Quite a night!

Quite a night!

The wheels of government were busy turning last night, in Albany and at City Hall:

Marriage equality: a historic step forward
 
I’m deeply proud to be a New Yorker today.  Marriage equality means that so many of our friends will know that their state doesn’t view their love as inferior, that many of our kids’ friends will know that we don’t think there’s something inadequate about their LGBT parents, and that LGBT kids won’t grow up thinking there’s something to be ashamed of.
 
When Meg and I got married, 15 years ago last month, we wrote:
 
“We find something compelling about making our commitment to each other through a public declaration of marriage.  The work we intend to do to build a life together is serious enough to us to rate a contract …  For lesbians and gay men, the fact that they cannot claim these same privileges demonstrates that prejudice and homophobia have the force of law in the United States … Until that changes, we pledge to keep working hard for tolerance and respect for diversity -- our family’s values.”
 
Congratulations to so many people who have worked for so many years to make this happen, starting at Stonewall 42 years ago this week, and especially over the last couple of years in New York State.  And thanks to the 29 Democrats and 4 Republicans in the New York State Senate who had the courage to vote “yes” last night. 
 
We’re looking forward to a lot of great weddings.
 
New York City budget agreement
 
At about the same time, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (one of the leading champions of the marriage equality effort, and who also deserves a lot of credit for fighting the teacher layoffs and reaching this budget deal), City Council Finance Chairman Domenic Recchia, and Mayor Bloomberg announced an agreement on the New York City budget for the coming year.  The agreement includes some very good news:
  • No teacher layoffs, thanks to an agreement between the Council, the City, and the UFT
  • No fire company closures (so Park Slope’s bravest, at Engine 220 on 11th Street, will continue to keep our families safe)
  • Substantial restorations to child care
  • Neighborhood libraries will continue to offer 5-day-a-week service
There will still be many painful cuts – including thousands of after-school and child care slots, summer youth jobs, CUNY scholarships, and other important programs. 
While some cuts were necessary, many more could have been avoided if Mayor Bloomberg had been willing to accept an approach of “shared sacrifice” for tough times.  The City’s labor unions had offered $265 million from a fund under their control, in order to help save essential services.  I believe the mayor rejected the offer mostly in order to look tough on unions.  Meanwhile, the mayor continues to insist that we should give a tax break to millionaires and billionaires starting January 1, 2012, which will cost New York billions of dollars.
 
On balance, I believe the budget agreement is a good one, and avoids the pitfalls of austerity.  But we still have a long way to go, if we aspire to a thriving New York City with opportunity for all.
 
Thanks to everyone who came out to the rallies and signed petitions in support of our public schools, our firehouses, and a fairer approach to balancing the City’s budget.  It really did make a difference.
 
New York’s Rent Laws
 
Unfortunately, the news from Albany on rent regulations that protect over 1 million NYC households is not so good.  While the State Legislature did renew the laws, they failed to close the vast majority of the loopholes that have caused our city to lose hundreds of thousands of affordable rental units in recent years.
 
The “vacancy decontrol” threshold was raised from $2,000 to $2,500 – but that does not come close to keeping up with inflation, and it is not indexed for the future, so we will continue to lost thousands of units to decontrol every year.  Nothing was done about the MCI, vacancy bonus, or Mitchell-Lama loopholes.  While a change was made that will only allow landlords to raise rents on individual apartment increases by 1/60th of the cost each month (down from the current 1/40th) … the change only applies to buildings over 35 units, so it will make very little difference in Brooklyn.  And the rules for better documentation and enforcement are still up to the State’s housing agency, which has done little about rampant cheating for the past decade.
 
Meanwhile, developers were given an additional $150 million in tax breaks through a change to the 421-a program that will give them an extra 3-years of tax exemption for stalled projects, even if those developments include no affordable housing.  I'm pleased that 4 Republican state senators had the courage to make marriage equality a reality ... but the cost of Republican control of the State Senate was a big loss for affordable housing. 
 
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For today, let’s celebrate the victory on marriage equality, one of the biggest steps forward for civil rights in our lifetime.  
 
For tomorrow, let’s keep working to build on that spirit of equality, diversity, and compassion ... something we need in so many more places.