2011-03-30 / Political Page

Cuomo Wins Major Budget Victory

BY JOHN TOSCANO

Governor Andrew Cuomo scored an impressive triumph over the weekend as state legislative leaders went along with his plan for an on-time $132.5 billion state budget that wipes out a $10 billion deficit without imposing any new taxes and makes huge cuts in spending, including a $2 billion reduction in Medicaid.

Albany insiders reported that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos buckled and got into line as the toughtalking governor threatened to come up with a packet of emergency spending measures which they would have to agree to pass or risk having him shut down the government.

A major casualty of Cuomo’s victorious surge and ability to get major reductions in spending for the first time in a decade was Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose hopes for getting increased aid for the beleaguered, deficit plagued city went down the drain.

Facing major reductions in spending and staff reductions, including about 4,700 school teachers, the mayor moaned that not enough education aid was restored to avoid the teacher layoffs and imposition of other austerity measures.

“Make no mistake,” he warned, “the final budget cuts [hurt] New York City more than ever before.”

Although the budget agreement agreed to by the governor, Silver and Skelos still must be passed by both houses, Cuomo crowed after it was announced:

“This budget brings the power back to the people. For them to see their government functioning this way, it’s a new day in New York. We set out to build a new New York, and this is the first step down that road.”

Silver, who sustained a major defeat for the first time in many years as he failed to win extension of the millionaire’s tax surcharge, smiled for the cameras and tried to put a bright spin on the major developments.

“This is a sobering budget unquestionably, government had to tighten its belt. The sole consolation is that working with the governor we were able to achieve critical restorations,” he said.

He referred to Cuomo’s agreement to add $250 million to the budget for schools, the blind, the deaf, higher education and prescription drugs for the elderly. However, efforts to get monies restored to keep 100 senior centers in New York City open apparently failed to materialize.

As for Skelos and the Republican senate majority, they were on Cuomo’s side as he refused to extend the millionaire’s tax, but the governor’s refusal to restore some of the huge cut to education places Skelos and other GOP Long Island senators in the embarrassing situation of returning to their districts to face sharp criticism over the school cuts and a cap on real estate taxes which pay for school costs.

One consolation for Silver, who is a strong supporter of the state’s trial lawyers, the final agreement on the budget did not include the cap on medical malpractice awards, which had been a part of the Medicaid reform plan which saves the state $2 billion.

Other big losers in the budget agreement were the teacher’s union and education activists that failed to win any restoration of the funding cuts by the governor. In fact, the education reductions placed in the budget by Cuomo cover this budget and next year’s as well. By having them extended to the 2012 spending plan, the teacher’s union will face an uphill battle next year trying to overturn funding cuts already in place. As it stands now, however, Cuomo is looking ahead to start the 2012-13 fiscal year with a sharply reduced deficit-from $15 billion down to $2 billion.

RENT CONTROL, DRILLING ON CUOMO’S AGENDA: Governor Cuomo has two important issues to deal with after the state budget is approved—rent control and the major question of whether to allow hydrofracking, or drilling for natural gas in New York City’s watershed area in Western New York.

The current rent control rules expire in June and, for the first time, Cuomo discussed them at a press conference in Albany last week. According to reports, the governor, for the first time, stated he wanted to extend and expand the rules, which cover thousands of apartments in New York City, as well as in other parts of the state. One press report stated that for the first time the governor sided with tenant advocates.

The key issues are raising the cost of rental and, more keenly, the issue of vacancy decontrol, under which when an apartment reaches a certain level of rent it no longer remains rent controlled. In this manner, state Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D–Howard Beach) said recently, “Before 1994 and 2010, it is estimated that over 300,000 units of affordable housing were removed from rent regulations.”

Assembly Speaker Silver appears to be in accord with the governor on this issue, but Senate Majority Leader Skelos and his Republican colleagues are not, they favor taking apartments off the rent controlled lists.

According to Addabbo, the senate has already introduced a bill to prevent the expiration of rent regulations and to protect the rent controlled status of as many units as possible.

As for the natural gas drilling issue, it’s hard to gauge which way the governor will go on this. On the one hand there is a strong movement among environmental advocates to keep strong controls over the hydaulic drilling because it contaminates surrounding waters, which could involve placing the city’s drinking water supply in upstate watersheds at risk.

For one such watchdog, Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) has been badgering the U.S. environmental control officials to find out how serious the contamination threat might be.

For Cuomo, beside having to determine the risks of drilling and possibly curtailing it in New York state, he must also consider the economic gains that might accrue to the state as the natural gas mining industry is given a chance to operate freely or within modified boundaries. With the need for industrial development so great to create jobs and revenue for the state, the governor has some serious thinking to do.

However, he just appointed Joe Martens the state’s new Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner and reports say he’s a tough regulator. Martens’ first assignment is to draft the rules concerning hydraulic fracturing and making a recommendation whether a moratorium currently blocking it should be continued or relaxed or what.

WEINER JUST ABOUT SAYS INCLUDE ME IN 2013 MAYOR’S RACE: Congressmember Anthony Weiner (D–Queens/Brooklyn) all but threw his hat into the ring for the 2013 New York City mayor’s election last week during a speech in Washington on health care.

It didn’t surprise us since it was expected after the excellent showing he made in the 2005 Democratic primary, running second to Fernando Ferrer, after being written off as a non-contender in the contest.

