Jumaane Williams’ tax ploy is day late — but may leave city $1.7B short

Public advocate’s threat to halt bills comes after they were sent

TRD New York /
Jun.June 30, 2020 05:47 PM
Jumaane Williams (Getty)

Jumaane Williams (Getty)

Jumaane Williams is trying to do what no public advocate has done before: govern.

Hours before the City Council was scheduled to approve the city budget, the firebrand politician threatened to derail the city’s property tax billing unless police hiring were frozen, Politico reported.

Two problems: The tax bills had already been sent, and Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson had already agreed to cancel the next class of NYPD cadets.

It might also turn out that the public advocate — a largely ceremonial official, albeit first in line behind the mayor — cannot withhold authorization for the city to issue property-tax warrants, which are the invoices that bring in one-third of the city’s revenue.

Under the City Charter, the public advocate signs tax warrants, as Williams discovered while jockeying for position in the city’s budget negotiations, which concluded Monday night.

“The time to have done this would have been in early June,” said Martha Stark, a former city finance commissioner. “The tax bills have already been sent using last year’s tax rates.”

Stark noted, however, that the new city budget to be approved Tuesday evening by the City Council raises the property tax levy by about $1.7 billion, or 7 percent. The Department of Finance will have to bill property owners later this year for that money. If the public advocate refused to sign those warrants, those invoices might go unsent.

“It will go to court,” said Stark, now a clinical professor at NYU Wagner.

Stark is in court over property taxes herself, as part of a coalition arguing the assessment system is unconstitutional. The group, backed by the real estate industry, is appealing the dismissal of its case by the Appellate Division.

Williams did not return an inquiry Tuesday about whether he is satisfied with the budget’s cancellation of the next class of 1,163 police cadets. The 36,000-officer department has historically had the real estate industry’s full-throated support.


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