2009-04-29 / Political Page

Dem Senate In Spotlight As MTA Woes Worsen

There is a tremendous amount of activity going on in the state senate in Albany these days as it tries frantically to formulate an MTA bailout plan that can attract the minimum 32 votes needed for it to pass in that chamber.

All indications appear that Democratic Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D- St. Albans) is no closer to getting the third and latest bailout plan passed than he was when his majority party floated its first plan. That initial senate plan came up after the Democratic senate majority couldn't find the votes to pass the proposal that the Democratic majority in the Assembly had approved overwhelmingly, the one which included East and Harlem River bridge tolls.

Smith yesterday was determinedly plunging forward with his latest plan, which is based mainly on a $1 surcharge on taxi rides and payroll tax. As we were writing this piece, the bill was scheduled to go to a vote before the senate Finance Committee. It was expected to pass because the Smith-controlled Democrats hold a majority on that panel, as they do on all committees.

Then, according to the schedule mapped out, the full senate will vote on the plan today, amid indications that it doesn't have real chance of passing as it is presently written.

The main hurdle for the bill is the payroll tax proposal, which at least four Democrats strongly oppose, thus sabotaging any plans by Smith to get all 32 votes of his Democratic majority solidly behind it. And there's no chance that Republican senators will help Smith out of any mess because he's excluded them from any discussion of major issues.

Reports in the state capital yesterday indicated that there had been some communication between Governor David Paterson and some GOP senators, but no one would discuss the substance of those talks, which would seem to be the only hope of salvaging this latest plan.

The only other bright spot in the Albany scenario for a successful bailout of the MTA came from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who sounded desperate for a solution on Monday as he said, according to the New York Times that he could "support a bill that has 32 votes in the senate, that we can look at seriously as a way to solve the problem".

If a way were found to get recalcitrant Republicans behind the latest senate plan? "If it does that, that's fine," replied Silver.

To sum up, the chances of a successful solution and MTA bailout coming out of Albany tomorrow seem to depend upon the governor—who strongly opposes the $1 taxi ride surcharge, and who seems to have lost patience with the way Smith has handled things—working out some way to get the Republicans to supply some votes for an altered plan. Let's hope so, because the MTA's problems have only gotten worse in recent weeks and there may be further fare hikes in straphangers' futures.

WEINER SLAPS 'BONE-HEADED' AF STUNT: Reacting to the Department of Defense flyover in Lower Manhattan that took place without prior notice to Mayor Michael Bloomberg or the NYPD, Congressmember Anthony Weiner (D- Queens/Brooklyn) commented: "It was a debacle all around—whether it be the Department of Defense thinking it was a good idea to buzz Ground Zero with fighter planes or the Federal Aviation Administration ordering it to be kept quiet or New York City officials keeping us all in the dark. It was simply a boneheaded thing to do. And all this for a photo op?" Bloomberg, responding to the flyover, said on television that neither his office nor any other city official was informed about the event.

ENDORSEMENTS: City Comptroller hopeful Councilmember John Liu (D- Flushing) picked up two more endorsements, one from a prominent Hispanic lawmaker, Congressmember Jose Serrano (D- The Bronx), the other from immigration advocate Brain O'Dwyer.

The endorsement from Serrano is significant because he is a veteran lawmaker who is highly regarded in his district, and it continues to build up Liu's campaign support among Bronx Democratic officials of Hispanic ancestry.

Serrano is a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee, which has oversight of multiple federal agencies, including the Treasury Department, the IRS and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). He also chairs the Subcommittee on Financial Services.

Liu is competing for the Democratic line against council colleagues David Weprin and Melinda Katz, both from Queens. It promises to be a close primary election with three strong candidates, and if Liu can build up strength among Hispanic voters, it will help his chances.

O'Dwyer, an attorney and former commissioner of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, currently heads the Emerald Isle Immigration Center and has been named one of the "Top 100" Irish Americans.

O'Dwyer said of Liu, "He represents the future of Democratic politics—someone [who is committed] to middle-class values and ideals."

GIOIA GETS MORE LABOR BACKING: Councilmember Eric Gioia (D- Long Island City) has picked up the endorsement of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) in his bid to win the Democratic nomination for Public Advocate. He has previously garnered six labor organization endorsements, including three NYPD unions.

The announcement by Gioia noted that the IBEW, with more than 30,000 members, the fifth largest union local in the city, is the largest affiliate of the national IBEW and has a reputation gained in previous elections of having a superior get-out-the-vote operations, particularly in Queens and The Bronx, which could help Gioia's chances of winning the Democratic primary.

Also vying for the Democratic nomination for Public Advocate is Mark Green, who previously held that office. He last ran for mayor in 2002 and lost to Michael Bloomberg.

Gioia comes from a labor background, having been a member of SEIU Local 32B while working as an elevator operator when in college.

GIANARIS, VALLONE JR. BLAST CON ED RATE INCREASE: Con Edison is now under a barrage of criticism, for the gas leak explosion in Floral Park. Previous to that, the utility came under fire after its application for a $785 million, one-year rate hike was approved by the Public Service Commission (PSC) in Albany.

Assemblymember Michael Gianaris and Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., both Astoria Democrats weighed in against both Con Ed and the PSC.

"As long as the Public Service Commission aids and abets Con Edison's game of perpetual rate hikes, the people of New York will continue to suffer from skyhigh rates and substandard service," Gianaris said. "It's time to put the 'public' back in the Public Service Commission."

Vallone stated, "During these economic times, bloated, inefficient bureaucracies like Con Ed should be made to cut rates, not be allowed to increase the already highest rates in the continental U.S. The rubber stamp Commission has failed New Yorkers again."

MALONEY FILES CHILD CARE ACT: Asserting "It's outrageous that much of a corporate retreat is currently a taxdeductible business expense, while child care is not," Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D- Queens/Manhattan) has introduced the Child Care Affordability Act "to help America's working parents provide highquality care for their children by ensuring that the tax code accurately reflects the costs of child care".

The bill creates an above-the-line tax deduction for working parents of up to $13,000 in childcare expenses for one child and a maximum of $26,000 for two or more children. The deduction is based on the average cost of child care in urban areas, which is $13,000 per year—more than one-quarter of the typical family's income.

Maloney said her bill will also make the current Dependent Care Tax Credit fully refundable and expand the qualified actual expenses, now capped at $3,000 per child with a maximum of $6,000, to $13,000 for one child, with a $26,000 maximum for two or more children. Families would be able to choose either the deduction or the credit, whichever gives them the biggest tax break. A family with a median income of $56,788 and two children could receive as much as $5,200 in tax assistance, Maloney estimated.

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