The cuts are painful and deep. They’ve sparked angry accusations between city and state officials, a flurry of press releases from stakeholders and commentators of all stripes and what appears to be a never-ending stream of rallies organized by those who oppose them.
And the worse news is that the fiscal year 2011 budget reductions proposed this week by Mayor Mike Bloomberg barely scratch the surface in tackling the city’s estimated $5 billion estimate. That’s because forcing teacher layoffs, the closure of libraries and senior centers, reductions in fine arts programming and the like can save millions, but don’t address the much larger costs of healthcare and pension benefits for public employees.
The problem is that for years elected officials rode the good times, building up the city workforce to unsustainable levels. Even under Bloomberg, whose greatest asset is his money-managing skills, pension costs alone went from $1.4 billion to nearly $7 billion. Healthcare costs have also exploded, rising faster even than they have in the private sector. Now that times are not so good, sharp cuts in the workforce rather than gradual reductions are needed. Otherwise no one in his right mind would seek to lay off 6,400 teachers.
Of course no one wants to accept measures like that, or the possible closure of 20 fire companies, or libraries that go from being open five days a week to being open zero days. But the alternatives would be worse — an outside control board governing city finances, as in the 1970s, and the eventual enactment of even sharper reductions. Not to mention the chaos they would cause, as efforts to curtail public debt have in Greece. We’re not as far from that situation as most people would like to think.
City Council members are more than welcome to come up with alternative savings as negotiations progress. Just stomping their feet and yelling “No more cuts! Tax the rich!” will help no one, however. That would drive more job creators out of the city.
The people re-elected Bloomberg to make the hard financial choices. He’s made some, and we should be prepared for much more to come.
Back Gianaris’ reform bill
All Queens members of the state Legislature should support a bill now on the table that would finally reform how lawmakers’ districts are drawn up.
Introduced by Astoria Assemblyman Mike Gianaris in the lower house and by Syracuse Sen. David Valesky, the measure is designed to remove politics from the process of redistricting, also known as apportionment, that takes place after every Census.
Historically the Legislature has drawn its own new districts, often engaging in gerrymandering to protect incumbents. It’s high time that dubious practice ended, and while the Gianaris-Valesky bill cannot guarantee an end to political influence in the process, it would go a long way toward reducing it.
First, it would establish a commission to do the reapportioning, removing the task from direct political control. Second, it would tighten the criteria for drawing districts by requiring, for example, less deviation between the number of people represented in different districts, which now can be as high as 10 percent.
There’s certainly no magic bullet that will solve all of Albany’s corrupt practices, but this measure would be a significant step forward. We’re proud one of its prime authors is from Queens, and urge all his colleagues here to vote for it.