Tag Archives: legislature

Legislators come thru for co-op, condo owners


| mchan@queenscourier.com

State leaders will end up keeping their pledge to co-op and condo shareholders in the city.

According to Governor Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the Legislature has reached an agreement on tax relief legislation and will sign it into law when officials return to Albany.

The city will also issue tax bills based on new and lower rates, they said, and the tax abatement — which reduces the difference in property taxes paid by Class 2 co-op and condo properties and one, two and three family homes in Class 1 — will be retroactive.

State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky said the J-51 program, which gives owners partial property tax exemptions for capital improvements, will also be extended to June 30, 2015.

These assurances come after widespread panic in co-op and condo communities at the end of June, when the Legislature adjourned session without extending the city’s J-51 program and the expired abatement. Fear mounted in November after elected officials said the Legislature would not reconvene to pass promised relief.

Assemblymember Ed Braunstein said the Legislature would likely pass his bill, which would increase abatements for middle class co-op owners from 17.5 percent to 25 percent this year and over 28 percent in three years, based on assessments.

Legislature leaves co-op, condo owners in the lurch


| mchan@queenscourier.com

City co-op and condo owners may have to ante up more in taxes after lawmakers said the state Legislature may not reconvene this year to pass promised relief.

“We had hoped the Legislature would meet and pass the annual abatement. It looks like we’re not going back,” said State Senator Tony Avella. “It’s going to be a huge cost to co-op and condo owners and a retreat from everything that we’ve worked on thus far.”

Co-op and condo community leaders said the state Legislature left them high and dry at the end of June, when lawmakers adjourned the session without extending the city’s J-51 program and its tax abatement program, which expired June 30. A bill that would put a halt to skyrocketing property tax valuations was also not addressed by the end of the session, they said.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said the Assembly, Senate and Governor Andrew Cuomo had reached an agreement in July on “landmark” tax relief legislation that would be signed into law later this year when legislators return to Albany.

But lawmakers now say the Legislature may not meet before the year is out, meaning co-op and condo owners may have to brace for bigger tax bills in January.

“I’m very disappointed. They all agreed that a special session would be called, and it’s obviously not happening,” said Bob Friedrich, president of Glen Oaks Village Owners, Inc. “This just goes to show that actions speak louder than words, especially when it comes to politics.”

Friedrich said his community could lose out on about $1 million, which he said would eventually come out of shareholders’ wallets.

“In an economic environment like this, people can’t afford these massive increases,” he said. “It would be crushing.”

The J-51 program gives owners partial property tax exemptions for capital improvements, and the abatement reduces the difference in property taxes paid by Class 2 co-op and condo properties and one, two and three family homes in Class 1 — which are assessed at a lower percentage of market value.

Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, said residents would pay up to an additional $1,200 a year in maintenance costs without the abatement.

“If the state of New York wants to drive affordable housing out of the city, it’s very easy,” he said. “Don’t renew the tax abatements. But if you want us to stay, do it, and it’s not that difficult. All it takes is going back to Albany and having a vote.”

The governor’s office did not respond to calls for comment.

According to a summary report released by the Department of Finance (DOF) this year, taxes are expected to rise by 7.5 percent for co-op owners and 9.6 percent for condo owners across the city. Last year, officials said, some co-op and condo valuations saw astronomical increases as high as 147 percent.

A pair of audits also released this year by the city comptroller’s office found the DOF at fault for causing upheavals in condo and co-op property values — a determining factor in property taxes — when it changed its formula for calculating them in fiscal year 2011-12.

‘Landmark’ tax relief on the way for co-op and condo owners


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Co-op and condo owners left in the lurch after state lawmakers originally closed the year’s session without passing key pieces of legislation will not be forsaken for long, officials pledged.

The Assembly, Senate and Governor Andrew Cuomo have reached an agreement on “landmark” tax relief legislation that will be signed into law later this year when legislators return to Albany, according to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

“In the short term, the city has issued tax bills for the current fiscal year based on the current tax abatement rates,” Silver said. “When the legislation is signed into law as promised by the governor, we anticipate that the new lower rates will be effective retroactive to July 1.”

Co-op and condo community leaders said the state Legislature left them “high and dry” last week after lawmakers adjourned the session without extending the city’s J-51 program and its tax abatement program. A bill that would put a halt to skyrocketing property tax valuations was also not addressed by the end of the session, they said.

The J-51 program gives owners partial property tax exemptions for capital improvements, and the abatement reduces the difference in property taxes paid by Class 2 co-op and condo properties and one-, two- and three-family homes in Class 1 — which are assessed at a lower percentage of market value.

Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, said residents would pay up to an additional $1,200 a year in maintenance costs without the abatement. Bob Friedrich, president of Glen Oaks Village Owners, Inc., also counted his potential losses, saying his community would lose out on about $1 million.

But local elected officials said co-op owners need not worry about tax increases in the near future. The abatement, which expired June 30, will be continued until the State Legislature reconvenes later this year to pass a new plan, they said.

Assemblymember Ed Braunstein said it was “highly likely” the legislature would also pass his bill, which would increase abatements for middle class co-op owners from 17.5 percent to 25 percent this year and over 28 percent in three years.

“Co-op owners should be encouraged that relief is right around the corner,” Braunstein said.

Meanwhile, co-op and condo community leaders said they remain hopeful for a more permanent, long-term fix on annual valuation spikes.

According to a summary report released by the Department of Finance (DOF) this year, taxes are expected to rise by 7.5 percent for co-op owners and 9.6 percent for condo owners across the city, while owners of single-family homes will see an increase of 2.8 percent. Last year, officials said, some co-op and condo valuations saw astronomical increases as high as 147 percent.

