We’d like to ask the mayor and City Council to stop torturing the people of New York. That’s what they do every year in the annual budget kabuki dance.
Here’s the routine: The mayor, correctly, points out that the city is in deep fiscal trouble and says cuts will have to be made to keep the budget balanced. Then he proposes closing 20 fire companies, and the people go ballistic. And he proposes cutting the library budget drastically, and the people go ballistic. And he proposes cutting some other service — this year it was child-care and after-school programs — and the people go ballistic.
Rallies are held just about every day protesting one or the other of the reductions. Public safety is cited. The future of our children is cited. The need to teach English to new immigrants is cited.
Last year it was the fire companies that took center stage, as Council members and residents protested their planned closures.
This year it was the libraries and children’s programs that were the focus of most of the rallies. Young people across the borough would be left without anywhere to go or anything productive to do after school. Library branches would close, none of those that remained would be open on weekends, and hundreds of library workers would lose their jobs.
The fire company closures didn’t get quite as much attention this year as in others, but when they did, the idea was the same: People would die if a single one was shut because response times would increase.
For weeks on end, ever since the budget was proposed, the people fretted. They deployed their children to protest. They wrote letters to the editor. They wrote to their Council representatives, who then issued press releases full of dire predictions and touting the absolute need to maintain or expand all city programs. Each Queens member has his or her own top area of concern.
The whole show was great for community newspapers like the Queens Chronicle. We were never short of events to write about — though other stories of interest went uncovered as we scrambled to hit every rally and interview every potentially impacted group. Rallies always make for good photos, and many ended up on the front pages.
And then what happened? As it does every year, the money was found somewhere and the cuts were restored. The Council members boasted of their success in preventing the worst. And we got to take a breather before the next time we’ll do it all again.
What’s the point? Can’t we just focus on the expenditures that are really putting the city in dire straits, like public pension and healthcare costs, and stop this nonsense of cuts that never happen?