NEW YORK — It's a full-court press.
City and state politicians rallied on the steps of City Hall Tuesday morning to drum up support for a measure that would eliminate a decades-old, multimillion-dollar tax break for The Madison Square Garden Company, which owns "The World's Most Famous Arena," as well as the Knicks and Rangers.
The company, led by executive chairman James Dolan, has been given as much as $16 million a year in tax breaks since 1982, according to the city's Independent Budget Office — or nearly $350 million over the past 31 years, politicians who oppose the tax break said.
Assemblymen David Weprin and Brian Kavanagh and State Senator James Sanders have said that the money should instead go toward cash-strapped city services. In April, they introduced bills in both houses of the State Legislature that would erase the tax exemption.
On Tuesday, they announced that the bills have gained more than 40 co-sponsors, as well as support from City Council members across New York, including incoming Councilman Corey Johnson, whose district includes Madison Square Garden.
There is "no possible justification at this point, with needed revenue for New York," Weprin said at Tuesday's press conference, speaking in front of about 20 labor union members. "We've lost police, lost firefighters. There's talk of closing firehouses, senior centers."
Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams added, "They can't even make good Knicks trades. It's appalling."
The tax break was first implemented by Mayor Ed Koch when the Knicks and Rangers were each threatening to leave New York City. Koch later said he thought the exemption would expire after a decade.
"I went to bed at night believing it was a 10-year abatement," he told The New York Times in 2002.
In 2008, the City Council passed a resolution calling on the governor and state lawmakers to repeal the tax break, to no avail. This spring, after Weprin, Kavanagh and Sanders introduced their bills in the legislature, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver each said they opposed eliminating the exemption.
“I haven’t heard any argument that’s convincing for eliminating that,” Cuomo told the New York Daily News in April, a story that also noted that Silver had called the idea "troubling."
Neither Silver nor Cuomo immediately returned requests for comment Tuesday.
The Madison Square Garden Company, reissuing an earlier statement from April, pointed to its recent renovations to the arena, which it claims "is the only venue in the city that has used its own money, nearly $1 billion, to build a brand new arena inside an existing building."
"All other teams, including the Yankees, Nets and Mets, have received, and continue to receive, significant public subsidies, including property tax exemptions, that are estimated to total more than $2.3 billion," the company said.
If the bill does move forward, it would be the second major setback for The Madison Square Garden Company in less than a year.
This July, after the arena's operating permit expired, the City Council voted to extend it with a 10-year expiration date over the objections of MSG, which had sought a permit lasting "in perpetuity."
The Council, voting 47-1, asserted that the limit will help force the arena to relocate and make way for an expansion of Penn Station, one of the busiest and most overcrowded rail hubs in the country.
The lone "no" vote came from Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron. On Tuesday, he tied his decision to the arena's tax breaks.
"Some people were asking me why did I vote against that. I say they should get 10 days until they pay their taxes," he said. "They owe this city, they owe us."