New York City Council Stated Meeting Report
Every two weeks the New York City Council meets for its Stated Meeting to introduce and pass legislation. As a regular feature, Searchlight covers these meetings and posts a summary of the bills passed.
STATED MEETING - November 6, 2003
Quote of the Day:
"I am not backing away from the absentee landlord surcharge and I don't think this body should either. It is the first step in making the real property tax in this city a little fairer. And all I have heard from the administration on this subject has been nonsense and gobbledygook that has confused and frightened taxpayers." - Brooklyn Councilmember Lew Fidler, defending the so-called "absentee landlord" tax that the mayor wants to repeal.
In July, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York City Council agreed to an "absentee landlord" tax as part of the annual budget agreement. The 25 percent tax applies to landlords who own one-, two-, or three-family houses and use the rent for income. Next year, the tax will go up to 50 percent of the assessed value of the building.
At the time, both sides agreed it would make the city's real estate tax code fairer and generate a much-needed $44 million in revenue. Now, the tax plan has fallen apart.
The city's Department of Finance argues that it is too complicated to administer and is blaming the City Council for implementing it. The mayor says the absentee landlord tax should be repealed. And the City Council says that the finance department is billing the wrong people and failing to provide tax rebates to hundreds of thousands of homeowners who qualify for exemptions.
"This is not incredibly complicated: Do you live in your home or do you not?" said Council Speaker Gifford Miller. "The fact that the Department of Finance, with ten months notice, can't figure that out is deeply troubling."
To try to remedy the situation, the City Council passed a bill (Intro 599-A) requiring the city to issue simple certification forms to ensure that the right people are being taxed and delaying the surcharge until March 2004.
The bill passed by a vote of 40 to 2; Republican Councilmember Dennis Gallagher and Democrat Councilmember Madeline Provenzano voted "no." (Ten council members were absent.) Gallagher and Provenzano said that the measure would not fix the problems and that the tax should be repealed.
But others argued that if the council was going to give a tax break it should go to low-income senior citizens, not landlords who have historically paid lower tax rates than single-family home owners and co-op owners.
"Every member of this council has a better use for $44 million than to give it back to people who get a break that frankly they don't deserve," said Bronx Councilmember Oliver Koppel.
The City Council also passed a bill (Intro 409-A) regulating agencies that collect child support payments. Currently collection companies that seek out payments from "dead-beat" parents are excluded from consumer protection laws. A recent city council report (in pdf form) found that some companies charge high fees, institute complicated contracts that are difficult to cancel, and prey on customers.
"Single parents and children are a vulnerable group," said Brooklyn Councilmember Tracy Boyland, who drafted the legislation. "I have heard reports of a variety of abusive debt collection practices such as agencies bullying grandparents into disclosing their charge accounts numbers and misleading parents and employers into believing that they were dealing with the government."
The council also passed a bill (Intro 596) that ensures that private bus service across the city will continue, even if a new contract is not reached between the companies and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. On December 31, 2003 the current contracts held by seven private bus companies will expire. Approximately 400,000 riders depend on the services.
"Negotiations are still taking place, but it is clear that the MTA will not be able to provide the service by the contract deadline," said Flushing Councilmember John Liu, chair of the council's transportation committee.
Both the child support regulations and the extension of bus service legislation passed unanimously.
The next Stated Meeting is scheduled for November 19.
For an archive of past meetings and council votes, visit Gotham Gazette's Searchlight.Â