State of City addresses property tax help

January 17, 2008 4:13:38 PM PST
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who's testing his nationwide bipartisan appeal, has outlined an agenda that draws from both sides of the aisle. It includes some tough new law enforcement measures, a major tax cut and expanded social services for the elderly and poor.The billionaire mayor, who has two years left in his second term, insists he is "not a candidate" for president, but associates say he has begun an intensive nationwide effort to poll and collect data on voters as part of a process to gauge his chances.

He is also traveling more outside New York City; on Friday he leaves on a trip to Texas and California. Aides have said that if he were to get into the race as a self-financed candidate, he would run as a centrist, nonpartisan alternative to the major party nominees.

In his address on Thursday, Bloomberg took veiled jabs at the declared presidential candidates, some of whom he has criticized in the past for being anti-immigrant.

At the start of his speech, he introduced several immigrant families who live in New York City and hail from Colombia, China, India and Italy, and said: "To those who are wailing against immigration, to those politicians who, all of a sudden, have embraced xenophobia, I say, 'Open your eyes. Take a look behind me. This is what makes America great."'

And in what appeared to be a direct shot at his predecessor, Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, Bloomberg described the city government he inherited when he took office in 2002 as "insular and provincial and married to the conventional."

A Giuliani spokeswoman declined to comment.

Bloomberg, who founded the financial information company Bloomberg LP, credits himself with bringing City Hall into the modern era, applying his passion for data-driven, high-tech solutions to government.

In his address, he highlighted some new technological advances he plans to implement. They include putting GPS devices on school buses for emergency monitoring and tracking, and creating an online database where New Yorkers can research how well the government is working, from fire response times to noise complaints.

Referring to the financial data system that he created in the 1980s, Bloomberg said he likes to think of the new city database "as a Bloomberg terminal for city government - except that it's free to the public."

He also announced that the city is challenging the private sector to create a portable device for NYPD officers to carry that will analyze DNA right at the crime scene. A monetary prize will go to whoever comes up with the technology, he said.

Among the law enforcement initiatives outlined by Bloomberg were two proposals that would have to be adopted by the state Legislature: a proposal to collect DNA from suspects upon arrest and another to make it easier to trace bullets used in crimes.

The DNA proposal has alarmed civil liberties advocates, who say it violates the assumption that a suspect is innocent until proven guilty. In New York state now, only convicted criminals must surrender DNA.

Under the gun proposal, gun manufacturers in New York state would have to make guns that "microstamp" each bullet cartridge whenever it is fired.

In the area of social services, Bloomberg announced a new effort to help New York City's senior citizens, called the All Ages Project.

Over the next 25 years, he said, 20 percent of New Yorkers will be over 65; today, the number is 12.5 percent.

The senior program, in collaboration with the New York Academy of Medicine, will address questions like how to make the city easier to navigate for the elderly.

The former businessman's agenda was notably short on expensive new programs. He acknowledged that this year will be difficult financially for the city, but said his administration acted early when there were clouds on the horizon.

"During the sunny days, we prepaid debt, saved for retirees' health care and budgeted responsibly," he said. Also last year he ordered a hiring freeze and spending cuts among city agencies.

Despite worrisome economic trends nationwide and in New York City, however, Bloomberg said there was enough room to continue a $1 billion property tax cut for New Yorkers another year.

Just because the tax cut will be included in Bloomberg's preliminary budget plan next week does not mean it is a certainty; any proposal must make it through negotiations with the City Council.

"The year ahead is not going to be easy," Bloomberg said, "but as I stand here, I'm more optimistic about our future than ever."