Back to Future For Bloomberg?

As the city careens towards its second fiscal crisis since the fiscal crisis a quarter-century(!) ago, there is some chatter to the effect that rookie Mayor Michael Bloomberg soon will have to make a choice of role models in closing a budget gap of about $4 billion-and maybe more. Will he be the next David Dinkins, or the next Rudy Giuliani? There will be no Third Way here, folks; it’s an either/or proposition. You’re either an ineffective spendthrift who coddles criminals and prefers tennis shirts to Police Department windbreakers, or you’re a hard-headed, take-no-prisoners, blow-up-the-system maximum leader who is unafraid to make hard decisions because, by God, you’re a hard man.

Because Mr. Bloomberg has not ruled out measures like a revival of the commuter tax (that burdensome .45 percent levy which was eliminated not on merit, but because New York is governed by egregious hacks), think-tank conservatives are whispering that the Mayor is destined to become the new David Dinkins. Suffice it to say, this is not meant as a compliment. Never mind, of course, that the sainted Rudy Giuliani opposed (yes, opposed) the abolition of the commuter tax-as any Mayor would have, seeing that it brought in about $500 million a year and was, by any definition, a just tax. But if Mayor Bloomberg, confronted with the worst budget deficit since the 1970’s, can’t see that a revival of the commuter tax is a sure bet to send the city back to the bad old days of the early 1990’s, well, it must be Dinkins time. Again.

It’s a false choice, of course. But it’s one Mr. Giuliani’s allies are more than happy to offer, figuring that Mr. Bloomberg can only suffer by comparison, and that Mr. Giuliani’s reputation will be further enhanced.

A recent article in City Journal entitled “Dinkins Redux?” established the case against Mr. Bloomberg, arguing that he (unlike, yes, Rudy Giuliani) isn’t “hardnosed” enough to slash away at the city’s work force. Tell that to the heroes of 9/11, who are hearing the word “layoffs” for the first time since 1975. The piece argues that if Mr. Bloomberg had any guts, he’d eliminate the 17,500 jobs that have been added to the city’s payroll in the last four years.

The last four years? Now, hold on a second. If memory serves, David Dinkins-a.k.a. He Who Led Us to Ruin-was playing a lot of tennis during the last four years, as he was no longer Mayor. In fact, the Mayor who hired those 17,500 layabouts, those 17,500 non-contributors to private profit, those 17,500 good-for-nothing pointy-headed bureaucrats was … Rudy Giuliani!

Now how can this be? You thought, didn’t you, that Rudy Giuliani was hard-nosed and hard-headed and clear-eyed, etc. You thought, didn’t you, that David Dinkins was mushy and soft and willing to add thousands of people to the payroll because, after all, he was a closet socialist who sympathized with layabouts and non-contributors to private profit and good-for-nothing pointy-headed bureaucrats. But it was Rudy Giuliani who added 17,500 stinking jobs to the payroll.

Or did he? Maybe not. The piece says only that “the city” added these jobs. Not Mr. Giuliani. Not the Giuliani administration. Not even City Hall. In fact, in discussing the city’s spending in recent years, the piece notes that in “1998, the part of the budget financed by city tax revenues rose 6 percent, more than double the inflation rate; in 2000, it increased 5.7 percent; and in 2001, it rocketed up 9 percent-three times the inflation rate. The city used huge budget surpluses, and not new taxes, to support this profligacy.”

The anonymous “city” committed these fiscal crimes on its own? But didn’t “the city” have a Mayor-in fact, a rather famous and, indeed, hard-nosed Mayor-who made these decisions? Geez, when such profligacy took place in the early 1990’s, it had a name, and the name was David Dinkins. The City Journal piece noted that “Democrat David Dinkins refused to cut city spending” in the early 1990’s. It said that it was Mr. Dinkins who “jacked up New York’s already sky-high taxes by nearly $1 billion.” And it asserted that it was “Dinkins’s response … to load hundreds of millions of dollars of yet more new taxes onto already reeling city businesses and residents.”

Odd, isn’t it? Bad decisions from the early 1990’s were the work of one terrible individual, Democrat David Dinkins. When bad decisions were made in the late 1990’s, apparently nobody was in charge. The city spent its surplus on its own. The city automatically added thousands of wasteful jobs. Apparently, Rudy Giuliani spent a fair amount of time in the late 1990’s letting the city run itself.

Either that, or he left Michael Bloomberg with a bit of a financial mess. Now there’s something to consider.

Back to Future For Bloomberg?