2008-11-27 / Guest Column

Guest Column

Hard Economic Times, Should Not Mean Unfair Choices
City Council Member Lew Fidler

Guest Column


The check is in the mail.

That was the promise made by the city of New York to 600,000 homeowners regarding the $400 rebate. Those checks were due in October. Calls to 311 during that month reported a "computer glitch" delaying the checks, but 311 operators still assured us all that the check was coming. Homeowners, already pressed in our tough economy put aside bills, charged something to their credit card, or used available funds expecting to use the $400 for holiday shopping. Then came Mayor Bloomberg's imperious and unilateral announcement that the rebate checks were cancelled.

No one has to tell the City Council that we are in tough economic times and that tough choices need to be made. In the past, the Council has made those tough choices right along with the Mayor. In good times, we "rolled over" nearly $15 billion dollars so that the budget hole that we face today is a fraction of what it might have been. We did save for a rainy day, and in this current year's budget we planned for rain. The fact that it is now pouring means we have to do even more and that means making tough choices that preserve important priorities.

But that doesn't mean we should make bad and unfair choices. Sometimes, the Bloomberg Administration just doesn't get it. They look at the average New Yorker as someone living on Central Park West. They think, "hey, it's only $400, so what?" I see the other New Yorkers: Mrs. Goldstein or Mrs. Gholston if you will, a 70-something-year-old living on Social Security and a fixed income, land "rich" and cash poor, to whom $400 is a lot of money. The mayor appears impervious to their plight. But Mrs. Goldstein had every right to expect that check was in fact in the mail. Mrs. Gholston had every right to spend her other money expecting to use the $400 for holiday spending or for December's home heating oil bill.

When the mayor takes a "Let them eat cake" attitude, it is up to the City Council to step in. We passed the budget that authorized the rebate, not the mayor alone.

He remains the mayor and not the King. And that is why I joined four other Council members in taking the mayor to Court to get those rebate checks out to approximately two million New Yorkers in need.

Surely, we have to make hard choices. We cannot spend money we do not have. We will have to cut spending in ways that do not compromise our public safety, or other important vital services. We may well have to cancel the rebate for next year. And we might even have to raise taxes, as much as I hope to avoid that. The Council has shown in the past that when those choices are necessary, we will make them.

While the mayor is rushing to cancel the rebate to New Yorkers, and asking that property taxes be increased, he appears in no rush to raise the hotel tax a mere one percent at a time when the dollar remains relatively weak compared to the Euro and the Yen, while our hotels are 88 percent occupied and the average cost of a hotel night in Manhattan is $300.

That increase that I have been asking for over the past 6 months while the Mayor stonewalled would cost foreign tourists an extra $2 per night but raise over $100 million for NYC taxpayers by the end of the next fiscal year.

And as President-elect Barack Obama looks to jumpstart our economy by investing heavily in capital projects that will rebuild our infrastructure and put people to work, Mayor Bloomberg proposes to cut our capital spending by 20 percent. Testimony at Council hearings last week from the Mayor's own administration noted that for every $500 million in capital spending, 2,500 jobs are created and $3 billion generated in our economy. Cutting our capital spending right now as the private sector slowly disinvests is the wrong way to go.

Cutting one thousand cops is another choice that I think will set us on a downward spiral.

I am ready to make the hard choices. Some good programs will have to go, I know that. Some additional revenues will have to be raised. The City Council will share in that process with the mayor. But, rest assured, this Council member will be reminding him of Mrs. Goldstein, Mrs. Gholston and their children and grandchildren every step of the way.


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