A pair of audits released this year by the city comptroller’s office found the DOF at fault for causing upheavals in condo and co-op property values — a determining factor in property taxes — when it changed its formula for calculating them in fiscal year 2011-12.

Still, a proposed “8/30” valuation cap — which would have limited property tax increases to 8 percent per year or 30 percent over five years — was not passed, and Friedrich said he does not expect a solution to be reached for another year.

“I am optimistic, but actions do speak louder than words,” he said.

Judge redraws Congressional district lines


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

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The failure of the State Legislature has left a panel of federal judges with the final decision on district lines.

Due to the state government’s inability to come to an agreement on Congressional redistricting, the panel imposed a court-drawn, revised map on March 19.

The court’s ruling reduces the number of districts from 29 to 27 as a result of the 2010 Census. The map – which is very similar to the one originally drafted by the panel-appointed magistrate, Roanne Mann – breaks and dissolves the Brooklyn and Queens territory currently represented by Republican Congressmember Bob Turner into several surrounding districts. Congressmember Maurice Hinchey – a Democrat who plans to retire at the end of his current term – has also had his Hudson Valley district eliminated.

New York was among the last states in the country to deal with redistricting, forcing the court to tackle the task.

“Faced yet again with a dysfunctional state legislature, the federal judiciary in New York must now undertake the ‘unwelcome obligation’ of creating a plan redrawing the State’s electoral districts for the United States Congress,” Mann said.

The panel, composed of Dora Irizarry of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn and Gerard Lynch and Reena Raggi of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, were obligated to act with a sense of urgency in order to complete the lines by March 20 – the first day candidates for Congress can collect signatures to qualify for a position on the primary ballot. The primary was previously moved up to June 26 in order to ensure residents serving overseas in the military had adequate time to vote by mail.

“In prior redistricting challenges, New York has avoided such a wholesale transfer of state legislative power to the federal courts through last-minute enactments of new redistricting plans,” the panel wrote. “In this case, however, New York has been willing to let even the last minute pass and to abdicate the whole of its redistricting power to a reluctant federal court.”

Richard Mancino and Daniel Burstein, the attorneys who represented a group of civic leaders in a lawsuit aimed at urging the federal courts to take control of redistricting, praised the panel’s decision.

“Through this well-reasoned decision, the court has adeptly responded to the exigent circumstances caused by the Legislature’s failure to enact its own congressional redistricting plan,” said the lawyers. “Our clients wish that an independent redistricting commission could have drawn these districts, but we are grateful that the independent judiciary stepped in to fill this void and create its own principled plan.”

As part of the plan, a large portion of Turner’s territory will be absorbed by the new Sixth Congressional District – which has drawn interest from a number of elected officials since Congressmember Gary Ackerman’s stunning announcement that he will not seek a 16th term in office.

Assemblymembers Grace Meng and Rory Lancman and Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley have already come forward and announced their intentions to run for Ackerman’s seat. Meng was selected as the nominee of the Queens Democratic Party.

Turner has abandoned his hopes of Congressional re-election and opted to seek both the Republican and Conservative nomination in hopes of defeating Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

The court redrew only the Congressional district maps, however, as the Legislature was able to agree upon Senate and Assembly boundaries. The maps drawn the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) – made up largely of Republican senators – were approved and signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo on March 14, along with a bill creating a bipartisan commission to draw district lines in 2022. The new lines must still be approved by the Justice Department to ensure they do not disenfranchise minority voters.

Politics Aside: Wheel of Redistricting Fortune


| RHornak@queenscourier.com

Every 10 years the federal government orders a new census to be taken, and based on the shifts in population, new lines are drawn for legislative districts all across the country for federal, state and local offices. It’s one of the most basic and most important aspects of politics, and perhaps the most misunderstood and certainly the most unnoticed. Few people ever realize the process has taken place.

It’s like the wheel of fortune. Politicians spin the wheel and what district you end up in may be a matter of random chance. But elected officials are also known to push for district lines that favor their reelection, regardless of how ridiculous their district may look. You could give a standard Rorschach test using many of the districts drawn in New York.

This has led many people to call for a more non-partisan redistricting process, where legislative lines are drawn by people without a political agenda, and instead of looking at the electorates political leanings, they judge the voting base on criteria like common community, ethnicity and other demographic measures to bunch people into homogenous districts with shared values.

But isn’t that just a political agenda by another name? And how are the people to be chosen who will eventually be charged with drawing those fairer lines? Is there truly a way to divorce this process from politics?

Ed Koch has made this a marquee issue for 2011, and has many legislators lined up with him calling for reform. Even Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing for a new, non-partisan system, and has pledged to veto any lines drawn this year that are not done in a non-partisan manor.

Unfortunately, the only proposal so far is to have a group appointed by the top elected officials in the state, the exact same people we are supposedly trying to take this power away from. In other words, it would be a sham system, but one where the governor would now have players at the table, possibly tilting the balance away from evenly split to which ever party holds the statehouse at that time.

Proponents are also saying that now is the time, or we will have to wait ten years before this opportunity comes around again. However, patience is a virtue in matters like this, where we need to make sure we get it right the first go-round. Changing the system for change sake isn’t just careless, but in this case it could be reckless and could destroy the checks and balances that come from the two-party system we have now. To those who say the system can’t be any worse than what we currently have, I say think again.

Robert Hornak is a Queens-based political consultant, blogger, and an active member of the Queens Republican Party.