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Quinn’s Rx for the city

Brooklyn residents and small business owners could see income tax relief, less onerous governmental regulation, and the conversion of thousands of vacant housing units into affordable housing, as City Council Speaker Chrstine Quinn unveiled several new plans aimed at strengthening the local economy at her annual “State of the City” address last Thursday.

Quinn spoke to an overflow crowd of city officials and community leaders in City Council Chambers, where she touched on income tax reform, small business assistance, housing assistance, public safety, and budget cuts to bookend Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s preliminary budget proposal delivered last week.  The city is facing a deficit of $4 billion and 50,000 New Yorkers have already lost their jobs.

“We may be in the midst of the worst fiscal crisis in decades, but New Yorkers know better than anyone that no crisis has ever stopped our city from moving forward,” Quinn said.  “From the fiscal crisis of the ‘70s to the dark days after September 11, we have always stood together and used our collective strength to rebuild.  We are going to need every ounce of strength to get through the tough times ahead.” 

Quinn outlined a number of proposals suggested by her fellow councilmembers, including a tax plan that would overhaul the city’s income tax code.  The plan, proposed by Brooklyn Councilmember David Yassky, who represents Brooklyn Heights, Greenpoint; parts of Williamsburg, Park Slope and Boerum Hill, would reallocate the income tax burden among the top 4 percent of New Yorkers while providing relief to 224,000 families earning under $45,000 annually. These families would not pay income taxes in this plan, while families earning between $90,000 and $297,000 would not see a rate change and families earning over $297,000 would see marginal increases depending on their income levels.

“There are 200,000 families in New York City that are just hanging on by their fingers,” said Yassky, whose plan if adopted is expected to return an average of $320 per family after their taxes are filed. ““This adjustment to the city’s income tax structure will not only restore basic fairness to the system, but put some extra money back into the pockets of those who need it most.”

Other highlights of the plan include converting unsold units in new condominium developments into affordable middle class housing, consolidating city permits and licenses into a common licensing application, and enabling small businesses to obtain temporary waivers for permits and license fees. 

“I wholly support the Speaker’s plan to help small businesses weather this recession and thrive after it ends,” said Councilmember Vincent Gentile, who represents parts of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst and Bath Beach. “I was also happy to hear her suggest that families already exempt from state and federal income tax should be exempt from the city income tax as well. Both these initiatives help sustain the families and businesses who need it most and who will, in turn, help New York City’s economy.

Quinn also proposed creating a city biotech tax credit, training more nurses, establishing an incubator for food manufacturing firms, repealing Urstadt, and creating the .nyc domain name for companies looking to register new Web sites on the Internet.

Borough President Marty Markowitz, who attended the address, was most energized by the housing proposals, known as the Affordable Housing Recovery Program, which will have city agencies negotiate with developers to make unsold units available to middle-class New Yorkers throughout the borough.

“I absolutely flipped about the two housing ideas,” Markowitz said. “I think it’s tremendous.  I can assure you hundreds and hundreds of units in Brooklyn would be available to residents if the price could be renegotiated.”

The editor and publisher of Edible Brooklyn, narrowed in on Quinn’s announcement to encourage growth of manufacturing firms by offering commercial kitchen space to 60 start-up food manufacturers. Food manufacturing remains a $5 billion industry in New York City, supporting over 30,000 jobs, and is one of the fastest growing industries in Brooklyn.

“A new generation of urban food entrepreneurs is bubbling up all over New York City,” said Brian Halweil, co-publisher of Edible Manhattan, Edible Brooklyn, and Edible East End, three sister magazines that celebrate their local food communities. “There’s a craving for all sorts of small-scale food businesses, from cheese and pickle-makers, craft beer brewers, bakers, caterers, incubator kitchens, and cooking schools. These jobs tend to be labor intensive and they send money to nearby agricultural areas, and they are an untapped engine of growth for the state economy.

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