In a move that anticipates a major bailout program for the city's struggling taxi industry, a group of state Congressional officials led by Congressman Gregory W. Meeks plan to introduce a federal bill that will allow taxi owners who accept debt relief to exclude that money from taxable income.
Meeks made the announcement during a press conference at City Hall on Friday, where he was flanked by Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney and Nydia Velasquez. Under federal tax rules, debt forgiveness can be taxed, meaning that any potential bailout plan would incur tax costs on recipients. Thousands of taxi drivers are believed to be carrying huge loans after the city knowingly sold them medallions at inflated prices.
"The city must step up to the plate and do the right thing," he said.
Referring to his own bill, he added: "We won’t wait to do the right thing."
At the height of the bubble in 2014, the price of a taxi medallion in New York City rose to more than $1 million. They are now estimated as being worth between $150,000 and $200,000. Pressure has been mounting on the city to provide financial aid for the drivers, most of whom are immigrants. At a public hearing before the City Council last June, taxi drivers testified to the financial and personal devastation the crisis has wrought on their lives.
“Every single day, […] every time I go on the streets, I think about taking my life,” said Mohamadou Aliyu, a medallion owner from the Ivory Coast.
Several U.S. elected officials, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have criticized the city for enabling predatory lending practices that sank many drivers into debt.
The New York Times, which broke the story of the financial scandal last year, reported on Thursday that a City Council-led task force was preparing to submit a bailout recommendation of up to $500 million. The plan would involve the city creating a public-private partnership entity that would buy back the loans at discounted prices and then arrange debt-forgiveness and low-interest repayment plans, according to the paper.
Reached for comment, a spokesperson for Ydanis Rodriguez, the City Councilmember who co-chairs the 19-member task force, declined to confirm the Times story. Rodriguez, however, has been among several elected officials that have publicly called for a bailout.
The panel's report is set to be issued at the end of the month.
On Friday, Bhairavi Desai, president of the National Taxi Workers Alliance, which first proposed establishing a debt-relief program, issued a statement praising the news that City Council appears to be heading toward such a plan.
"This is New York City, the wealthiest city in the world and home to mission-driven investors," Desai said. "In a city paved by taxi drivers' labor, we know this work can get done. Together, we will set a precedent to address the working-class debt that has become endemic to our economy."