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De Blasio Defends His Stalled Millionaire Subway Tax In Final Primary Debate

Mayor Bill de Blasio continued to defend his tax-the-wealthiest proposal for subway funding Thursday night, during his second and final debate with long-shot mayoral contender Sal Albanese ahead of next week's primary.

In one of the more heated exchanges of the night, de Blasio insisted that his plan is the most viable option for long-term transit funding, while conceding that it faces steep opposition under the Republican-led State Senate (majority leader John Flanagan has rejected the proposal outright).

"There is a [state] election next year that is going to determine the future," de Blasio said. "[They will be] taking office in January 2019, which is very, very soon."

His so-called "fair fix" proposal would ultimately bring in approximately $820 million annually, according to City Hall, through a 0.5 percent increase in income tax on individuals who make over $500,000 and married couples who make more than $1 million.

The next state elections come in 2018; elected officials won't take office until the following January. As Crain's points out, that's sixteen months out as the subways continue to crumble. Such a law—currently backed by Democratic Senator Michael Gianaris—likely wouldn't go into effect until 2020.

De Blasio went on to criticize an alternative proposal for subway funding, recently endorsed in broad strokes by Governor Andrew Cuomo. Congestion pricing, a tax on Manhattan drivers, would ideally reduce traffic on the most clogged NYC streets while raising funds for the ailing public transit system.

"I've never supported congestion pricing," de Blasio said. "I think it's a regressive tax and we haven't even seen a plan from Albany that will pass."

Albanese, meanwhile, endorsed the Move New York plan. Developed in 2010 and finessed since, Move NY would lower tolls on the Verrazano, Kennedy, Throgs Neck and Whitestone Bridges while imposing new tolls on the four East River bridges, as well as any vehicle entering or exiting Manhattan south of 60th Street. Taxis and other for-hire vehicles like Lyft and Uber would also pay a surcharge pegged to the amount of time spent in Manhattan's hyper-congested central business district.

"I support congestion pricing because it's irresponsible not to do that," Albanese said. "The traffic situation is out of control."

The candidates went on to spar about affordable housing, policing, and Christopher Columbus.

On homelessness and affordable housing: In a particularly strong denouncement, Albanese pledged to entirely scrap Mayor de Blasio's affordable housing plan, which hinges on neighborhood-level rezonings and mandatory minimums for below-market-rate units in new developments. In de Blasio's words Thursday, "We have for the first time ever required developers to make affordable housing when they ask the city permission to develop. We are going to have affordable housing built and it's going to be paid for by developers."

"I'm going to basically abandon and scrap all of the Mayor's zoning proposals because they have contributed to displacement," Albanese pledged. "His proposal calls for building luxury towers in many neighborhoods around the city with a sliver of affordable housing."

As an alternative, Albanese proposed to "tax foreign investors who buy luxury housing in this city and funnel that money into affordable housing."

On Columbus Circle's contentious namesake statue: Mayor de Blasio pledged to form a working group last month to review any potential "symbols of hate" in New York City, after white supremacists rallied around a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia. But he declined to take a position Thursday on the Columbus statue, which has been criticized for Columbus's legacy as a colonizer responsible for the prolonged oppression and killing of Native Americans. "I don't think it makes sense for me to opine, issue by issue," he said, adding that he's a "proud Italian American."

"I don't need a commission to tell you the Christopher Columbus statue should not come down," said Albanese, who is also Italian American. "Lets have a discussion at the circle, put up plaques about his good and bad past."

On Marijuana:New data from the Legal Aid Society shows that the NYPD is still making thousands of low-level marijuana arrests annually, with enforcement centered on minority communities. De Blasio insisted Thursday that the current policy is working, and that he has no plans to decriminalize marijuana in NYC, though "we are going to learn from other states" currently doing so.

"I have a very firm opinion that we need to legalize marijuana," Albanese said, clarifying that he would not decriminalize street sale but would support sale for recreational use through licensed vendors. Tax revenue from these businesses could go towards public school funding, he added.

The candidates were also asked bluntly if they smoke weed. "Was that a present or past-tense question?" de Blasio asked, teasingly. "Currently? No. Once or twice while I was at NYU? Yes."

"Some days I wish I did," he added.

"I hope you don't think I'm a square, but I've never smoked marijuana," Albanese said, adding, "I just couldn't ingest smoke into my lungs."

The New York City primary is Tuesday, September 12th.

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