After skipping the 2009 race rather than take on Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his millions, Weiner was expected to make the 2013 race which will have no incumbent in the contest, but perhaps a very crowded Democratic primary field.

After entering the race with the observation, “It would be exceedingly coy of me, especially in this town, to present that I am not interested in being mayor,” Weiner reportedly gave several hints that former President Bill Clinton and his wife Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, will be involved in his campaign.

The political benefits that would represent, in addition to the financial contributions and revenue support it would create, should help Weiner considerably.

Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, is a longtime personal aide to Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Clinton officiated at the Weiners’ wedding last summer.

Others expected to be in the primary field in 2013 include City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill de

Blasio, City

Comptroller

John Liu and

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

PERALTA/MOYA BILL TARGETS PROSTITUTES: State Senator Jose Peralta and Assemblymember Francisco Moya, both Corona Democrats, say that if you are a young-or old-man out for an evening stroll along Roosevelt Avenue, you’re sure to be approached by a guy whispering, “chica, chica” and thrusting something about the size of a baseball card into your hands.

The card has a picture of a scantily clad or semi nude woman on it in a provocative pose. The card contains a phone number. The “chica, chica” are prostitutes who can be reached at the phone number, and they offer free delivery, the lawmakers say.

Peralta and Moya say the cards are flooding the area in the Corona/Jackson Heights area and local residents are fed up with them and want the area cleaned up.

So the lawmakers have filed a bill to try to force the pimps and prostitutes out of business. Their bill makes it a misdemeanor to distribute the cards, which they define as obscene material.

“Is this going to eliminate prostitution?,” Peralta asks, and answers “It’s the first step toward improving the quality of life on Roosevelt Avenue.”

CENSUS FIGURES: CONFUSION AND DISBELIEF: The census figures released last week drew gasps and amazement from Mayor Bloomberg, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, Borough President Helen Marshall, state Senator Michael Gianaris (D–Astoria) and Councilmember Dan Halloran (R–Whitestone).

The Census Bureau said the city count showed NYC had 8,175,133 people living here, which was the highest population ever, but still only a 2.1 percent population gain from 10 years ago.

Queens, the bureau said, gained only 1,343 new residents over an entire decade; or a minuscule .06 percent, according to Halloran.

Bloomberg said, “It just doesn’t make any sense at all. When three boroughs go up dramatically, and the two most populous boroughs don’t, something’s wrong.”

Schumer said the NYC census was “dead wrong” and the Census Bureau needs to go back to the drawing board. He also wants an investigation into census methods. Schumer pointed out the numbers recorded mean trouble for the city because official census population figures determine how much federal aid we will receive for assorted purposes and all determine how many congressmembers we will get.

Meanwhile, Marshall invited “census officials who believe that our population is stagnant to go on tour with me and discover the difference”.

Gianaris said Census figures say Astoria grew by only 10,000 people, but he believes it surely grew more in the past decade. If they want proof, he said, “…try getting a seat on the subway in the morning.” He concluded, “There’s really a massive error here.”

Halloran said in a statement, “These results just don’t add up. I’ve seen Queens add density and development in the last decade, and I know those new buildings aren’t empty. I’m calling on the federal government to do a recount to make sure we get the funding and representation we deserve.”

WEPRIN CONFRONTS DOF ON CONDO AND CO-OP ASSESSMENTS: Councilmember Mark Weprin (D–Oakland Gardens), in a face-to-face confrontation with city Department of Finance (DOF) Commissioner David M. Frankel, charged that the DOF’s calculations of co-op and condo property assessments was flawed and must be modified.

Under questioning by Weprin at a City Council Finance budget hearing, Weprin challenged Frankel to address the dramatic increases in property assessments which would result in correspondingly higher property tax payments.

Frankel responded and admitted that the DOF had undervalued properties in the past. “It’s clear that the basis of the new calculation method is flawed and that DOF has to modify it,” Weprin then stated. Weprin also told Frankel that DOF should rescind the questionable increase.

Weprin, expressing disbelief, added, “To say that market values are up 50 or 100 percent flies in the face of the reality of the current real estate market.”

Finally, Weprin announced that in response to widespread criticism of the sharp increase in assessments and in the face of soaring real estate tax bills, DOF had announced that it would limit market value increases on co-ops and condos to 50 percent.

But that didn’t satisfy Weprin, who stated, “If you can cap the increase at 50 percent, you can cap it at five percent. Your own actions prove that these numbers are adjustable.”

Prior to the city council Finance Committee’s public meeting and confrontation with Frankel, Weprin had met privately with the DOF official to discuss the problem created by the new, higher rates.

Weprin had questioned the soundness of a system that increases market values at a time when real property sales are flat. The lawmaker also said that DOF should have given earlier notification that such a major change was coming so that co-op and condo boards could prepare for them.

Instead, Weprin said, co-op shareholders and condo unit owners, many of whom are seniors or individuals with limited incomes, unexpectedly would face significant real property tax increases as a result of higher market values on their properties without the resources to pay. Weprin said, some residents may have to move.

At that point, Weprin said Frankel admitted that DOF had undervalued properties in the past but was now assessing correctly. Weprin responded, “Why should DOF punish co-op shareholders for its own past mistakes? DOF should phase in major systemic changes over time instead of hitting taxpayers with huge increases all at once.”

At that point, Weprin noted, the DOF had announced that it would limit market value increases on co-ops and condos to 50 percent. Weprin insisted they could go lower, but was unsuccessful in his attempt to reduce it further.

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