A Fair Share for New York City

Guest Commentary

Volume CIII, No. 5May, 2003

Gifford Miller, Speaker, New York City Council

New Yorkers have a reputation throughout the world for being gutsy, creative, tough and brave. And we’ve had to draw on just those qualities in the last year to cope with one of the worst crises in our long history.

Make no mistake – New York City will recover from the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001 and we will get our economy moving again. In order to realize this goal, however, we need to radically reform our city’s relationship with the state and federal governments.

Simply put: we need to get our fair share.

Just last year, New York City sent Washington D.C. $6.3 billion more than we got back and we sent Albany $3.5 billion more than we got back.

This structural imbalance of both responsibilities and payments has developed over the course of decades and fuels a perpetual cycle of crisis. In boom times, it makes us less competitive. In difficult times, it is crippling. At all times, it costs our city jobs and growth.

For far too long, New Yorkers have paid more than their fair share, received less than their fair share, and the result is that we are forced to compete with both hands tied behind our back. It’s been going on too long, it’s wrong and it’s time we put an end to it.

That’s why the City Council has started a new campaign called Fair Share.

Let’s start with Washington. Did you know that last year the federal government gave $832 million in farm support to the state of Arkansas without asking it to contribute a penny of its own?

It’s a pretty sweet deal when you consider that, here in New York City, we have to pay $4 billion every year in matching funds for Medicaid. That’s money that could be used to keep teachers in the classroom, cops on the beat and fire fighters on duty. Other cities don’t have this burden and it undermines our competitiveness.

We need to restore some sense of fairness and balance. And we can do this by rallying together in support of the Council’s Fair Share agenda for Washington, which includes:

  • Removing the cap on the Community Disaster Loan program. This would allow New York City to get the full amount of disaster relief aid, just as cities struck by hurricanes and tornadoes were once entitled to.
  • Getting full funding for public safety needs relating to anti-terrorist activity. The current NYPD budget includes $110 million to combat terrorism and protect foreign dignitaries – something Washington should pay for.
  • Ending unfunded mandates. The federal government needs to pick up the cost of Medicaid and other mandates and stop heaping a disproportionate share of the weight on the backs of local governments.
  • Creating real revenue sharing. A federal revenue sharing program would allow cities like New York and others to balance their budgets and lower property taxes.

We can and we must change policy in Washington, but it doesn’t stop there.

We will also be taking Fair Share to Albany, where we will fight for a number of goals, perhaps the most important among them being a reinstated commuter tax. Twenty cities currently have some form of commuter tax – including Yonkers. The state imposes its own commuter tax. Why should we be treated differently?

It’s time for Albany to change its ways – and it’s time for New Yorkers to make that change a reality by becoming foot soldiers in the fight for equity and fairness. Anyone interested in joining this fight should log on to There you will find information about letter writing campaigns, bus trips and rallies.

Only when we get our fair share will our city be as productive and competitive as the talents of our citizens allow. Only when we get our fair share will our schools truly meet the needs of all our children. Only when we get our fair share will our police officers and firefighters have all of the resources they need to keep crime low and protect our families from harm.

I know we will prevail. And when we have succeeded, we will look back and say to ourselves and our children that we helped the greatest city on earth meet its greatest challenge.