Tax Cap Bill Raises Fuss
Governor Andrew Cuomo really shook up the political establishment in Albany the week of January 28, both with his first budget submission to the state legislature and his candid comments on some of the time-honored practices which past and present legislatures use in formulating a budget.
The governor also ruffled some feathers when he submitted his real estate tax cap legislation, which sets a two percent cap on property tax increases everywhere in the state except New York City and other major cities such as Yonkers, Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester.
The governor’s action in sending the bill to the legislature over last weekend came as a surprise to some. But the state senate, where the Republican majority was on record favoring a tax cap and welcomed the bill, acted on it February 2, and passed it by a 45-17 margin.
The governor was pleased, noting it was passed with strong bi-partisan support.
“The measure will provide a real reprieve to homeowners who are struggling to make ends meet,” the governor added. “I, along with countless New Yorkers, look forward to this cap becoming a reality, as taxpayers across the state cannot afford to wait any longer for relief.”
The bill now goes to the Assembly, where there are indications that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver may not agree with the senate-passed bill and might seek to change it.
Most Democrats from Queens in the senate were not pleased with the bill and four of the seven in the all-Democratic delegation voted against it. These four were: Senators Tony Avella (Bayside), Joseph Addabbo Jr. (Howard Beach), Toby Ann Stavisky (Whitestone) and Jose Peralta (Corona).
The other three Queens senators including Malcolm Smith (St. Albans), Michael Gianaris (Astoria) and Shirley Huntley (Jamaica) voted for the bill.
Avella, Addabbo and Stavisky pointed to the New York City exclusion from the bill as their reason for opposing it. Peralta said he opposed it because tax caps have not worked in other cities. “With a $10 billion budget gap to fill, why the emphasis on tax caps and tax cuts before even the first dime of savings has been identified,” the Corona lawmaker asked.
Addabbo said in a statement: “While I would have supported a true property tax cap that benefits all people, S-2706 does not include any property tax relief for residents of my district or anyone else in New York City, who are specifically excluded in this bill. Therefore, I could not support this bill that could actually hurt my constituents.”
Avella also voted against the Democratic governor’s measure because it excluded New York City. The freshman senator did so despite his strong support for such a cap throughout the entire state.
Avella said it was a very difficult vote for him, “I firmly believe we need to stop the relentless rise in property taxes in the state, but any legislation must apply to New York City homeowners, as well.”
Saying it was patently unfair to exclude NYC taxpayers, Avella noted:
“While Long Island residents pay high property taxes, they do not pay an income tax, yet New York City residents, including those in my district, pay some of the highest property and income taxes in the state and the country. They deserve to know that they
are not being ignored when it comes to property taxes.”
Avella repeated he favors the property tax cap in the state, but emphasized it has to be fair and across the board so that everyone is afforded the same protection, especially New York City residents.
Avella concluded, “I will be actively working to develop legislation that will include a property tax cap for New York City and I call on the governor and my colleagues in the state senate to pass such a bill.”
Stavisky stated, “I do support a property tax cap, but with a circuit breaker in it that would apply to New York City homeowners as well as renters and co-op and condo owners.”
Stavisky explained that with a circuit breaker in the legislation, when a homeowner’s income reaches a certain percentage of the property tax, then the increase in the tax would stop.
She said she argued for the inclusion for the circuit breaker in the bill, but it was rejected.
Some members of the Assembly have also spoken of the circuit breaker proposal to be included in the tax cap legislation.
One surprising voice in Queens that was raised in favor of the Democratic governor’s bill was that of Phil Ragusa, the Queens Republican Party leader.
Ragusa stated further: “The measure, intended to reign in taxes, force budgetary restraint and ultimately get our economy moving again, passed the legislature’s upper house 45-17. This is a great example of responsible governance and bipartisanship at its best.”
The bill was strongly supported by Republicans from Long Island, where school taxes have sharply increased homeowners’ tax burden.
Ragusa also had some caustic remarks about Queens Democratic senators who opposed the tax cap.
In his statement, Ragusa strongly supported the measure, saying: “Governor Cuomo won a major victory for the people of New York last night with the help of the Republicans, who now control the senate and 17 Democrats who voted to approve a cap on runaway property taxes.”
Ragusa also pointed out Democrats who voted against the bill, saying they did not side with taxpayers in the state.
This led Stavisky to respond: “I’m very surprised that Phil Ragusa doesn’t realize that the property tax does not apply to New York City.”
Ragusa’s criticism of Avella, Addabbo and Peralta was also answered by those lawmakers’ positions on the bill as stated in this article.
‘WHERE’S THE MAYOR?’: In the days following the monster snow blizzard last December 26, the city was in near chaos because the cleanup wasn’t going fast enough. Some questioned why no one declared an emergency, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg had been out of the city when the storm occurred and city officials weren’t sure who could have called for that emergency.
Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. is concerned that a more serious situation could develop such as a terrorist attack, when the mayor is out of town and that the city could not afford to lose time getting quick decisions for action.
“In times like that, we must have a clear chain of command established before hand because we would clearly have to know who’s in charge of the city government,” Vallone stated.
For that reason, he has City Council officials scouring the law books to determine if such a law can be proposed requiring the mayor to formally announce when he’s leaving the city and where he’s going.
Vallone said he is also holding talks with other city administration officials to possibly work out some arrangement that achieves his same goal, short of enacting a law.
