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Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Senator Michael Gianaris speaks at the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association meeting on April 5.

Even though years of infighting within the Democratic Party in the state Senate came to an end in 2018, that didn’t help any difficult decisions get made before sealing the state budget on the last day of March, according to one Democratic senator who represents Queens.

State Senator Michael Gianaris paid a visit to the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association meeting on April 5, where he described the 2018-19 financial plan as “a budget of lost opportunities,” and broke down the factors that will affect Queens residents the most.

The problem, as Gianaris explained, is that the Democrats are in charge of the Assembly, but the Republicans are in charge of the Senate.

“All of the difficult decisions, they just kick them out,” Gianaris said of the party leaders. “They’re like, ‘Let’s not deal with this now. Let’s not shut down government because we disagree.’ You end up getting, more or less, what’s called a bare bones budget: enough to keep the government running, but not addressing some of the meatier issues that are important.”

Gianaris further explained that this division used to be driven by the fact that eight Democratic senators had broken away from the party to run the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) for the past seven years. Those senators finally agreed to end the IDC in 2018, but the Democrats are still left with a slight minority in the Senate pending a few upcoming special elections.

Chief among the important issues left out of the budget that will affect Queens is the lack of a “real fix to the MTA,” Gianaris said. There were a number of ideas on the floor to raise more funds to improve the deteriorating subway system and gridlocked roadways, and a surcharge on yellow cab and for-hire cab rides in Manhattan was the only change made.

“That’s going to raise some money that’s going to the MTA, but it’s a fraction of what they need,” Gianaris said. “If you’ve been on the trains you know how bad they are, or the buses for that matter, and we’re trying very hard to get that fixed.”

The other main issue is affordability in Queens and the rest of the city, where the new federal tax law will cap the deductible amount of property taxes at $10,000. For most New Yorkers who own a home, that means they will see a significant increase in tax liability.

To deal with that, Gianaris said, the state budget set up a couple of charitable accounts that residents can donate to and claim charitable contributions as deductions, but there is some concern that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will reject that. There is also a voluntary option for employers to switch to a payroll tax system instead of an income tax because payroll taxes are deductible. Gianaris described both of those options as “very experimental.”

Other proposals backed by Gianaris that got kicked out of the budget include early election voting, criminal justice reforms, the Child Victims Act and a change to the background check system for purchasing guns.

“We’re hopeful that if we are able to solve the political problem and secure the majority that we’re trying to get, we can make progress on a whole host of these issues,” Gianaris said. “The Senate is better than a reality show. It’s crazy what goes on up there.”

Also at the meeting was Assemblyman Mike Miller, who was in Albany along with Gianaris for the budget negotiations. Miller added that the $50 million earmarked for MTA improvements in Queens from the taxi cab surcharge will mostly go to the bus system.

Miller also explained that most of the issues he deals with are local, such as the SBS lane on Woodhaven Boulevard, but he also said he is meeting with the governor’s office to talk about the Montauk line of the Long Island Rail Road in the near future. He described that plan as “very expensive,” but he hopes to get some help to move it forward.

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Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr. April 13, 2018 / 09:07PM
Step one: Create a surcharge on all for-hire, taxis and livery cabs in and out of Manhattan south of 96th street; Step two, partially fund the MTA and give money to each outerborough for better bus service.
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