Brigid Bergin is the City Hall reporter for WNYC. She covers city politics including the 2013 mayoral race and transition.
The city’s plan to appeal a ruling blocking its five-borough taxi plan may be the most direct route to extending taxi service to the outer boroughs – and keeping the city’s budget balanced.
The taxi plan, which would increase street hails to the outer boroughs, was estimated to bring in an additional $1 billion in revenue from the sale of new medallions. But without it the city faces a $635 budget million shortfall – and it’s only the second month of fiscal year 2013.
The New York State Supreme Court issued a ruling against the plan Friday, saying it violated the state’s home rule provision, which requires state lawmakers to seek a home rule message on certain legislative items that impact a local municipality like New York City from the local legislative body, in this case, City Council.
The city will file an immediate appeal, according to Michael Cardozo, corporation counsel for the New York City Law Department.
“We are confident that the appellate court will uphold the state law authorizing two important transportation initiatives: providing safe and reliable hail service by liveries in areas of the city rarely served by yellow taxicabs, and providing 2,000 more wheelchair-accessible yellow taxicabs for disabled passengers,” said Cardozo in a statement.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn said on Sunday that she shares the disappointment over the court’s decision because it affects taxi accessibility throughout the city. She also said she was concerned about the financial implications.
“This is an important case because it deals with whether or not there will be taxi service that’s really accessible to people geographically throughout all of the city,” said Quinn.
“We will have to find ways to make up those hundreds of millions of dollars, which short of there being an unexpected increase in tax revenues, would mean we’d have to find places in the budget where we would have to cut back,” Quinn said.
During this year's budget negotiations, the Council pushed to restore some 47,000 after school and child care slots. It also saved 20 fire companies.
Carol Kellermann, head of the Citizen’s Budget Commission, said fiscal watchdogs warned that banking on medallion sales was a risky proposition.
“Even if a court didn’t overthrow the plan, we couldn’t really be sure that they would sell the medallions as quickly as the amounts projected in the plan anticipated,” said Kellerman. “It’s a big loss.”
Among the reasons the court rejected the five borough plan legislation was that it found it violated the state’s home rule provision, which requires the state to ask the City Council to pass a home rule message on certain legislative items.
Since state lawmakers aren’t scheduled to be back in session until January, Quinn said there was little the Council could do on the home rule issue.
“The way the process works is when the state legislature requests a home rule from the City Council, we take action, we either pass one or we decline to do so,” Quinn said.
She said the Council can’t take any action without a request from the state legislature, along with a piece of pending state legislation. Whether or not to request a home rule message, according to Quinn, is a decision for the state legislature to make.
“That’s not a question, we in the City Council are empowered to ask and answer,” Quinn said.