By Zach Patberg
The FY 2006 city budget, coupled with an updated four-year financial plan, calls for $500 million in tax relief, which follows last year's popular $400 property tax rebate for homeowners. In order to balance out a $3.8 billion debt that existed for the last four years, however, Bloomberg cited “significant increases” in income, business and real estate tax revenues.”We anticipate having multibillion-dollar gaps between our expenses and our revenue in the (coming) years,” Bloomberg said Sunday in his weekly radio address. “That means we need to continue to be fiscally responsible and restrain spending wherever possible.”Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village) saw the gap-closing as simply overtaxing people to create a short-term solution to appease voters during an election year and one that will “leave long-term structural imbalances” in such areas as pension and health care. But Gallagher did like the sound of no new taxes for next year and, as with other city politicians, applauded the budget's proposal to eliminate sales tax on clothing and shoes priced under $110.Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) considered the cut the best part of the budget, saying it “will help working families make ends meet.” One area slated under Bloomberg's plan to receive major additional funding is education, with nearly $14 billion going toward 65,000 new classroom seats by 2009 and $476 million toward initiatives ranging from reducing elementary class size and expanding intervention and language programs to renovating city collages and hiring more school safety agents. The budget aims to increase funding to the Department of Education by $804 million in fiscal 2006, which begins July 1.Other allocations include $1 billion for new homes and existing affordable housing, $483 million for development of such projects as the Brooklyn Navy yard and Jamaica's AirTrain Station, some $38 million for senior services and after-school programs, more than $800 million for parks and $7 million for library upkeep.Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) said that in his four years as chairman of the Finance Committee, “this is the first budget I've seen that restores items we would have held out for in the end.”It makes things easier,” he said, for when the Council holds its budget hearings over the next three weeks. Weprin said he hoped a budget agreement would be finalized by the end of June, in time for the July 1 deadline.He added, however, that “things, I think, will get personal before it's over” since Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan) is running as an opponent to Bloomberg for this year's mayoral election.”It could get messy,” Weprin said.Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.