Opinion: Blame, Control, Transportation, Taxation

City Hall.
File photo

Last year I wrote that the 2021 primary elections should be moved back to September, where they had always been. There were many reasons, not the least of which was the lack of knowledge and understanding about ranked-choice voting. However, there’s no turning back now, and we are down to eight weeks until we know who will be occupying the most important, misunderstood, and dead-end municipal job on the planet. 

I say dead-end because, regardless of party or circumstances, Mayors of New York always seem to think that they can move on to higher office but don’t get far. I say most misunderstood because unless you’re a meticulous student of the New York City Charter and New York State Constitution, it’s easy not to understand areas of mayoral control. This misperception is heightened by the city having a population larger than almost 40 states and accounts for nearly half of New York State’s population. The namesake of this publication (Brooklyn) has more people than many states.  However, these statistics don’t change the fact that cities are creations of states and do not have constitutional agency. 

This divide creates an inevitable tension between New York City and New York State that did not begin, nor will it end, with Mayor De Blasio and Governor Cuomo. At least in my dreams, the Mailer/Breslin ticket would have prevailed, and New York City would be a state of its own in a world of self-rule. But I digress to reality. 

The Biden Administration and the State have made the budgetary picture less bleak for the city. We are still likely to face deficits, and the Mayor will need tools to fix those problems accordingly. For these reasons, the next occupant of Gracie Mansion, along with the City Council, should be granted control of the city’s taxes and public transportation system. 

The state should allow the city to control our subways and buses since many, including Governor Cuomo, want to blame the city for subway problems; they should give them the tools to fix it. The same goes for taxes. We’ve got a backward property tax system, a city income tax we can’t adjust in any way, record billionaires, and record homelessness. Many of these problems get blamed on the city without having the tools to fix them. In this case, a tool would be to tax billionaires more to ensure that people don’t have to be homeless.   

This would require action from the state legislature, and I don’t know if the votes are there, but the city’s next mayor will have face to a really important and hard job. If they can wrangle such power from the state, it may not even be a dead-end job anymore.