By Alex Davidson
City Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan) told a legislative breakfast in Little Neck Sunday the city is being short-changed by the federal and state governments in a “grotesquely unfair” relationship that requires the city to pay more in taxes than it gets back for essential social services.
Miller, joined by state Sens. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) and Frank Padavan (D-Bellerose), Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and six council members from Queens, said the main reason for the city's budget gap is that not enough of residents' tax dollars are coming back from Washington and Albany.
“They make decisions that take our money from New York and shift it somewhere else,” said Miller, the keynote speaker at the annual forum. “Right now we're hoping for more and fearing less.”
Miller said the city spends money on securing the nation from terrorism and monitoring state prisoners but never gets enough back in return to cover its expenses.
The city pays $6.3 billion more in federal taxes than it gets back from Washington and $3.5 billion more in state taxes than it gets back from Albany, he said.
The event, sponsored by the Northeast Queens Jewish Community Council, Queens Jewish Community Council and Samuel Field/Bay Terrace YM & YWHA, is an opportunity for local legislators to mingle with their constituents, said Corey Bearak, chairman of the NQJCC's executive committee.
The City Council members in attendance were Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), David Weprin (D-Hollis), John Liu (D-Flushing), Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside) and Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows). Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and state Assembly member Michael Cohen (D-Forest Hills) also spoke at the forum.
Padavan, who spoke after Miller, echoed the speaker's comments and said the state should assign its funding based on need rather than location. He said the state Legislature has in the past focused too much on evenly redistributing tax funds throughout New York rather than trying to reimburse the city for sending a majority of those dollars to the state.
“The money has to go where the people are,” said Padavan, who also informed listeners that New York City already gets a large portion of the state's funds. “The lion's share of (money) comes to the city.”
The legislators said they enjoy this annual legislative forum because it gives them an informal venue to discuss pressing community issues.
During the speeches, however, the public was unable to ask questions of the elected officials which, according to veteran attendees, broke with tradition. One unidentified man argued with Bearak and stormed out after he was informed no questions could be posed to the legislators.
There was no indication why the question-and-answer segment of the breakfast was dropped.
Liu, who represents Flushing, said he started coming to the breakfast even before he was elected to the City Council two years ago. He said the event has been a long-standing tradition in the community.
“Whenever you're meeting over bagels and coffee, it's a good time to have heart-to-heart talks with people,” he said. “It's one of the few events where you have an enormous concentration of leaders in Queens.”
Bearak said the composition of the legislative forum has changed over the years, but the purpose of the event has stayed consistent. He said legislators come to hear about both secular and Jewish community issues.
“The idea is to give people access,” he said. “We encourage people to let (their elected officials) know about community issues.”
Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 156