2003-06-06 / Columnists

Simon Says...

From the Desk of Lew M. Simon, Democratic District Leader, 23rd A.D. Part B
Simon Says...

Simon Says...

Lew M. SimonLew M. Simon

From the Desk of Lew M. Simon, Democratic District Leader, 23rd A.D. Part B

Are you ready to have a good time and make money? Don’t be a square, be there. Come join us on the Good Government Regular Democratic club’s monthly Atlantic City bus trip on Saturday, June 21. We leave from club headquarters at 112-20 Beach Channel Drive at 5:30 p.m. and return at 8 a.m. That gives you 8 hours to enjoy. The cost is $28 and you get back $17 in cash.

Last Wednesday evening was the 30th annual Yeshiva of Belle Harbor Dinner Dance. I was happy to serve on the dance committee. This year’s honorees were David and Lily Ishay, Yeshiva of Belle Harbor parents. These two fine individuals always give of themselves for the yeshiva. For the second year in a row David donated the printing and put together the journal.

The other honoree was the pillar of the community Peninsula General Hospital. CEO Robert Levine and many of his board members and cabinet attended to accept the hone for being our great community hospital.

On Thursday evening we were honored to have our city comptroller, William Thompson, return to speak at our club for the fourth time, twice as President of the Board of Education ad twice as Comptroller. We have the utmost respect for Comptroller Thompson and his work.

Thompson told us that NYC is facing its toughest fiscal crisis in a generation. Although the largest real estate increase in history will be painful the alternatives would be worse. It is fortunate that the increases in city and state taxes recently passed will sunset in three or four years.

The comptroller told us that he opposed any cuts, which were not based on equity and fairness. He began speaking out when the mayor proposed reducing sanitation services in four boroughs. There must be shared sacrifice. One group or neighborhood should not be set against another.

Thompson started following the MTA carefully during their negotiations with TWU Local 100. A 60 million dollar surplus became a 1.9 billion dollar deficit, then a $1.2 billion dollar deficit and then an 800 million dollar deficit. He asked for MTA documents to begin an audit, but was told that he did not have the power to audit the MTA, a state agency.

Thompson spoke to State Comptroller elect Alan Hevesi who has authority to audit state agencies. Hevesi started a review of the MTA on January 3, 2003 just two days after taking office. The city staff worked on Transit Authority documents, some of which they had to subpoena. They found such items as a $300 million pot of money which MTA officials couldn’t explain. Hevesi’s staff found another $200 to $300 million which was not clearly identified.

The comptrollers agree that the MTA board has the power to raise fares. The Straphangers brought suit against the fare increase based on the reports done by the comptrollers. The court found that the required public hearings were a sham because the MTA did not disclose its actual financial condition. Thomson said the judge’s decision restored his faith in government. He is proud of the people in his office who found the hidden assets.

Turning to the general budget picture in NYC, Thompson told us that the city would get through ties and we will be back. 9/11 was a terrible blow to NYC. 140,000 jobs were lost and $83 to $95 billion was lost. Actions by the previous city administration contributed to our present budget problems. They had surpluses but did not pay down the debt. They pulled funds out of pension funds, but cut taxes while increasing spending and hired a larger workforce. The past mayor and city council increased capital spending 30% because they wanted to leave something to remember themselves by.

As past president of the Board of Education, Thompson is not too happy with the changes he sees. The new Chancellor seems to thing "everything before is bad, get rid of it". The change in structure doesn’t help the classroom. There has not been enough time given to training teachers in the new curriculum. He was appalled to see an announcement made in front of the Tweed Building that they would get rid of the 50 worst principals.

Thompson hopes that the state comptroller audits the Empire State Development, Thruway and Dormitory Authority. He said he had no power to audit the Port Authority, but perhaps the NY and NJ comptrollers could do a joint audit.

The city comptroller’s office does perform audits as well as financial audits. With only 130 to 140 employees, they can’t audit all city agencies. More information about his office can be found at www.comptrollernyc.gov

We want to name Comptrollers William Thompson and Alan Hevesi and Gene Russianoff as big winners of the week.

For shame on former Queens Building Commissioner James Leonard for ordering that the Neponsit Health Care facility be demolished when it didn’t need to be. I tip my hat to the Legal Aid Society and the lawyers for advocating for those who couldn’t advocate for themselves.

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