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City taxpayers may soon avoid footing the bill for public service announcements that look suspiciously like campaign ads.

Last summer, editorial boards decried a city-funded, $1.1 million series of advertisements for recycling programs and the MetroCard narrated by soon-to-be-reelected Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. City Council Speaker Peter Vallone–a candidate for Governor–has introduced a bill to ban city officials from “appearing…. in any television, radio, or printed advertisement…. on behalf of the City” after January 1 of an election year.

The council’s governmental operations committee may vote on the bill today. Advocates like the bill, but say it doesn’t have enough bite. The 12-line measure doesn’t mention penalties for offenders and doesn’t say who is responsible for enforcing the law. And while politicians would no longer be free to use ads for city programs to promote their campaigns, “ordinary communications”–like mass-mailed “reports to constituents”–would be fair game up to one month before election day. Said NYPIRG attorney Gene Russianoff, who supports strengthening the bill: “No judge is going to send the mayor to jail for shamelessly promoting himself.”

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