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Thompson Says No to Sales Tax, Again
April 30th, 2009

When receiving the endorsement of several Manhattan assembly members this morning, comptroller turned mayoral candidate William Thompson Jr. said he would not support any sales tax increase in this year’s budget to deal with the crumbling economy.

“I think it falls disproportionately on working New Yorkers, middle income New Yorkers, on lower income New Yorkers,” said Thompson. “I am not in favor of the sales tax increase.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to propose an increase in the sales tax tomorrow even higher than the .25 percent increase he suggested in January.

Thompson said he too would be coming out with recommendations to close the budget gap. Earlier this year, the comptroller suggested a millionaire’s tax — increasing the personal income tax for those who make more than $500,000 a year — but that proposal is unlikely to move since the state approved a similar measure.

Flanked by assembly members Deborah Glick and Micah Kellner, who endorsed the candidate this morning, Thompson railed against the administration for cutting funding for HIV/AIDS, including slashing case management staff and community based housing. Glick and Kellner said they were supportive of Thompson because he recognized social services were essential. Cutting them would end up costing the city more, they allege.
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By on April 30, 2009, 1:51 pm
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Building Collapse on Reade (Update)
April 30th, 2009

collapse

Debris and crumpled scaffolding are spilling over onto Reade Street in Lower Manhattan after a five-story vacant building built in the 1850s collapsed at 6:30 a.m. this morning.

No one was hurt in the accident, according to city officials.

Scores of firefighters and police officers have surrounded the site and parts of Chambers and Reade streets are blocked off. The accident occurred just blocks from City Hall.

On hand this morning, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said the building adjacent to the collapsed structure (71 Reade Street/87-89 Chambers Street) may also have to come down.

According to the borough president’s office, the building had four open violations (one dating back to November 2007) mostly for failing to maintain the building’s exterior wall. This month alone the building was visited by Buildings Department inspectors on the 10th, 22th, 28th, and just yesterday. On all dates, the building complaint was inspected and it was later served a violation — from failing to maintain its structure to building cracks. The building is owned by Aaron Vaknin and Industrial Building Corp.

Just last year, the City Council passed legislation requiring the city’s compromised structures to be inspected annually to ensure public safety. That legislation was a result of the several fatal crane and construction accidents the city saw in 2008.

UPDATE: The cause of the building collapse is unknown at this time, but reports reveal a building adjacent to the collapsed structure was under construction. City Room reports that the collapsed building’s owner had recently applied for a demolition permit.

Currently, officials have moved in dump trucks at the scene to clear away debris.

By on April 30, 2009, 9:37 am
In category: Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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Senate Passes Construction Safety Legislation
April 29th, 2009

The Senate passed a bill today that requires the NYC Department of Buildings to re-inspect construction sites that have been issued hazardous violations . There is currently no mandate in place for the buildings department to re-inspect sites that have dangerous code violations and therefore companies have little motivation to correct the problems.

The bill also allows the buildings department to issue fines from $1,500 to $5000 if the problem is not corrected. The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Liz Krueger and was authored in response to recent construction accidents including two fatal crane collapses. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and community activists supported the bill.

A release from Krueger’s office follows. Read the rest of this entry »

By on April 29, 2009, 3:49 pm
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Paterson Has Secret Plan to Save MTA
April 29th, 2009

Gov. David Paterson told reporters today that he has a new compromise plan to rescue the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that he hopes might pass next week. However, Paterson said he first had to talk to legislative leaders before revealing what the plan might be.

“I will be talking with leaders about some new ideas that I have later today and tomorrow so hopefully I can end this topic, by the beginning of next week, I hope. But it all depends on the ability of legislators to come together.”

Democrats have managed to present and then not actually pass a number of plans this year. They missed the March 25 deadline the MTA had set for voting on fare hikes and service cuts and they did not manage to make an MTA rescue plan a part of the budget.

Paterson denied that squabbles between himself and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had delayed the process of passing a rescue plan for the MTA.

“It hasn’t been a problem with the leaders in terms of providing plans, but I think the problem right now has been acquiring the votes for those plans and that has moved us more into a political process, which really offends me,” said Paterson.

Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos played up talk of disagreement by the three men in a room. “There is a political battle going on,” said Skelos at a press conference earlier in the day.

For more on the struggle to rescue the MTA, visit here.

By on April 29, 2009, 3:18 pm
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The Senate and the Schools
April 28th, 2009

A Senate report on mayoral control of city schools has attracted lots of attention, largely for the major changes it would make in the current system, preserving, some say, mayoral control in name only. While the report has widely circulated in the past days, it remains unclear how much the document reflects the thinking of the Senate Democratic majority — and how much it is the work of a few senators, or perhaps even just one.

