposal will end that terrible choice permanently. We will not abandon the people who built this city."
Another budget proposal by Miller would help seniors who pay rent for their apartments. It calls for a 2 percent property tax decrease for residential landlords and business owners.
"If you have a rent regulated apartment, you get lowered rent because the Rent Guidelines Board factors property tax rates into its annual adjustments," Miller said.
Some councilmembers feel there should also be some relief for co-op and condo owners, so any seniors in this situation would benefit as well.
Miller’s proposals, unlike the mayor’s $400 rebate, do not have to be approved in Albany.
Finally, Miller promised to keep $11 million for seniors, in the budget. The mayor wants to cut this amount.
The two proposals that would apply directly to New York City seniors in the budget proposals made by the mayor and Miller will require much negotiating, which still has to take place. Many other items also will go into the budget, so it’s not certain what the final proposals on senior issues will be.
Keep in mind that Miller wants to be the Democratic Party candidate to run against Bloomberg in next year’s election. He and the mayor will be doing all they can to appeal to different blocs of voters, including seniors. Each of them will very probably want to treat seniors well in the budget. It also helps if seniors make their voices heard to let candidates and possible future candidates know where they stand. Also, we’ll be reporting on budget developments as they occur, so read this column regularly to keep posted on the budget and other matters of importance to seniors.