Council Due To Get Mayor’s Budget Next Week
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who’s scheduled to unveil his 2011-12 budget in eight days, assured New York City’s citizens in an interview published yesterday that it will not contain any last minute surprises differing from what he’s been saying during the past few months.
It will just be the unvarnished truth: some city workers will have to be laid off, most of them school teachers and some city services will be discontinued, such as shuttered fire houses in various locations around the city.
What the mayor will be saying when he issues his $66 billion budget on May 5 is that his efforts to squeeze another $3 billion in aid from Washington or Albany had failed and the city will have to get by with what’s in the bare bones budget.
As the mayor put it in the New York Post interview: “New York City has to balance its budget by law. We will go ahead and do that, you can rest assured. And it will be very painful because we have a lot less money.”
The City Council will have to approve the budget and it’s certain they will be doing a lot of weeping and wailing, but in the final analysis won’t be able to force many changes this year because the cupboard is bare.
The municipal unions will also be screaming for a lot of changes, especially the teacher’s union, which is facing about 4,500 layoffs. But here again it’s a virtual certainty that the mayor will plead he’s helpless to change anything.
That won’t stop the labor unions from taking to the streets on May 12 for a massive rally denouncing the mayor, the budget and, according to reports, Wall Street and the financial industry. In fact, the rally organizers are reportedly planning to zero in on Wall Street with their rallying call “The Day We Made Wall Street Stand Still.”
Their argument is that the almost complete failure of the financial industry played a major role in damaging our economy, which was saved with government help. So, why shouldn’t the mayor seek Wall Street’s help to pull the city back from the brink. But there’s little likelihood of that.
MALONEY FAVORS NEW TERROR WARNING SYSTEM Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) gave strong support to the new National Terrorism Advisory System, which will replace the previous color-coded terrorism warning system,
when it was unveiled by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano last week at a Grand Central Terminal press conference.
Maloney stated: “The new warning system is intended to give Americans the information they need to know, when they need to know it— replacing the color-coded system, which the public had tuned out.”
The lawmaker emphasized, “New York is terrorist target number one, and many New Yorkers felt as though we were perpetually under red alert.”
“This new system,” she explained, “will get specific information to the public about credible threats, rather than on the general threat level we’re facing.”
Maloney reminded the audience, “I was proud to work to reorganize America’s intelligence system after 9/11, and this new warning system will bring information gathered by our intelligence community directly to the public so people can protect themselves and their families.”
Going into a little more detail, Maloney said, “Under the new system there will be two kinds of terror alerts: ‘elevated’, which warns of a credible threat against America, and ‘imminent’ which indicates a credible, impending threat against a specific target.
“These alerts will be issued to the media, elected officials, and directly to the public, and will summarize the potential threat, give information about actions being taken to ensure public safety, and recommend steps that individuals, cities and businesses can take to protect themselves. In addition, alerts will now have expiration dates, unless new information comes along that warrants them being extended.”
Besides Napolitano, others present were Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Congressmember Peter King (R–L.I.), chair of the Homeland Security Committee.
WEINER: $281 M PELL GRANTS FOR LOCALS: Republicans in Congress have targeted the Pell Grants student tuition assistance program for extinction in the 2012 budget, but while it survives, the program will provide assistance for more than 67,000 Queens students who will receive a total of $281 million this year, according to Congressmember Anthony Weiner (D–Queens/Brooklyn).
The lawmaker said the 67,000 students will receive an average grant of $4,136 each to help cover the rising costs of a college education. The grants are not required to be repaid, he noted.
Pell Grants provide need-based assistance to low-income students to help promote access to college and post-secondary education, Weiner explained. His announcement comes in the midst of attempts by Congressional Republicans to slash $1 billion from the important grant program over the next 10 years in Queens, he stated.
Weiner said Republicans in Congress, led by Congressmember Paul Ryan, are proposing to reduce the maximum Pell Grant award by $819 per student beginning next year. If successful, the maximum Pell Grant will be slashed to $4,731—a reduction of more than 14 percent. With the cost of higher education rising every year, Weiner pointed out, the GOP proposal would devastate a vital lifeline for students in the borough.
“During a time when colleges are raising tuition, Pell Grants are an important tool in helping students get the education they deserve and the education they need to succeed in the 21st century workplace,” Weiner stated, adding that “$281 million in Pell Grants for Queens is great news, but it’s also a reminder of what’s at stake next year if the draconian budget being pushed by Republicans actually passes.”
It is generally felt that Republicans have the votes to pass their budget in the House, but they face a much tougher task trying to get it approved in the U.S. Senate.
