Shelly Silver's Dream World

Opinion May 8, 1997 New York Post

So it has come to this: In order to preserve New York City's present rent laws, state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is prepared to put landlords on welfare.

The Manhattan Democrat doesn't put it quite that way, of course. He proposes offering city landlords a package of property-tax rebates, low-interest loans and outright tax cuts to compensate them for the hardships implicit in continuation of the present rent laws -- now due to expire in five short weeks.

It may prove significant that Silver is softening the Democrats' no-concession-whatsoever posture. What's unhelpful, however, is that the speaker's tentative "compromise" amounts to nonsense on stilts.

After all, state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Rensselaer) opposes the current rent-regulation system -- and is prepared to let it expire in toto on June 15 -- precisely because of its corrosive effect on the combined city-state economy. The notion that Bruno will agree to tax increases -- which is what Silver's proposal ultimately would require -- to preserve the status quo is just bizarre.

Silver, moreover, has an equally problematic stick to go along with his weird carrot: He says he'll deep-six Gov. Pataki's proposed property-tax relief if the city's rent laws are allowed to expire.

Silver has the power to kill Pataki's program, that's for sure. But just how New York City would benefit from his doing so -- or how this would serve the speaker politically -- is murky.

Not to delve too deeply into detail, the city stands to gain some $900 million from the Pataki program -- at least $215 million in tax relief for homeowners and $680 million in enhanced school aid. How does Silver propose to make that good?

He doesn't.

True, the bulk of actual tax relief in Pataki's proposal is earmarked for upstate and suburban counties, in proportion to current property-tax bills (though the school-aid component in the plan disproportionately favors the city), and thus is popular with Republicans.

The strategic flaw in Silver's threat, however, is that 37 of his 96 Assembly Democrats are themselves suburbanites or upstaters -- including Majority Leader Michael Bragman of Syracuse. They can't reasonably be expected to reject out of hand Pataki's tax-relief plan.

Indeed, Silver could well damage -- if not fracture outright -- his conference just when a united front is needed to effect an orderly phase-out of rent regulations.

Make no mistake: Bruno remains committed to their eventual elimination. And while the Republican leader has repeatedly made clear his readiness to negotiate timing and other details, it could be dangerous to try to stonewall him.

Silver's attempt to buy off a favorite scapegoat of the left -- landlords -- is a bit surprising. On the other hand, the proposal does endorse the standard liberal philosophy of spending other folks' money. In any event, it won't fly in the Senate and thus it's not a constructive proposal at this late stage of the game.

Time is running out. Sheldon Silver must get serious.

Copyright ©1997, N.Y.P. Holdings Inc.