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Queens Chronicle

Outer Borough taxi appeal on fast track

State’s high court to hear case, but likely not before city budget cuts

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Posted: Thursday, January 3, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:35 am, Thu Jan 10, 2013.

The state’s highest court has agreed to fast-track the city’s appeal of a ruling that stopped Mayor Bloomberg’s Outer Borough Taxi plan in its tracks.

But it will be up to the mayor and City Council to sort out just how to address the $635 million hole the lawsuit left in this year’s city budget.

The state Court of Appeals agreed last week to determine whether the administration and the Taxi and Limousine Commission violated the city’s “home rule” regulations when the mayor went to the state Legislature and Gov. Cuomo rather than the City Council to approve a plan allowing special livery cabs to take street hails in places underserved by yellow medallion taxis.

But any ruling is expected to come too late for the city to recoup the millions Bloomberg has ordered cut from the current budget, money that was going to come from the sale of 2,000 handicapped-accessible yellow cab medallions that were part of the bill.

The mayor and Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) agreed to include the $635 million in the budget though both knew that taxi owners were in court trying to stop the Outer Borough plan.

The main objection is the provision for the sale of 18,000 permits that would allow livery cars to accept street hails in northern Manhattan and the outer boroughs with the exception of LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International airports.

Currently, only yellow cabs are allowed to accept street hails anywhere in the city. Livery cars may pick up customers only through appointments or a dispatch system.

On Aug. 17, 2012, the medallion taxi owners won.

Bloomberg was accused of doing an end run around the Council to Albany after Quinn declined to put the taxi proposal up for a vote.

The lower court in August ruled in favor of the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, which argued that the state has considered taxi regulations to be a local or municipal issue for about a century.

The Board of Trade represents 37 taxi fleets that operate about 5,200 cabs in the city.

Both the city and the taxi owners said last Thursday that they were pleased to avoid the lower appellate process and get straight to the Court of Appeals. Published reports say arguments could come in April or May.

“We are very pleased that this important case can move forward far more quickly, since the Court of Appeals has agreed to decide the case without the need of the Appellate Division to review the matter,” said Michael Cardozo, the city’s corporation counsel, in a statement issued by City Hall.

“We remain confident that the state law authorizing this landmark case will be upheld on appeal,” he added.

“It may be the one issue in this entire case that both sides agreed on,” said Michael Woloz, a spokesman for the MTBOT. “We both agreed that this would wind up in the Court of Appeals anyway. We want to get there because number one, we think we’ll prevail.”

TLC Chairman David Yassky called the decision “good news for all New Yorkers.”

On Sept. 14, Bloomberg responded to the loss of the $635 million — less than 1 percent of the $69 billion budget for the fiscal year ending on June 30 — by ordering most departments to cut their current expenditures by up to 5.4 percent the remainder of this year and up to 8 percent for the fiscal year beginning on July 1.

The police, fire, sanitation and correction departments were ordered to cut their costs by 2.7 percent and 4 percent, respectively, while the Department of Education was directed to cut 1.6 percent this year and 4 percent next.

Bloomberg’s cuts will remain in force unless the Council puts up an alternate plan.

A number of Council members, including Quinn, have criticized the mayor’s cuts, but to date have not offered any publicized counterproposals of their own.

“We are monitoring the lawsuit very closely and it obviously remains a concern for the fiscal year 2014 budget,” said Quinn spokesman Justin Goodman in a statement issued Dec. 27. “We will have to see how talks and the lawsuit evolve in the spring and act accordingly.”

Goodman said Quinn stands ready to consider a home rule message if asked in the future. He also said the speaker understands the need for midyear budget cuts, but is concerned about Bloomberg’s specific choices.

“...[I]ncluding how they would impact school lunch fees, some of the very large increases at municipal parking garages, cuts to mental health and HIV/AIDS services, and to the library system,” Goodman said.

Options available to Quinn could include retroactive tax and fee increases, borrowing, or creating her own list of cuts that she feels would be less disruptive than Bloomberg’s.

With absolute control over the Council’s agenda and a 47-4 Democratic majority, Quinn could likely pass any or a combination of alternatives she prefers and have far more votes than needed to override a mayoral veto.

A possible complication is that while Bloomberg is term-limited out of office next year, Quinn is considered an all-but-declared candidate for mayor herself, and might not want the political liability associated with having her fingerprints on tax increases or cuts in services.

While Quinn could practically at will put the present or altered version of the Outer Borough Taxi plan up for a vote in the Council, she, along with Public Advocate and Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, has been a recipient of sizeable campaign contributions from the medallion taxi industry.

Bloomberg’s office did not respond to inquiries as to whether or not the Council has made counteroffers.

Kevin Ryan, a spokesman for Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), said Halloran has long been a critic of city budgeting procedures, such as allocating money that is the subject of a lawsuit.

Ryan said Halloran is pleased that the Court of Appeals has taken the case, if for no other reason than it could prove useful in deciding future separation-of-powers issues between the city and state.

Ryan did not offer specific alternatives to Bloomberg’s ordered reductions.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) expressed great concern about the potential damage of such cuts in an interview with the Queens Chronicle back in September. He could not be reached for comment for this story. Nor could Deputy Council Majority Leader Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) or Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). No one at the district or legislative offices of Council Finance Chairman Domenic Recchia Jr. (D-Brooklyn) answered phone calls last Thursday.

Woloz said at no time has his organization objected to the sale of medallions for 2,000 handicapped-accessible yellow cabs.

“We’ve always supported a medallion sale,” he said, adding that it would provide more service, stability for the taxi industry and revenue for the city.

“In the past, it’s always been a very simple procedure,” he said. “The mistake, as far as we’re concerned, was pairing the sale with the livery car issue.”

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