By Sabina Mollot
On Monday, Manhattan politicians and small business advocates gathered on the steps of City Hall to push the Commercial Rent Tax reform bill sponsored by Council Members Dan Garodnick and Helen Rosenthal.
This was the third public announcement in recent months about the bill, which so far the mayor hasn’t committed to supporting.
Garodnick said at this point, the Council has had a hearing on the CRT bill and although there’s been no vote yet, 38 of his colleagues have signed on as co-sponsors. Asked why there hasn’t been a vote, Garodnick said Council members usually first want to know if the mayor “will support it rather than veto it.”
Rosenthal later said, “We are optimistic that he will embrace it.”
The bill would raise the threshold that Manhattan retailers who pay the tax are paying in rent from $250,000 to $500,000 a year. Business owners located in the borough north of Chambers Street and south of 96th are currently made to pay the tax if they pay more than $250,000 in rent and the threshold hasn’t been changed since 2001.
Garodnick said it’s typical for Council members to have to fight for bills that impact the city’s bottom line. However, he’s argued that the reform would help 40 percent of the businesses paying the tax or roughly 3,400 businesses while only reducing the amount of revenue the city collects from the tax by six percent, or $52 million.
On average, Garodnick said the tax amounts to half of a store’s rent for one month, and at City Hall, he noted the mayor hadn’t included the reform in his executive budget.
“We’re urging Mayor de Blasio to give relief to small businesses in our borough and reform the Commercial Rent Tax this year,” the Council member said. “If you happen to be on 98th Street you don’t have to pay this tax but if you’re on 95th Street you do. Mayor, you cannot, must not forget about our city’s small businesses.”
Other elected officials also blasted the inequity of the tax for only applying to one part of one borough and spoke about how in their districts, mom-and-pops are suffering because of it.
“They could use that money to pay workers more or advertise,” said Council Member Margaret Chin. “This is about fairness.”
Town & Village reached out to the mayor’s office, but a spokesperson, Freddi Goldstein, skirted the question of hizzoner’s thoughts on the bill, only discussing relief for small businesses in general terms.
“We’re committed to helping small businesses thrive and continue to look for ways that we can help,” Goldstein said. “This administration has a strong track record of helping small business, including the reduction of fees and fines, expanding free legal consultation programs, and providing marketing support through our new initiative, ‘Love Your Local.’ We will continue evaluating this need in the course of the budget process.”
The bill has gotten plenty of support from other politicians, though. This week’s press conference came on the heels of 25 elected officials signing onto a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, urging him to support the CRT bill. Those signing included Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Tish James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council, State Senate, Assembly and Congress members who represent the part of Manhattan where business owners are getting socked with the tax.
“The New York City we all know and love is disappearing before our very eyes,” the letter, dated Monday, May 22, said. The letter also went on to say that as rents have risen “dramatically” in the past 16 years, hundreds of small businesses became forced to pay the tax.
“These businesses were not intended to be subject to this tax, and for many of them, this tax can be crippling. A small store paying $360,000 in rent owes $14,000 just from the CRT alone — a cost that can make the difference between staying open or shutting the doors.”