Silver Presses The Point, Offers Revised Millionaire’s Tax To Test Gov’s ‘No New Taxes’ Pledge
In last week’s column, we outlined the Assembly Democrats’ plan to eliminate a $1.5 billion cut in education funding proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in his budget proposals, and to cover the cost of the education funding by extending the so-called millionaire’s tax, which the governor has steadfastly refused to agree to because of his no new taxes pledge.
The plan laid out by state Assemblymember Catherine Nolan (D–Ridgewood), who heads the key Education Committee, was backed by 69 of the 99 Democrats in the Assembly, including the top Democrat in the state, Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Silver’s comment on Nolan’s clearly described plan was that “We should not be giving a tax break to the wealthiest New Yorkers while we are cutting teachers from classrooms, closing senior centers and reducing aid to CUNY and SUNY, respectively the city and state university systems.”
On March 6, Silver clarified his position, tweaking it a bit, possibly to overcome the opposition from the governor and other notax adherents, including Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and the GOP senators.
Unveiling his 2011 budget proposals for the first time as the April 1 deadline for passage approaches in 16 days, Silver’s proposal calls for extending the tax surcharge, but only for those actually earning $1 million-a-year or more and eliminating those earning $200,000 or more per year who presently pay the surcharge.
By Silver’s calculation, the now more literal millionaire’s tax would bring in $700 million to restore some of the education aid cuts, as well as restore some other program reductions called for in the governor’s budget.
There was no reaction to Silver’s tax extension plan from either the governor or Skelos, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg belittled it yesterday, citing Cuomo’s no new taxes pledge and warning that tax hikes drive out businesses from the state.
Other than the call for the revised tax surcharge on millionaire’s only, Silver’s budget proposal pretty much goes along with the govenor’s $132.5 billion budget which cuts education and health care and overall spending to close a $10 billion budget deficit.
Silver goes along with the governor’s sharp $2.3 billion cut in the Medicaid program, except for the proposal to cap medical malpractice judgments at $250,000. The cap is opposed strongly by patient advocates and trial lawyers. One such firm, Weitz & Luxenberg retains Silver as of counsel.
So the only fireworks on the budget, it would appear, will almost surely come from Silver’s proposed millionaire’s tax surcharge that will face strong opposition from Cuomo and Skelos. How much of an impediment it will be we’ll have to wait and see.
Meanwhile, the state senate also revealed their budget plan over last weekend. It includes a revised LIFO (last in, first out) teacher layoff plan supported by Mayor Bloomberg, which might also set off some fireworks by Assembly Democrats.
Otherwise, there are some minor changes to Cuomo’s budget plan submission in the senate budget plan. Some sources report that the governor is ready to take a tough stand on the budget because it’s his first and he wants it to set the tone for his first term. Polls show he is still very popular with the electorate while the legislature is still fighting to set itself free from the dysfunction label that’s been pasted on it as well as the horrible corruption image that’s also been dragging it down. The latest allegations and charges involving state Senator and Finance Committee Chairman Carl Kruger (D–Brooklyn) certainly don’t help the legislature’s cause.
MAYOR, LIU AT ODDS: While Mayor Bloomberg has been sounding off loudly lately about the high cost of police and firefighters’ pensions, city Comptroller John Liu released an in-house report that found the city’s municipal employees are paid 17 percent less on average than their NYC private sector, for-profit counterparts.
The report was issued as part of a Liu program, Retirement Security NYC, a Liu initiative to provide research on public employee pension issues. The comparison of public and private employee salaries was the first study issued by Retirement Security NYC.
Liu, the former Flushing City Councilmember who was elected with strong union support in 2009, said after issuance of the 30-page report, “I’ve been asked more and more frequently about the questions surrounding pensions, surrounding employee compensation. We are the steward of the city’s finances. I sign the checks.”
When the mayor was asked for comment on the 30-page study and Liu’s remarks, he snapped, “I have no idea how the comptroller comes up with those numbers. He’s certainly welcome to say whatever he thinks. Whether it’s accurate or not, I don’t know.”
He added, according to the New York Post story, that the study was flawed because it doesn’t include pension costs.
According to Liu’s handout, the study was authored by Frank Braconi, Ph.D. Liu’s chief economist. Liu added, “These findings about municipal salaries are an important foundation for any discussion about public employee pensions. The issue of retirement needs to be looked at in the context of the overall compensation package earned by public employees.”
