By Alexander Dworkowitz
The current fiscal crisis would disappear if the city got the funding it deserves from the state and federal government, the head of the City Council told an audience of Flushing seniors last week.
“We know if New York City got its fair share, we would be fine,” Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan) said. “We’re not asking for a handout. We’re just asking for fairness.”
Miller addressed the city’s financial situation in front of about 200 people at Flushing’s Benjamin Selfhelp Senior Center last Thursday morning.
It is widely expected that Miller will challenge Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his office in 2005, although the speaker has not explicitly said he will run.
In his speech to the seniors, Miller focused on the battle over the fiscal 2003-2004 budget.
Despite $3.5 billion in cuts over the last 16 months and an 18.5 percent property tax hike, the city still faces a $4 billion budget gap, the speaker said.
“It really is as grave a fiscal crisis as this city has ever seen,” Miller said.
Miller compared the current fiscal state to the budgetary crisis of the mid-1970s, when debt forced the state to take over the city budget.
“Hopefully, this time we’ll make better choices,” he said.
Miller attributed the current crisis to several different factors.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 resulted in a loss of $3 billion in local revenues and the slumping national economy also has hurt the city, he said.
The speaker also said the city had failed to put enough money into a rainy-day fund.
“We lived a little too high in the 1990s. We could have planned a little better,” he said.
But the point on which Miller harped was the state and federal government’s role in providing money to the city.
In 2001, the city sent $6.3 billion more to the federal government than it received and had a $3.5 billion imbalance with the state, Miller said.
The speaker called this situation “crippling.”
“The city gets stuck with the bills that we don’t have the resources to pay for,” he said.
The speaker also said that the federal government was not providing adequate funding for the defense of the city in times of terrorism.
“When did we become responsible for the national defense?” he said.
Miller’s staff passed out forms to the audience. The seniors were asked to fill out the forms, which ask for the reinstitution of the commuter tax, and mail them to the governor.
Before speaking, Miller was introduced by Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing).
Liu credited Miller for standing against some of Bloomberg’s proposed budget cuts last year.
“Under the leadership of [Miller], we were able to restore funding and prevent the closure of a single senior center here in New York,” Liu said.
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.