The Senate, of course, will have to sign off on any agreement to renew mayoral control, adjust it or simply let it die when the bill giving the mayor his iron grip expires at the end of June. (For more on the issues involved in the debate, see The Mayor’s High Stakes Test.)

The cover letter from Sen. Martin Malave Dilan of Brooklyn describes the report as being written by the Task Force Majority on School Governance, which conducted seven hearings on the issue in New York City. While “mayoral control has brought about some encouraging changes,” the letter says, “the system is still in need of significant improvements.” And then the report goes on to suggest some.
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By on April 28, 2009, 1:18 pm
In category: Albany,Education,Eye on Albany | 3 Comments »

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Closed-Door Meeting on MTA Yields More Finger Pointing
April 27th, 2009

Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver did not have much new to offer as they departed a leaders meeting with Gov. David Paterson this evening. What they did offer were more attacks on the Republican leadership for not supporting their various MTA rescue plans. “I’m not frustrated as much as I’m disappointed in the fact that the Republicans at this point are only worried about getting the majority back in 10,” said Smith. “That’s what this is coming down to.”

Silver went to greater lengths to place blame on the backs of the Republicans. “This should not be about Democrats and Republicans,” said Silver. ‘There are Republican commuters and there are representatives of Republicans who represent commuters who face the largest increases on the Long Island Rail Road who are not standing up and responding on this plan. They are standing and saying, We are not voting for it because my Republican conference leader does not want me to vote for it.”

But Smith acknowledged what has become obvious to critics of the MTA rescue plans the majority leader has proposed: At this point discussions are no longer about what would be best for the MTA and the public but simply about producing something that can make it through the Senate. “It’s not about merit,” said Smith, “It’s just about what gets us there with the votes that we need to get it passed.” Read the rest of this entry »

By on April 27, 2009, 7:57 pm
In category: Albany,Eye on Albany,Transportation | 1 Comment »

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Union Money vs. the Mayor's Money
April 27th, 2009

The New York Post today highlights the links between the United Federation of Teachers and various groups advocating changes in the current system of mayoral control of city schools. The Post, which has emerged as a champion of the current system, zeroes in on the Campaign for Better Schools, spearheaded by the Alliance for Quality Education, which according to the Post, received about $800,000 last year from the state teacher’s union. Other groups in the coalition, including ACORN, reportedly also received money from the union.

We have no reason to question the Post’s numbers — but the paper provides only part of the story. The campaign on the other side — advocating at most minimal adjustments to the mayor’s firm grip on city schools — is led by recipients of the city’s and the mayor’s generosity. Public Eyes on Public Education looked at Learn NY, a coalition supporting mayoral control, and found “nearly one third of the companies and nonprofits that are members of the grassroots organization … have received no-bid contracts from the Department of Education since Mayor Bloomberg took control of New York City schools in 2002.”
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By on April 27, 2009, 3:50 pm
In category: Albany,Education,Eye on Albany | 3 Comments »

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Senate MTA Rescue Bill Voted Out of Transportation Committee
April 27th, 2009

The Senate Democrats voted their MTA rescue plan bill out of the Senate Transportation Committee this afternoon, on a party line vote. The bill will now go to the Senate Finance Committee. Chairman Martin Dilan told reporters that he expects significant amendments to be made to the bill after the three Democratic leaders meet this evening. It is still unclear whether the plan will have enough votes to pass, with or without amendments. Dilan said the bill “starts the conversation.” Read the rest of this entry »

By on April 27, 2009, 3:38 pm
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MTA Deficit Increases by $621 Million
April 27th, 2009

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said today that thanks to the decline in the economy the MTA faces a $621 million deficit despite all the fare increases and service cuts that are scheduled to be implemented. The news comes as politicians in Albany bicker over a plan to offer financial relief to the transportation authority. Read the rest of this entry »

By on April 27, 2009, 2:05 pm
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Paterson Signs Rockefeller Reform Bill
April 24th, 2009

This morning Gov. David Paterson signed the bill that drastically reforms the Rockefeller Drug Laws. The Assembly passed its own version of the reform bill earlier this year but Democrats quickly decided they would negotiate a different bill and tuck it into the budget package because it was unlikely they could get the bill through the Senate. A release from Paterson’s office follows: Read the rest of this entry »

By on April 24, 2009, 11:27 am
In category: Albany,Eye on Albany | 7 Comments »

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Live Senate Committee Hearing Embedded
April 24th, 2009

Live webcast of today’s State Senate Elections Committee hearing on right now! It started at 10:00 a.m. View it in right here on Wonkster below. This channel is a test at the moment, so there is no schedule for what will be streamed on it. It’s also not clear yet if there will be an archive where footage can be viewed at a later time. A live stream of the legislative floor can be viewed as well from the Senate’s Web site, which will be relaunched shortly.

