Council Gets Say on Rebate
November 17th, 2008
It was a voila moment for the City Council.
After two and a half hours of grilling the city’s Budget Director Mark Page on the mayor’s plan to fix the city’s financial crisis, which includes withdrawing a $400 property tax rebate, the council’s Finance Committee Chairman David Weprin brought out the “smoking gun.”
After the director refused to say whether the administration could rescind the rebate on its own sans City Council approval, Weprin flailed an “ah ha” document in the air.
It was a preliminary offering statement for the city’s general municipal bonds that went on the market this week. On page three, the document lays out some gap closing measures being considered by the city, including this one: “Rescinding the $400 property tax rebate, which requires the city legislative approval and will result in increased revenues of $256 million in each of the fiscal years 2009 through 2012.”
The administration had previously asserted that it did not need the City Council to approve the withdrawal of the property tax rebate, which many members oppose. The municipal bond document, however, was drafted with the help of the Office of Management and Budget and clearly states that the legislature’s approval is a necessity.
“I would suggest you contact (city Corporation Counsel) Michael Cardoza immediately,” said Weprin.
After a small protest, Page said: “Oh God. Fine.”
If the document stands, it would be a clear victory for the council, which has berated the administration for failing to follow through on its promise to send property owners $400. The rebate has been in place since 2004, and about 600,000 city residents expected it in their mailboxes last month.
Many members who oppose the cancellation of the rebate checks, including Council Speaker Christine Quinn, say residents had been relying on the checks for the holidays.
If the council did vote on it, it is very likely, considering the vocal protest within the body and the speaker’s opposition, that the rebate cancellation would not be approved and residents would get their checks.
In addition to the rebate debate, members also grilled the administration on its decision to cut a police class, slash school spending, reduce funding for libraries and layoffs at the New York City Housing Authority. Some members also criticized a proposal to place a 5 cent tax on plastic bags.
Councilmember Simcha Felder, in an attempt to express his opposition, pulled out several plastic bags that coincidentally were stuffed into his desk. He asked how much they were all worth.
The audience laughed.
Much of the questioning left Page frustrated. The budget director was spotted placing his hands on the side of his face, appearing exhausted, multiple times during the nearly three hour question and answer period.
“I know Mr. Page is always available to come back if we need him,” the finance committee chair said at the end of the hearing.
“Yes,” Page responded somberly.By Courtney Gross on November 17, 2008, 2:48 pm
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