It’s becoming clearer by the day that Mayor Michael Bloomberg cannot (and should not) balance the city’s perilous finances only with service cuts and supposedly painless efficiencies. He has to find reasonable tax increases to close a budget gap that approaches $6 billion.
As luck would have it, there’s an extremely reasonable tax hike that is just waiting for the Mayor’s attention: a restoration of the city’s commuter tax. The city can’t reimpose the tax unilaterally-that would be up to the State Legislature and Governor George Pataki-but it’s hard to believe they would turn down a Mayoral request.
It would be a mistake, however, simply to return to the old formula of taxing commuters’ earnings at 0.45 percent. That percentage is far too low, considering how much time commuters spend in the city under the protection of New York’s police, fire and emergency medical services. A restored commuter tax should be pegged at 1 percent-and even that, most commuters would have to agree, is a tax-deductible bargain.
Several years ago, before the hacks in Albany repealed the commuter tax in an idiotic game of political chicken, the 0.45 percent tax was bringing $400 million into the city. A commuter tax of 1 percent would bring in close to $1 billion, a significant inroad on City Hall’s budget gap.
Mr. Bloomberg no doubt would be leery of asking his friend the Governor to support the measure, because Mr. Pataki is facing a tough re-election fight and would rather not take a political hit in the suburbs. And one of the Governor’s Democratic challengers, Andrew Cuomo, has become an improbable champion of tax cuts. Mr. Pataki doesn’t want to cede the tax issue to Mr. Cuomo. But surely the Governor could take the high road and shame Mr. Cuomo-or any other critic-into silent complicity. The city is not suffering through just another economic bust. New York has been attacked as no American city has been since the Civil War, and is now attempting to rebuild after an act of war. These are not ordinary times, and it is in the state’s interest that the city’s finances be restored as quickly as possible.
Asking commuters to contribute 1 percent of their income to the city that employs them, to the city that protects them, to the city that provides them with inspiration and aspiration, is entirely reasonable. And if they don’t like it, then can always commute to New Haven or Philadelphia.
Bush Bashes Nature
George Bush’s assault on the country’s environment has reached a new level of absurdity, with a report by his administration’s own Environmental Protection Agency which admits that human behavior has an impact on global warming. What’s absurd is that even as his administration released the report, the President refused to adjust his policies to address the E.P.A.’s troubling predictions. Apparently the opinion of scientists within his own administration is not enough to convince Mr. Bush that his environmental stance is out of touch with reality.
Prior to the new E.P.A. study, the Bush administration held that there was not enough scientific evidence to prove that emissions from oil refineries, power plants and automobiles caused global warming. This put the U.S. in opposition to the 15 European nations that signed the Kyoto treaty, which aims to reduce global emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The E.P.A. report would seem to put the U.S. on the side of the countries that endorsed Kyoto: “Greenhouse gases are accumulating in the Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing global mean surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise,” the report reads. Indeed, the E.P.A. predicts that between 2000 and 2020, U.S. emissions will increase by 43 percent, and that within this century, the average temperature in the U.S. will rise 5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit. Coastal barrier islands and meadows in the Rocky Mountains will likely disappear, according to the E.P.A., and forests in the Southeast may see “major species shifts.” Droughts will hit California and the Pacific Northwest. Sea levels are expected to rise 19 inches-which means you may need a gondola to get around Wall Street. And if you own coastal property, call your insurance broker.
Yet even with the above scenarios predicted by his own administration, Mr. Bush intends to do … nothing. He will rely on oil companies and power-plant owners to adopt “voluntary” measures. His own contempt for global-warming research was recently on display when, bowing to pressure from oil companies like ExxonMobil, he nixed the renomination of Dr. Robert Watson as chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Dr. Watson, a highly respected American chemist, believes the burning of coal and oil is a major factor in global warming. By ousting Dr. Watson one day, and then issuing a report that endorses his beliefs a month later, Mr. Bush is paying lip service to environmental concerns while making sure no action is taken.
Global warming isn’t the only area where the President is trying to outfox nature. He attempted to weaken the standards for arsenic in U.S. drinking water; tried to open 13,000 acres of New York’s Finger Lakes National Forest to oil and gas drilling; and has refused to shut down the accident-prone Indian Point nuclear reactor, located just 30 miles from New York City. A recent study by Yale and Columbia universities of the environmental health of 142 countries found that the U.S. ranked 51st, behind Cuba and Botswana.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Mr. Bush will not heed American voters’ concerns about the environment, now that it’s clear he won’t even listen to his own administration.
Writing Your Wrongs
Biographies of writers are filled with tales of melancholy and madness, yet new research shows that the act of writing is good not only for your mind, but for your immune system as well. As reported in the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology, psychologists James Pennebaker of the University of Texas at Austin and Joshua Smyth of Syracuse University have found that people facing life-threatening illnesses can boost their immune function if they write about their emotions and stress. In tests, they asked one group of patients with H.I.V. /AIDS to write about negative life experiences, and another group to write about their daily schedule. Those who dipped into the inkwell of life experience showed a quantifiable increase in immune functioning.
The researchers found that the mere expression of emotions on paper isn’t enough to boost health-the writer must apply focused thought and use the words to actually interpret his or her experiences. Indeed, some studies have shown that just writing about a traumatic event, without trying to interpret it or see it as part of a larger life story, can trigger distress and have a negative impact on physical and mental well-being. By looking for the deeper meaning inside trauma, one can come to appreciate any positive aspects that might be hidden. Mr. Pennebaker found that word choice was important: The more one uses words which indicate cause and effect-words like “because,” “realize” and “understand”-the more one benefits.
Mr. Pennebaker has also reported that people who write thoughtfully about themselves visit the doctor less often. Which gives new meaning to the idea of writing your own prescription.