GOP BLOCKS MALONEY’S MORTGAGE AID TRY: An attempt by Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) to continue to assist beleaguered homeowners to get mortgage modifications was killed by Republican members of the Financial Services Committee.
Maloney, the former chairperson of the panel and still a member of it, offered an amendment to a Republican bill abolishing the Housing Affordable Modification Program, which was established to assist three to four million homeowners in achieving mortgage modifications. Maloney’s amendment would have extended the mortgage modifications to 500,000 more mortgage holders.
Addressing the GOP bill to terminate the program, Maloney stated:
“At best, this bill is a pennywise-andpound foolish attempt to cut spending; in reality it will make things worse in the housing market.”
Maloney said recent housing reports show that, “We are still dealing with the aftermath of the housing bubble. Homeowners need more help. But the bills being debated in the committee eliminate most of the help that currently exists and that’s just crazy. The prospect of more foreclosures, which will further depress housing prices—that’s not what America needs right now.”
A Republican bill debated would eliminate the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which provides funds to states and municipalities to stabilize neighborhoods hardest-hit by foreclosures.
In New York City alone, Maloney said, about $3 million has helped the city’s HPD to acquire multi-family buildings and create affordable housing.
SCHUMER PUSHES KELLY FOR FBI JOB: We’ve heard many rumors in past years about Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and his suitability for the New York City mayoral position, but U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D–New York) took it into a new direction last week making a strong case for the 69-year-old top cop to become the next director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Schumer, one of the most powerful national figures in the city, said in a recent newspaper story that Kelly is a world class choice and he’s at the top of the list, whether it’s fighting terrorism, drug crime or street crime.
With incumbent FBI Director Robert Mueller ready to retire later this year, Schumer said he would start making a strong effort for Kelly to be considered as Mueller’s successor in the coming weeks by advocating for him with officials in the White House and the Justice Department.
Schumer said of Kelly, “I think the country needs him. He’s the preeminent law enforcement person in the country. He knows more about this than anyone.”
Schumer especially noted Kelly’s expertise in the anti-terror realm and boosted the PC’s experience in defending the world’s number one terror target since the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. Since that disaster, Schumer pointed out, the Kelly-led NYPD has foiled about a dozen potential plots aimed at the city.
Kelly’s career with the NYPD spans 31 years, Schumer said, including being the top gun here from 1992 to 1994 and again since 2002 when Mayor Michael Bloomberg was in office.
Schumer also pointed out that Kelly has held federal jobs in Washington, another major plus for him to head the FBI, Schumer said.
LIZ CROWLEY BACKS SCHOOL PRINCIPALS: Standing strongly with school principals in the fight triggered by Schools Chancellor Cathie Black to retrieve budget money not spent by them, Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley (D–Glendale) left no doubt where she stands on the issue.
“To take back funding that is already given is nothing more than robbery,” declared the combative lawmaker.
“The Bloomberg administration has repeated time and again that we need to be fiscally conservative by doing more with less, now the DOE is trying to penalize our most responsible principals for doing just that. This is not a compromise, [Black’s reducing the take-back from principals from 50 percent to 30 percent] this is about doing what is right for our schools and what is right for our students.”
Crowley explained: “The
Deferred Planning Program Initiative was enacted by the [DOE] City Department of Education to allow schools to save unspent money to help off set future budget cuts. This year, the DOE issued a mandate that modified the program to allow schools to save only a portion of their surplus for the next year. DOE Chancellor Cathie Black announced the DOE would be taking back 50 percent of the schools’ reserves and then on the evening of March 7, the chancellor announced an amendment to the plan stating that only 30 percent would be taken back from the savings. Schools will have until March 18th to decide not to opt into the rollover program and then principals will have until June to spend this year’s budget.”
STAVISKY: PROPOSED MARKET CAP STILL TOO HIGH: Responding to a report in the New York Post that the city Department of Finance had agreed to cap assessed market value increases on co-ops and condos at 50 percent for this tax year, state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky (D–Whitestone) remarked:
“As far [as] I am concerned, a 50 percent market value assessment hike is still very high. What’s to prevent the city raising the assessment 100 percent next year?”
Stavisky has been leading the call for lowering the sky high assessments imposed on Queens co-ops and condos. Some buildings, she complained, have seen their assessments shoot up more than 140 percent, so she called the Finance Department’s decision a step in the right direction, but one that does not go far enough.
