By Bob Friedrich
Co-op and condominium owners were abandoned and dealt a blow by politicians when the state Legislature adjourned before midnight June 21 without enacting vitally needed legislation for these working-class communities.
These politicians will now embark on summer-long vacations, free to devote their time to the fall elections, reminding us with self-aggrandizing stories of their legislative accomplishments that will soon fill our mailboxes inside taxpayer-funded newsletters. When failures are exposed by columns such as this, they will point fingers at others or blame “partisan politics.”
If you are a co-op or condo owner, the failures of this legislative session are colossal and will force you to dig deeper into your pockets for years to come.
First, the J51 program that has provided millions of dollars to co-ops and other residential buildings to help maintain aging infrastructure was be allowed to expire. Legislators failed to extend this vital program that has been in existence for decades. The J51 program has helped co-ops like Glen Oaks Village afford to remove asbestos, install sidewalks and rebuild its infrastructure by providing more than $2 million in J51 tax abatements — money that would otherwise not have been available for these projects.
Second, the decades-old city Co-op and Condo Tax Abatement Program that was created to correct the unfairness of our property tax system, which taxes co-ops and condos at significantly higher rates than single-family homes, was also not renewed. The loss of this program is the equivalent of a 5 percent maintenance increase in co-ops like Glen Oaks Village and others, one that will hit families hard in our troubled economy.
Third, the property tax valuation debacle of the last two years that led to double- and triple-digit increases in valuations of many Queens co-ops remained unresolved for a second year in a row. These increases were imposed by the city Department of Finance, allegedly due to a “computer glitch,” which city Comptroller John Liu confirmed in a scathing audit of the department.
The co-op and condo community crafted and lobbied for an 8/30 valuation cap to restore some sanity to these insane increases. The proposed cap, similar to one already in existence for single-family homes, would cap annual property tax increases at 8 percent or 30 percent over five years.
If you live in a co-op or condo, the 2012 legislative session was a disaster, the economic effect of which will reverberate for years to come. The lion’s share of the blame belongs on the shoulders of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) — the proverbial “three men in a room.”
But the three men in a room should not be used as a scapegoat for elected officials to deflect their own responsibility for the failure of this legislative session. Our elected officials had more than a year to work together, craft a plan, lobby fellow legislators, build consensus and show leadership on a single bill.
Instead, they introduced competing bills, failed to work as a cohesive team united in a common goal and waited until the last minute to push for passage. Where was the leadership that could have corralled the Queens Assembly delegation to march into Silver’s office and demand that these programs not be allowed to expire?
These are not controversial issues. They are extenders of existing laws that have widespread community and political support.
As the November elections near, the feverish pitch of politicians boasting about dubious achievements and “tireless efforts” will be ubiquitous. If achievements are measured by results produced, then these elected officials deserve no gold stars and voters will be reminded of this each time they write their higher monthly maintenance checks to make up for these legislative failures.
Bob Friedrich is a civic leader and president of Glen Oaks Village.