STAVISKY SEEKS MORE HELP FOR CONDO OWNERS: Seeking to assure that individual condo owners get their proper share of a tax abatement when the building files for one, state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky (D–Whitestone) authored a bill which was passed last week that will allow any owner of a condo in New York City to obtain a copy of a tax abatement application from the building in which the condo is located to ensure the application was done accurately.
Stavisky explained that currently, owners of condos do not file individually for tax abatements, instead it is done by the building in which the condo is located on behalf of all the condo owners. But occasionally, she said, there are instances when not every unit was considered under the application that was filed and an owner can be missing out on a temporary reduction or possibly the elimination of certain taxes.
“This is all about transparency and accountability,”
Stavisky further explained. “Sometimes it occurs by accident, perhaps sometimes on purpose, but the bottom line is that because of an unnecessarily secretive process, some condo owners miss out on their rightful tax abatements. When this bill becomes law, every condo owner [in a building] will have access to their rightful tax abatement paper work.”
After senate passage, the bill went to the Assembly for consideration and it is expected to win approval and go to the governor for consideration.
Meanwhile, Stavisky introduced another bill which would impose a one-year freeze whenever the city Department of Finance calls for a double-digit property assessment increase.
Stavisky was reacting to the recent Finance action which would have increased assessments on condos and co-ops in Northeast Queens by up to 147 percent, but it was withdrawn because of widespread complaints.
DA BROWN’S OFFICE CHARGES CIG SMUGGLER: A crackdown on cigarette smugglers by Queens DA Richard Brown’s office resulted in perpetrator’s being charged with evading payment of $270,000 in cigarette taxes to the city and state governments. The arrests were made at Kennedy Airport from flights arriving from as far as Korea and Uzbekistan.
Standing behind a desk in his office loaded with 4,000 cartons of confiscated cigarettes, Brown stated: “It cheats taxpayers who must dip into their pockets to pay higher taxes. And it cheats the government by fueling an underground economy which does not pay muchneeded city and state taxes.”
Brown said about 22,000 untaxed cigars and $400,000 in money and property were also confiscated from incoming passengers during Operation Smokeout which was staged by his staff members.
Further evidence of the wide ranging capacity of the illicit cigarette trade was displayed last week as a federal lawsuit was filed in Manhattan against 32 residents accused of ordering thousands of cartons of cigarettes online and reselling them illegally and avoiding payment of millions of dollars in city cigarette taxes. The city, which has a $1.50-a-pack tax, is seeking $6.5 million in lost revenues for almost 430,000 cartons of cigarettes purchased from a Kentucky company over the Internet. The suit also seeks $13 million in penalties.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg was quoted as saying in the New York Times, “Illegal cigarettes cost our city and state billions of dollars through increased healthcare costs and by cheating law abiding small businesses out of customers and cheating taxpayers out of much-needed tax revenue.”
ACKERMAN BLOCKS $ TO TEA PARTY: In an effort to cut off a flow of funds to the Tea Party, Congressmember Gary Ackerman (D–Bayside/Long Island) has introduced legislation that would block federal highway money from going to states that funnel license plate revenues to partisan political organizations.
Arizona is one such state that Ackerman has in mind. The Republican-controlled legislature in that state recently passed a bill to create a specialized Tea Party license plate. The proceeds from this special plate would be directed to Tea Party groups.
The bill mandates, Ackerman said, that out of every $25 annual plate fee, $17 must go into a fund that a state committee would use to promote Tea Party governing principles.
The bill is on the Arizona governor’s desk right now awaiting her signature.
Ackerman said that states which failed to comply would lose 15 percent of their federal highway funds. He said he plans to file his legislation early in May. He said he’s introducing it because, “Using official government resources to help bankroll an explicit political agenda— whether on the right or left—is flat-out wrong. It seems that the GOP in Arizona is attempting to do nothing more than create a slush fund for its Tea Party friends. It’s a scheme that smacks of cronyism and should not be allowed to become law.”
Several other states are contemplating laws such as the one in Arizona, he said.
LITTLE SUPPORT FOR MED FACILITY AT FORMER HOSPITAL SITE: Plans for some sort of medical facility on the former St. John’s Hospital site in Elmhurst are not getting a very warm reception. One media report quotes a consultant for the developer saying …“there doesn’t seem to be a medical facility there, not because we’re not looking, but because they’re not interested”.
The developer, identified as 89-52 Queens LLC, said he filed paperwork with the Buildings Department to convert the vacant facility into three floors of apartments and one floor for ambulatory care, but Buildings rejected it.
The only encouragement to put another medical facility there is Borough President Helen Marshall. She stated, “Queens is in a medical crisis. St. John’s is gone and people who need emergency care don’t have a place in the neighborhood that they can go to.”