Following the Finance Department’s action, the lawmaker sent an e-mail to co-op presidents in her district thanking them for their fight against much higher increases and sympathized with them that the 50 percent cap is still more than they should pay. Stavisky also reminded them that she is working on a legislative solution so that shocking increases in assessed market valuations like these cannot happen again.
“Cutting assessed market values on coops from 147 percent to 50 percent is like saying, ‘You don’t have to drink a full cup of arsenic, you only have to drink half a cup.’ Either way, you’re still getting poisoned,” she said.
Stavisky concluded, “A 50 percent increase on market value is still an enormous increase, especially in our current economic climate. While we have gotten the Finance Department to backtrack a little for now, we still need to keep the pressure going.”
HALLORAN SAYS KEEP SENIOR CENTERS OPEN: Warning that two senior centers threatened with being closed are in his district—the HANAC center in College Point and the Selfhelp Clearview Center in Flushing, Councilmember Dan Halloran (R–Whitestone) called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to restore $25 million to his budget to head-off the closings.
Halloran acknowledged he had supported Cuomo’s call for budgetary discipline and his efforts to get our fiscal house back in order. Halloran said, “Senior centers are crucial to providing seniors, many of whom are disabled or widowed, with social opportunities that they would otherwise lack. They are especially crucial for seniors on fixed incomes. Our state must balance its books, but not by crushing our most vulnerable citizens.”
DENDEKKER TELLS STATE ‘TAKE ANY FORM OF PAYMENT’: Landmark legislation filed by state Assemblymember Michael DenDekker (D–Jackson Heights) would require all New York state departments and agencies to accept all types of legal payment for fees, fines, penalties, rents, rates, taxes, charges, revenue, financial obligations, or other amounts owed to the state by the public.
Presently, DenDekker says, many state agencies will only accept a check as payment. So if someone doesn’t have a personal checking account, he/she must pay an extra fee to a bank or other financial institution in order to obtain a check.
“At a time when most New Yorkers use a credit or debit card to pay their bills, it makes little sense for New York state agencies and departments to insist on being paid only by check or money order,” DenDekker said. “This legislation would require all state agencies to accept all forms of legitimate payment.”
DenDekker has also introduced what should be a very popular bill, one which would upgrade the State Lottery Division’s payment of winning easier to access and collect.
In response to complaints from constituents that they couldn’t collect winnings quickly and easily in some cases, DenDekker’s bill would require that all winning tickets valued at $600 or less that are presented for payment within a one-year time period from the date of the drawing, or from the close of the game in which a prize was won, will be paid by the lottery sales agent presented with the ticket.
“Whoever sold you the ticket should give you the cash,” the lawmaker said. “And not for a certain time period, but for the entire time that the ticket is valid.”
Under the old system, if a winner failed to claim payment within 45 days, the winner would have to travel to a lottery office in Manhattan or mail the ticket to a regional lottery office to redeem his winnings.
Making collecting on winning tickets easier will increase ticket sales, DenDekker said.
DROMM LOOKS BACK—AND FORWARD: In a 2011 State of the District Address last Thursday, Councilmember Daniel Dromm (D–Jackson Heights) reviewed his first year in office in 2010 for the audience of constituents at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights then took a look into what’s ahead in 2011.
Dromm, an ex-school teacher, showed a video presentation to cover last year’s highlights and accomplishments, which included the addition of 600 new school seats in the 25th Council District, the expansion of open space and the procurement of funding for several community-based immigrant organizations.
Looking ahead to the next three years of his term, Dromm outlined his priorities for 2011, which included the planned establishment of an Immigrant Opportunity Center in the district, the addition of a Primary Health Care Facility and the need to add revenue to the city’s budget through a more progressive income tax code which he refers to as Fair Share Taxes. Under this plan, Dromm said, the objective would be to re-balance the tax rates for those at the top of the income scale and use the revenue to fund more cost-effective job creation policies.
VALLONE TO CELEBRATE BIRTHDAY: On March 31, Peter F. Vallone Jr. will be celebrating his 50th birthday at Central Lounge, 20-30 Steinway St., from 6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. The event will feature the Vallone Brothers Band with special guest Tena Vallone on sax. Ticket price levels are as follows: Rock Star $3,850, Record Producer $1,000, Band Manager $500, Promoter $250, Roadie $75. Admission includes food, wine, beer and soda. RSVP via e-mail, Leilanoor2003@yahoo.com or, call 917-620-5364.