Gotham Gazette

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Stated Meeting with a State Agenda

Council Speaker Christine Quinn called an unannounced City Council meeting Tuesday morning, rushing council members into the chamber to give the state Legislature the go-ahead to approve a tax credit for small business owners.


But in so-called typical Albany fashion, the Legislature never moved to vote on the measure despite the unanimous approval of a home-rule message by the City Council. The small-business tax credit bill is just one of many pieces of legislation important to the city that has stalled upstate.


The Tax Credit


About 75 percent of firms in the city have fewer than 20 employees, and they are subject to double taxation, according to city officials. Owners of S-Corporation businesses, which have fewer than 75 stockholders and are owned by individuals who live in the United States, are taxed on their business's profits and again on their personal income.


For this reason, both the federal government and 39 state governments, including New York, offer full or partial exemptions from corporate taxes for these businesses. The city has offered a partial tax break since 1997, which the council was hoping to expand.


First proposed by Quinn in her 2006 budget response and again in the 2007 budget response, the legislation would cut $35 million from the personal income taxes of S-corporation shareholders in its first year and save shareholders an additional $18 million in fiscal year 2008, according to city officials. By 2010, taxpayers would have saved approximately $110 million.


If the legislature had approved the measure, 100,000 business owners would have been affected.


In a prepared statement, Quinn said: "These hard working people are suffering because of an unfair tax burden. Establishing the new S-Corporation tax credit will allow small businesses to grow and prosper.”


The home rule message, which enables the Legislature to move forward with issues affecting only New York City, was approved by a vote of 49 to 0. The council reportedly rushed into a meeting after it received word that the Legislature would move on the accompanying legislation.


A Short Session


Last week the Senate and the Assembly met for the first time since a special legislative session to address congestion pricing adjourned in July. After a quick session meant to address a number outstanding issues, like pay increases for legislators, the S-Corporation legislation remained in limbo – as did most other reforms.


In response, Quinn spokesperson Maria Alvarado said in an e-mailed statement, "The Council is pleased that the S-Corp legislation passed through the Assembly's Ways and Means Committee, and we thank Chairman (Herman) Farrell and Speaker (Sheldon) Silver for their work on the issue. We are hopeful that with the support of Senator (Frank) Padavan and Senate Majority Leader (Joe) Bruno, Albany will vote to approve this legislation before the end of the year."


The home rule message is good until the end of the year, and city officials hope the issue will reemerge in Albany, most likely in December. A spokesman for Speaker Sheldon Silver said the Assembly would take up the legislation before the end of the year.


For now, S-Corporation tax breaks will mimic myriad other measures in Albany: It will remain unresolved.


The Other Albany Agenda


The legislature failed to pass, in addition to small business tax breaks, a number of the city's legislative priorities last week. Besides several local initiatives and several of Governor Eliot Spitzer's appointments, the legislature made little movement on any significant reform.


First, several Manhattan Assembly members have been blocking an amendment to the Hudson River Park Act that would allow the city to finalize and construct the last remaining piece of its Solid Waste Management Plan. The city needs approval to construct the recycling center on the Gansevoort peninsula near 14th Street. Building the facility, the Bloomberg administration has said, would disperse the city's garbage evenly throughout the boroughs. That measure never made it to the floor.


Reform of the Wicks Law – a state statute that requires the city to award contracts piecemeal instead of to one business – was also sidestepped last week. The law, critics say, increases cost for the city's construction contracts, because it cannot award projects in bulk.


Another issue left unresolved is the city's 421a program – a program that encourages the construction of apartments, especially affordable ones, by offering tax exemptions to developers.


According to Assemblyman Vito Lopez's office, the final amendment to the 421a legislation, which was approved in a larger legislative package earlier this year, will be taken up most likely in December. Though the legislation does not take effect until next year, the final piece outlining an agreement with the city has yet to be agreed upon. Earlier this year, residents and city officials were outraged when a large tax break was created for developer Forest City Ratner and its Atlantic Yards project.


Many attribute the lack of legislative movement in Albany to an ongoing feud between Spitzer and Senate Majority Leader Bruno. Although state and city leaders predict the Legislature will reconvene later this year, whether any of the city's priorities will be approved, or even voted on, is anyone's guess.  

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