City Council Balloons Budget

Mayor Michael Bloomberg reached a $47 billion budget agreement with the City Council this week, and while City Council Speaker Gifford Miller claimed the deal was “good news” for New Yorkers, he neglected to mention that many Council members had done their best to load the budget up with spending items which the city cannot afford. The members have been aching to spend hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money on pet projects that would help them run for office, either the one they currently hold or the one they plan to run for after term limits force them out.

For example, Manhattan Councilwoman Gale Brewer wanted to spend $30 million to expand the hours of public libraries-a nice thought, but thoroughly inappropriate given the city’s current financial situation. Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron wanted to devote $20 million of taxpayer money to a study of why minorities are often unemployed, while Staten Island Councilman Michael McMahon wanted $1.4 million to increase commercial garbage collection outside of Manhattan. Speaker Miller chose not to restrain his colleagues, helping to create a culture of fiscal irresponsibility in which the Council seems determined to spend every dime the city collects.

The weeks leading up to the budget deal were notable for animosity between the reckless Council members, who wanted to add $350 million in spending to current levels, and the more sober-minded Mayor, who had proposed cutting $220 million. In the end, as happens every year, the Mayor was not able to blunt all of the Council’s requests, and the resulting budget will increase spending by a compromise figure of $215 million.

Of course, the Council members knew throughout the negotiations that the state’s Financial Control Board recently warned that the city’s finances are “structurally unbalanced,” and that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has issued a warning about the city’s long-term financial health. But they are unwilling to tell their constituents the truth-that the city is facing a projected $3.8 billion deficit in 2006 and this is no time to go on a spending spree. Mayor Bloomberg is the only elected official taking the threat seriously: Since being elected, he has trimmed the municipal work force by 18,000 employees, slashed $3 billion from city agencies and increased property taxes. In addition, he has largely refused to grant raises to union members without productivity gains.

Meanwhile, Mr. Miller and the Council have spent their nights dreaming of how they can spend money the city simply does not have, fever dreams which endanger New York’s future. Never have so many elected officials done so little to improve life for so many. As Marcia Van Wagner, chief economist for the Citizen’s Budget Commission, told reporters, “The Council members should be putting their energy into how to shave spending, instead of larding it on.”

It is unfortunate that the new budget deal enshrines one of Mr. Bloomberg’s few economic blunders: his senseless plan to offer taxpayers a $400 tax rebate for each of the next three years. This politically motivated gimmick will cost the city $250 million annually-a total of three quarters of a billion dollars. And is there anyone who honestly thinks an extra $400 a year is going to substantially improve New Yorkers’ lives?

No Lunch for Mr. Ney

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has let it be known that politicians hoping to break bread-and collect “bread”-in New York City had better make other plans if they’ve been party to the Bush administration’s irresponsible short-changing of the city when it comes to anti-terror funding. Recently, the Mayor disinvited Ohio Congressman Bob Ney from a lunch at his Upper East Side townhouse after Mr. Ney voted against a proposal which would have redirected about $450 million in federal homeland-security funding to New York and other high-profile urban centers. After the Mayor nixed Mr. Ney’s invitation, the National Republican Congressional Committee canceled the lunch, which was to have been co-hosted by Buffalo-area Representative Thomas Reynolds, with the purpose of selling tickets to a July fund-raising dinner with George W. Bush.

Mr. Bloomberg’s refusal to welcome Mr. Ney into his home sends the right message to politicians who hope to tap into New York’s deep fund-raising pockets. Indeed, there is something absurd about Mr. Bush and the Republican Party making preparations for their convention here in August while at the same time cheating the city out of the money it needs to defend itself. Thanks to President Bush and his homeland-security chief, Tom Ridge, Americans can rest easy knowing that many rural areas are receiving more anti-terror funding, per capita, than the residents of New York or Los Angeles. The next time Al Qaeda decides to blow up a cow, the country will be ready.

By turning away Congressman Ney, the Mayor did the right thing. Elected officials who vote against the city’s safety have been warned: There’s no free lunch in this town.

Something’s Rotten in Albany

Members of the State Legislature have left Albany for the comfort of their home districts without having caused an inordinate amount of havoc. This is to be expected. Creating havoc, after all, requires the expenditure of energy along with a certain amount of ingenuity. Both qualities are in short supply in Albany, and for this, perhaps we should be grateful. After all, if the distinguished State Senators and members of the Assembly actually believed they ought to do something to justify their paychecks, well, who knows what damage they might inflict on the average state taxpayer.

So they leave Albany without having passed a budget, without having passed many new laws or regulations, without figuring out how to better fund New York City’s public schools. What exactly have they done over the past few months? Well, they’ve held lots of fund-raisers. Oh, those delightful little parties! They are as common upstate as horse flies and, to any thinking person, just as annoying. This is not to say that the Legislature has been inactive. Indeed, some might argue that a little less activity might have been a good thing, but the police blotter would have been somewhat less entertaining to read. Assemblyman Clarence Norman is under indictment; Assemblyman Roger Green resigned his seat after pleading guilty in an expense-padding case; and Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV was accused of sexual improprieties by a young staffer. So it would be wrong to say that no news was produced during the legislative session, but perhaps this is not the sort of news a lawmaking institution ought to be producing.

Years go by, and nothing changes. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver of the Lower East Side collaborates with Senator Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Governor George Pataki in a bipartisan compact to protect the status quo. Members of the Legislature go along with the program, and as their reward, they rarely ever have to fight for their re-election-most will win their seats again this year with the sort of margins of victory we used to associate with Soviet elections.

It is all just so cozy and comfortable in Albany, where nothing gets done and everybody gets along and nobody is accountable for late budgets and egregious corruption.

There’s really only one thing we can ask of our legislators: In your re-election speeches this fall, ladies and gentlemen, please do not tell us about your special mission to bring democracy to other parts of the world.