Miller tackles budget woes at boro chamber reception

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City Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan) has one thing on his mind these days — the city budget.

The pressing budget crisis that forced the city to hike property taxes and slash spending dominated Miller’s comments during two consecutive borough appearances last week, first at a Queens Chamber of Commerce reception last Thursday night in Astoria, then again Friday morning in a sit-down meeting with community newspaper reporters at LaGuardia Community College.

Miller, who was unanimously elected speaker last year, vowed that council members would pore over the budget line by line to render it as lean and efficient as possible.

“New Yorkers are willing to shoulder their share of the burden as long as they feel that that share is equitable and that they know that the money that they are spending is being spent wisely,” he told reporters at the meeting in Long Island City.

Miller insisted that neither the state nor the federal government has given its fair share to help the city recover from the effects of Sept. 11 and the national recession.

“New York City ships billions of dollars to Washington and more to Albany than we get back,” he told the Queens Chamber.

Miller not only wants to increase the city’s revenue by instituting an absentee landlord surcharge, but he is also demanding that Gov. George Pataki reinstate the commuter tax, which was abolished a few years ago.

“That’s money we can’t afford to lose any longer,” he said.

Miller said he has a “great, great, great deal of concern” about Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed cuts to the city’s capital education budget, which would particularly affect Queens because of the borough’s desperate need for additional classrooms.

“We should continue to make investments because they pay off,” Miller said. “Our school system is still literally recovering from the disinvestment of the 1970s.”

He also cited legislation currently on the table that would provide education and job training for adults because “the best way to get somebody off welfare and to work is to give them the skills they need to get to work,” he said.

Miller said he has not yet decided whether he would support a plan to cut down the city’s contributions of matching funds to city council candidates, which are now at a 4-to-1 level. But he was cautious about the prospect, explaining “when we arrive in office, we don’t want to be seen as pulling up the ladder.”

The Council recently submitted its response to the city Districting Commission on the redrawn boundaries for council districts, a plan that sparked controversy because part of Ridgewood would be placed in a predominantly Brooklyn district. But Miller defended the process to reporters.

“It would be nice if every council district didn’t have to cross borough boundaries,” Miller said. “But you can’t accommodate all the other things without having to cross borough boundaries. The virtue of our electoral process is one vote is one vote.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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