Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Economic Incentives, for Council Members and Businesses; City Council Stated Meeting, Oct. 25, 2006

Every two weeks the New York City Council holds its "Stated Meeting" to introduce and pass legislation. As a regular feature, Gotham Gazette covers these meetings.

Pay Raises

The City Council took the first step toward giving itself a pay raise, with Council Speaker Christine Quinn saying she was submitting legislation that would approve the raises recently recommended by a mayoral commission. That would give council members a 25 percent salary hike, boosting their yearly base pay by $22,500, to make it $112,000.

Quinn said the council would hold hearings on the proposal to raise salaries for the mayor, public advocate, city comptroller, district attorneys and borough presidents, as well as council members, after seven years with no pay hike. She said that, for the first time, the council will hold hearings on pay increases “so that those who are enthusiastic about this legislation and those who are less enthusiastic about this legislation will be able to speak out.”

While council members did not discuss pay raises at their regular meeting, reporters questioned Quinn extensively on the matter at a press conference before the session. She refused to say whether, in light of the likely pay hike, the council would look at what Quinn called stipends and others refer to as lulus, the additional money paid council members who chair committees or hold leadership posts. While issuing no specific recommendations on the additional pay, the mayoral commission said the practice is "ripe for reform."

The stipends range from $28,500 a year for the speaker down to $4,000 for the chair of a select committee. James Oddo gets an $18,000 for heading up the Republican minority on the council – all three members, including himself – and one of those GOP members, Dennis Gallagher, receives an extra $5,000 for being minority whip. All but six City council members receive the extra payments: Tony Avella has refused to accept his and five other members have no committee posts.

Quinn said the council would first consider the recommended pay increases and could then decide to look at related issues, such as stipends. But she said, “I believe it is appropriate for a person who takes on extra responsibility to get a stipend.”

The commission also recommended the council consider officially making the job of council member a full-time position, which would bar them from making outside income beyond investments and the like. But under repeated questioning, Quinn would not support this idea either. Insisting all council members work more than 40 hours a week, she dismissed the importance of designating a job as “full time.” “What people do is what matters,” she said, “How hard people work is what matters.” And she said council was “scrupulous” about avoiding any possible conflicts of interest.

At least 17 members of the City Council earn outside income, with Dominic Recchia topping the list. In 2004, Recchia received a $90,000 City Council salary, a $10,000 stipend for chairing the arts committee, and made somewhere between $210,000 and $570,000 from his law practice and from real estate in Vermont. (For a list of council members’ outside income, click here.)

In addition to raises for council members, the commission called for increases for other officials:

$225,000 for mayor (a $30,000 raise - 15.4 percent)

$185,000 for comptroller (a $25,000 raise - 15.6 percent)

$165,000 for public advocate (a $15,000 raise – 10 percent)

$190,000 for district attorneys (a $40,000 raise - 26.7 percent)

$160,000 for borough president (a $25,000 raise - 18.5 percent)

Empire Zones

The council voted to change the boundaries of 10 of the city’s 11 Empire Zones. Under the state program, businesses in these areas receive economic incentives, such as tax breaks.

The changes were designed to bring the city in compliance with a recent state law setting requirements for the boundaries of such zones. But Quinn said the council was taking advantage of the change to expand many of the districts. The changes affect zones in all five boroughs.

In Staten Island’s West Shore Empire Zone, two lots, sites of the proposed, and controversial, NASCAR track were deleted from the Empire Zone. Council members from Staten Island had sought the change, not wanting to provide any economic boost for the project, which has not yet received approval from any city agency.

The recommended changes go to the state final approval.

Greenwich Village Business District

The City Council also unanimously approved expanding the Greenwich Village Business Improvement district. Businesses in such districts pay a tax for extra clean up, security and other measures designed to enhance commercial activity. The expanded area will include 430 additional businesses.

The council also voted to streamline sprinkler inspections for some apartment buildings and to allow the Corrections Department to have reduced staffing levels on the overnight shift in city jails. The move is designed to bring city law in compliance with the contract recently negotiated between the city and corrections officers.

Jeers for Bush and Limbaugh

During the general discussion period Councilmember Charles Barron sharply condemned the Military Commission Act recently signed by President George W. Bush that would strip some terror suspects of the right of habeas corpus. It was not totally unexpected, given that Barron has used this forum before to condemn the war in Iraq and speak out on other issues.

More surprising was Republican Councilmember James Oddo’s attack on right wing radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh had accused actor Michael J. Fox of exaggerating the effects of his Parkinson’s disease in order to boost the election prospects of Democratic candidates who support stem cell research. Saying he was a big fan of Fox’s old ”Family Ties” TV series, even though he does not always agree with the actor’s ideology,” Oddo said to Limbaugh, “Do the folks on the left a favor, more give the folks on the right a favor and go far, far away.”

The two statements gave Councilmember Bill DeBlasio the opportunity, for perhaps the first time on record, to offer a statement jointly praising the minority leader from Staten Island and the former Black Panther from East New York.

Quote of the Day:

“The metal bat lobby is coming for you. They’ve hired a lobbyist you all know...They’re going to give you 'science' that any 16-year-old who has played baseball knows isn’t true.” --Councilmember Lew Fidler on the upcoming debate over whether to ban metal baseball bats in high schools.  

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