Espaillat's countdown

On April 13, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat unveiled a countdown clock that will be ticking away in Albany until Wednesday, June 15, the day rent regulations will expire if they are not renewed by the state legislature. 

The clock is meant to remind everyone of the deadline, but Mr. Espaillat said it’s aimed primarily at Senate Republicans, who are sure to be a major hurdle in the passage of a rent regulation package. 

As the clock ticks, the battle heats up.

The Assembly’s rent regulation package would extend current rent regulations until 2016 and also get rid of vacancy decontrol — which allows landlords to deregulate apartments when tenants leave and the rent is more than $2,000. 

It would alter luxury decontrol by raising the earning limit for tenants who qualify for regulated apartments from $175,000 for two consecutive years with rents over $2,000 to $300,000 with rents over $3,000. 

The Democratic-majority Assembly has now passed the rent regulations bill and the Republican-majority Senate has passed a property tax cap, opposed by most Democratcs.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s bill to place a 2 percent cap on property tax has been floating around the Assembly for a while, but since the bills have criss-crossed houses, neither has been voted on by the full legislature and the Assembly might hold the property tax cap bill ransom in exchange for their rent regulations bill and vice versa. 

When Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was asked about passing the tax cap bill, he noted that the Assembly is in session until June 22, according to news reports, indicating that he is in no rush to bring it to the table.

If rent regulations expire, more than 1 million rent-regulated apartments in the city would be deregulated, which could mean large increases for many tenants.

“Just in case Albany needed a reminder that we’re up against the clock when it comes to addressing New Yorkers’ housing needs, the rent regulations countdown will serve the purpose. When it comes to making sure that our constituents remain in their homes, we simply cannot afford to waste any more time. The Assembly has passed rent regulations; the Governor has pledged his support for the cause; now the Senate must step up and get this done,” Mr. Espaillat said in a press release, which included a picture of him and the countdown clock.

Mr. Espaillat, the ranking Democrat on the Senate’s Housing Committee and the main sponsor for a bill, S. 2783 – A, that extends and strengthens rent regulations, has made the issue his number one priority.

If the property tax cap is used as leverage for passing rent regulations, Mr. Cuomo could find himself in a pretty tight spot, seeing as its his property tax cap bill and he also told Democrats he was for extending rent regulations. 

Gustavo the reformer

State Sen. Gustavo Rivera wrote a post on the New York Senate Dems blog last week, “Cleaning up Albany with True Ethics Reform.”

He called on Democrats and called out Republicans for promises made last year to clean up state government.

Mr. Rivera wants Senate Dems and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to fight for the passage of his bill that would require full disclosure of legislator’s outside income as well as state Sen. Liz Krueger’s bill, which would increase transparency to ensure that campaign funds are only used in elections. 

Mr. Rivera also wants the Senate Dems to give more power to the Public Integrity Commission to investigate the legislature and pass on what they find to the District Attorney’s Office.

“Senate Republicans have already reneged on their promise to give New Yorkers independent redistricting; now they appear to be stalling progress on ethics reform. It’s frustrating, but anyone who has watched Albany over the years isn’t surprised. I ran for the Senate last fall on the promise to clean up state government, and that promise will be kept,” Mr. Rivera wrote in the blog.

IDC says audit MTA 

State Sen. Jeff Klein and his three cohorts who make up the Independent Democratic Conference released a 10-page report on April 11, making the case for a forensic audit of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. 

IDC member state Sen. David Carlucci recently introduced a bill, S. 4501, calling for a full audit. The IDC says it will cost $10 million and wants the MTA to pay for it.

The report suggests the MTA use recently raised fares and cut waste to fund the investigation. 

Only then, the IDC says, will the MTA be able to clean up its act and regain the trust of the public and state legislature.   

The IDC suggests the $10 million needed for an audit should be paid for by amending the same practices the audit would investigate: excessive overtime and failing to collect rent from its tenants. 

Many of the MTA’s agencies pay more than 15 percent of their overall payroll in overtime, according to the MTA’s final proposed budget for 2011- 2012, something the IDC says can be easily remedied. The committee also cited an audit released last year by the Office of the State Comptroller, which concluded that the MTA’s non-governmental tenants owed a total of $9 million as of May 2009. It also pointed to property the IDC says is being improperly used and could be reorganized or sold to increase revenue. 

“Each of these little smoking guns adds up to one big fire ... If we are going to work together to fix our mass transit system, we are going to need to be on the same page and know all the facts,” Mr. Klein said in a statement.

The IDC has released similar reports addressing ways the state could save taxpayers’ money by reigning in state agencies, including the Office of Children and Family Services, State University of New York, the Department of Transportation and the State Department of Correctional Services.

Worth mentioning ... 

• Community Board 8’s Land Use chair Charles Moerdler, who also sits on the MTA Board, announced at last week’s Community Board 8 meeting that he is working with the Bronx Borough President’s office to try out an additional route for the Hudson Rail Link in June. Instead of running up West 254th Street, the pilot will send buses along Palisade Avenue, which will connect the Hebrew Home at Riverdale to the MetroNorth line. The plan will be piloted for about a month and, if successful, will be made a permanent route. 

“We have a lot of family and staff who come from the city so its something we’ve wanted for a long time,” said David Pomeranz from the Hebrew Home.

• As for the traffic problem at Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy, Deputy Inspector Brandon del Pozo announced that the school is looking into hiring an off-duty NYPD officer to help with after-school traffic congestion. 

• If you were in Riverdale on Saturday, you were probably attending the Death or Glory Pub Crawl, which hit nearly 20 local bars. Either that, or you were spotting your elected officials. They were everywhere. 

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz went so many places on Saturday, he sent out a release on Monday chronicling his adventures, all of which were also attended by his buddy, Councilman Oliver Koppell. Their adventures included the opening ceremonies for the Kingsbridge Little League and the Neighborhood Festival at the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center, which state Sen. Gustavo Rivera also attended, and an event in Woodlawn.