By on April 24, 2009, 11:16 am
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Atlantic Keeps on Giving
April 24th, 2009

This post incorrectly reported that employees of the Atlantic Development Group contributed to the campaign of Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., which is incorrect. The group’s principals gave to his father, former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. It has been corrected.

I am invoking the Beach Boys here: Atlantic Development Group, well, they get around.

The employees of the development group which could be at the center of an inquiry by the city’s Department of Investigation have given more than $93,000 to city campaigns since 1999, according to filings by the city’s Campaign Finance Board. The group spearheaded the major development project in the Bronx — Boricua Village — which received a boatload of public subsidies.

The architect of that project also designed renovations to the home of former borough president turned Obama aide, Adolfo Carrion, which he never paid for. Their Sixth Avenue offices were raided by the city yesterday.

Reports allege the group could be involved in a bribery scheme between developers and city officials. The department, according to the Post, has executed a dozen search warrants on several companies during the probe.

According to the Campaign Finance Board’s filings, the group not only gave money to Carrion, but also gave to more than a dozen other city officials. Last year, the group’s principals gave $5,500 to comptroller candidate and Councilmember Melinda Katz. The year before that Council Speaker Christine Quinn received $1,000 from them. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer received $7,000 from the group’s employees last year. Former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr., public advocate candidate and Councilmember Bill de Blasio and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz all received campaign contributions as well.

One of the group’s principals, Peter Fine, also did some serious bundling (or acting as an “intermediary” to collect contributions for candidates) for Stringer and on-again, off-again mayoral candidate Rep. Anthony Weiner last year. He bundled $40,150 for the two candidates.
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By on April 24, 2009, 10:53 am
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Weekly Web Wrap
April 24th, 2009

  • The Confessions of Eliot Spitzer
    (Newsweek)
  • Come Explore ‘Temples’ Built For and By the Financial Sector
    (Where Blog)
  • Increasing Parental Involvement in Schools
    (Manhattan Borough President’s Blog)
  • New York Civil Liberties Union’s Lieberman Discusses Video Evidence
    (Brian Lehrer Live)
  • Can New York Save Broadband?
    (Gigaom)
  • Social Media Hub: New York
    (Mashable)
  • Albanys MTA Fix
    (DMI Blog)
  • City Relaunches GIS Map With New Features
    (GovTech)
  • Times Looking At Paid Online Content Again
    (Editor & Publisher)
  • Another Wrinkle in States Tax Increase on High-Income Taxpayers
    (IBO Weblog)
  • Colorful Map Shows How Long it Takes to Travel Around City
    (I (Heart) Public Space)
  • New York Asks You To Report Energy Scammers
    (The Consumerist)
  • What No One Else is Telling You About Next Years Water Rate
    (Water Watch NYC)
  • In Dribs and Drabs, New York Allocates Stimulus Funds
    (Tri-State Transportation Campaign)
  • Getting Down To Work on Green Buildings Program
    (Sallan Foundation)
  • By on April 24, 2009, 10:47 am
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    Taxi Cab Protestations
    April 23rd, 2009

    Assemblymember Peter M. Rivera and Councilman John Liu will gather with taxi drivers on the steps of City Hall at 1 p.m. tomorrow to protest the State Senate’s proposed $1 per ride fee to be assessed on all taxi cabs in the 12-county region served by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The fee is part of the Senate’s new MTA rescue plan.

    The group is proposing a temporary tax on jet fuel sold in New York to replace the taxi cab fee in the Senate’s MTA rescue plan. The taxi fee would raise revenue to fund the MTA and the maintenance of roads in upstate New York.

    Guillermo Martinez, a spokesman for Rivera, said his suggested $2 per gallon fee on jet fuel “is a serious proposal that has the potential to bring significant revenue.” Martinez estimated that a fee of that size could lead to an increase of airline tickets of about $9.50 per ticket. Martinez said that Rivera is concerned that taxi drivers will see their tips reduced if the $1 fee is implemented. Read the rest of this entry »

    By on April 23, 2009, 4:27 pm
    In category: Albany,Eye on Albany,Transportation | 3 Comments »

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    Time for Reform?
    April 23rd, 2009

    “The moment of reckoning has now arrived,” declared Dick Dadey, executive director of the Citizens Union of New York City (Gotham Gazette is published by its sister organization, Citizens Union Foundation). Dadey, along with Blair Horner from the New York Public Interest Research Group, Barbara Bartoletti from the League of Women Voters and Susan Lerner of Common Cause New York gathered in Albany on Wednesday to call on state leaders to enact major ethics and campaign-finance reforms. Read the rest of this entry »

    By on April 23, 2009, 3:49 pm
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    Blocking Amendments in Committee
    April 23rd, 2009

    In the name of reform, the State Senate’s draft report by the Temporary Committee on Rules and Administration Reform proposes that authors of legislation retain control over amendments to their bills in committee. But the Brennan Center opposes this, arguing that it stifles debate. Nationally, they point out they couldn’t find a single state legislature that allows this.

