The last budget dance of the Bloomberg administration is over, and we could hardly be happier. The annual charade is so tiring and doesn’t leave the city better off after all the sound and fury unleashed every spring.
There was the mayor, as always, proposing to cut $29.6 million from the Queens Library, along with more than $70 million more from the city’s other library systems. There were the politicians, as always, joining library officials for rallies detailing the damage the cuts would do — this time 36 of the 62 Queens libraries would be forced to close, and hundreds of jobs would be lost. There were the children, some of them perhaps genuinely aware of what slashing library spending would do to their communities, others doubtlessly just used as props at the rallies by their cynical elders.
And there, as always, were the heroes of the City Council riding to the rescue at the last minute, miraculously finding the $106 million the mayor wanted to cut from the libraries somewhere in the budget. We’re glad they did, because the Queens Library and the city’s other library systems do provide vital services that we support. But seeing year after year after year of the same script, it’s hard not to believe this is all a show put on for the players’ political benefit.
Meanwhile the city’s real fiscal problem —the pension and healthcare benefits for public workers and retirees, which are quickly approaching $10 billion, remain all but unaddressed. At over $8 billion now, the city’s obligations for these benefits, all agreed upon in prior contracts, is more than 80 times as much as the cut to libraries the mayor proposed.
And the next mayor has to conduct new collective bargaining with every single union the city has. All of their contracts are overdue. That’s a huge challenge.
The Republican candidates for mayor, especially former Deputy Mayor Joe Lhota, say they’ll get the unions to begin contributing to their healthcare costs, a good start if they mean it. So does Democratic hopeful Anthony Weiner. The other major Democrats are more inclined to give the unions retroactive pay than ask for concessions. All the candidates should say how they’ll keep these costs from bankrupting us.