The major obstacle that might stand in the Astoria lawmaker’s way could be the mayor himself. He’s known to be very private person who has refused to divulge his whereabouts when he gets away for a weekend or a vacation. But he and Vallone are on very friendly terms so there shouldn’t be any question of misunderstood intentions.
TERM LIMITS FOR ALBANY LEGISLATORS? Keeping a campaign promise, state Senator Tony Avella (D–Bayside) has announced that he will be introducing legislation limiting Assemblymembers and state senators to a maximum of 16 years in office. He also plans to file a companion measure changing the term of office for state legislators to four years instead of the present two years.
Of the 16 year cap for the state lawmakers, Avella explained: “Politicians who serve for countless years tend to become stagnant, arrogant and reluctant to adopt new ideas.”
As for doubling the term of office, Avella said it would save money by holding half as many elections, and would eliminate some of the political nonsense that occurs in Albany. He explained,
“[Presently] legislators have basically one year in office before they have to run for re-election. Once the campaign year begins, they are anxious to get back to their districts and are often reluctant to deal with controversial issues fearing voter reactions.”
While in the city council, Avella led the fight against Bloomberg’s proposal to repeal the term limit law, which succeeded and allowed the mayor to run for a third term. Avella also refused the opportunity to run for a third term because the voters had approved the two-term limit.
Because his present proposed term limit for state legislators would alter the state constitution, his legislation would have to be approved by the present legislature and the 2013 legislature again, and then be approved by the voters in a statewide referendum.
PADAVAN RECUPERATING: Following up on a report that former state Senator Frank Padavan had had heart surgery, we spoke with him by phone last week and he confirmed the report without going into detail and said he was now recuperating.
Padavan was defeated by Avella in last year’s election, ending his senate career after 38 years.
DENDEKKER BILL BARS PAYMENT FOR ESS SERVICES: Reacting to a controversial proposal that would require any individual to pay the Fire Department when an Emergency Services unit responds to a vehicular accident, Assemblymember Michael DenDekker filed legislation prohibiting any unit of government in New York state from assessing fees or charges for certain first response services provided by fire and police departments.
The Jackson Heights lawmaker said his bill is designed to protect New York state taxpayers from having to assume additional costs for police and fire services that are already covered by property and income tax levied.
DenDekker said he was concerned that if additional fees were enacted, some state residents would hesitate to call for police or fire department assistance.
“When it comes to public safety and emergency response, the true bottom line should be effectiveness and readiness, not revenue enhancement,” DenDekker added.
MEEKS BALKS AT VET HOSPITAL PLAN: Congressmember Gregory Meeks (D–Southeast Queens) is balking at the Veterans Administration’s plans to modernize the St. Albans veterans facility, saying that veterans and the local community object to part of the plan which calls for non-veterans housing on part of the huge site.
Meeks said local councilmembers have agreed to block necessary city zoning changes that must be approved to let the modernization plan go forward.
Congressmember Gary Ackerman (D–Bayside) has also called upon the VA to scrap their plan and instead build a fullscale hospital so it can service soldiers who were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meeks also wants a full-scale hospital built.
The non-veterans housing would be built on a 55-acre tract which is presently undeveloped. According to Meeks, the site would also be developed with green space. A VA spokesman, responding to Meeks, said the present development plan would continue to provide every service currently available.
Meeks reportedly has Councilmembers Leroy Comrie (D–St. Albans) and James Sanders (D–Springfield Gardens) in his corner.
CUOMO’S SUNY CUTS HURT STUDENTS, STAVISKY SAYS: Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget cuts for SUNY and CUNY “raise some immediate concerns about affordability, as colleges and universities will need to account for decreased funding”, state Senator Toby Stavisky (D–Whitestone) warned.
“The possibility of increasing tuition, for instance, will jeopardize some students’ ability to begin and complete their college degree,” she added. “The cut to community colleges will sting statewide, particularly upstate, because when the economy declines people turn to these institutions for quality, affordable retraining.”
Stavisky noted, “I believe that a college education must remain accessible, affordable and of high quality, which needs to weigh heavily on the choices we make.”
On the other hand, Stavisky said she was pleased that Cuomo’s proposed budget includes higher education as an engine of economic recovery as education is vital to success in today’s global economy.
LIU REACTS TO GOV’S BUDGET: Governor Cuomo has put forward “a game changing budget that reflects the daunting financial hurdles facing our state”, City Comptroller John Liu stated after the governor’s proposed budget was issued.
Liu also stated, “My office remains committed to helping root out waste in all areas of government and will support the governor’s initiative to enact a more realistic approach to state spending in any way possible. We will analyze the current proposal and present testimony to report our findings on the effect this plan will have on the city.”
MALONEY CELEBRATES LUNAR NEW YEAR: During last weekend, Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) celebrated both the incoming year of the Rabbit and New York’s rich Asian-American culture at the Lunar New Year Parade.
Gung Hay Fat Choy!!
The lawmaker also released the following statement:
“I wish my constituents and all New Yorkers a healthy and prosperous New Year. New York’s thriving and vibrant Asian- American communities are some of the largest in the nation and contribute immeasurably to the strength and vitality of our great city.”
BRAUNSTEIN’S COMMITTEE ASSIGNMENTS: Freshman Assemblymember Edward Braunstein (D–Bayside) says he will use his assignments on the Aging and Insurance Committees to fight Medicaid fraud and to advocate for seniors and to reduce prescription drug costs and preserve programs such as Meals-On-Wheels.
Braunstein, who succeeded Ann Margaret Carrozza, who retired, also was assigned to the Judiciary, Small Business and Transportation Committees.