    But not everybody thinks the proposal is a bad idea. Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, thinks amendments can be used to water down controversial bills. “They allow leadership a club,” she argues. Lerner may not support giving veto power to authors, but control over the bill’s outcome is a good idea to her. “The author put in the sweat equity. It’s their bill.”

    “If somebody wants to introduce a hostile amendment, they can introduce their own bill,” says Blair Horner, legislative director at NYPIRG. “There’s no limit to the amount of legislation that can be introduced.”

    “This is basically the current practice, and we’re not opposed to it,” he adds.

    By on April 23, 2009, 3:48 pm
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    Check Your Bills!
    April 23rd, 2009

    The draft bill for the Senate’s new MTA rescue plan was released yesterday. You can check it out here. A vote will likely happen early next week–if Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith manages to scrape up the 32 votes he needs to pass the measure.

    Mayor Michael Bloomberg weighed in on the plan today. He doesn’t like it and apparently neither does Richard Ravitch.

    Some say the Senate has now offered two plans that were basically dead on arrival. Sen. Kevin Parker had a much more optimisic take on things yesterday.

    The bill that would legalize same-sex marriage is also available online. Paterson made a major push for the legislation last week. At the time Paterson insisted that legislators should vote on the bill whether or not they were sure they had the votes to pass it. Those comments were mainly directed at Smith. Smith has insisted, since he took office, that he supports gay marriage but will not bring it to a vote until he is sure he has enough support. Paterson has toned down his push this week. He now says he will defer to Smith.

    By on April 23, 2009, 12:40 pm
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    Legislators Look to Change Gun Permit Laws
    April 22nd, 2009

    Two legislators say the bill that they are proposing could have prevented the shooting rampage that claimed 13 lives in Binghamton earlier this month. Sen. Eric Schneiderman of Manhattan and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin of Westchester will meet at the steps of City Hall tomorrow at 2 p.m. to announce legislation that would require handgun owners to renew their licenses every five years.

    The legislators say the bill will allow law enforcement officials to consider factors such as criminal acts, mental health issues or other relevant factors that could determine whether an individual should be allowed to own a gun. Paulin said she compares the measure to the recertification that drivers have to go through every few years to get new licenses. “We license automobiles because they can be used as a deadly weapon,” said Paulin. “People’s eyesight can change, their coordination can change.”Paulin said that guns are the only thing that New York State licenses that do not require renewal. Read the rest of this entry »

    By on April 22, 2009, 4:35 pm
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    MTA Rescue Plan Full Steam Ahead
    April 22nd, 2009

    Senate Democrats intend to post draft legislation of their MTA rescue plan on the internet later today. They expect to introduce the bill on Friday. A vote would then be possible on Monday. Sen. Kevin Parker told the Gazette today that negotiations are ongoing but are moving ahead at a steady pace. Austin Shafran, spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, confirmed Parker’s statements. Shafran emphasized that the bill will be online where the public can scrutinize it and provide input.

    The Senate Democrats were attacked for their first MTA proposal. Critics called that plan a stopgap measure. Shafran said he expected the bill would be online by later today and introduced “later this week.” He would not confirm that the bill will come to a vote on Monday but said the bill would likely be “eligible for vote” by then. Read the rest of this entry »

    By on April 22, 2009, 1:24 pm
    In category: Albany,Eye on Albany,Transportation | 2 Comments »

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    Death-Bed Conversion
    April 22nd, 2009

    The Bloomberg administration does indeed seem to be planning an end run around the state’s charter school law in its effort to save some endangered Brooklyn Catholic schools by making them charter schools. We broke this story last month, and today the Times has a similar report.

    To summarize: The state charter law bans converting private schools — religious or otherwise — to charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run. When the city first hatched the idea of making some soon-to-be-shut Brooklyn Catholic schools charters, it said it would seek to change the charter law. Now, though, the city will try to argue the charters are “entirely new schools” — even though they will apparently occupy the same premises as the Catholic schools and are intended to keep youngsters in those schools from pouring into crowded public schools. The idea, education department spokesperson, Melody Meyer told the Times (as she told us last month) is for all “these schools to be able to operate without a break — in other words to be open for students in September. Few people would expect the state legislature to act that quickly.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    By on April 22, 2009, 8:35 am
    In category: Albany,Civil Rights,Education,Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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    Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Altman Foundation,the Fund for the City of New York and donors to Citizens Union Foundation. Please consider supporting Citizens Union Foundation's public education programs. Critical early support to Gotham Gazette was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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