New York City residents can take heart that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is fighting for their safety: In the past several weeks, he’s been pressuring and cajoling key members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, to make certain the city receives its fair share of homeland-security funds. The House and Senate have approved similar anti-terrorism spending plans, of around $600 million to $700 million, with the whole of New York State to receive about $150 million of those funds. Thanks to Mayor Bloomberg’s adroit politicking, the city will likely get 80 percent of that $150 million.
This is a victory for common sense. As the Mayor recently said, “We can make a convincing case, I think, that when you catch an Al Qaeda member, in his or her pocket there’s a plan to attack New York. Not to attack any one state, not to attack other cities.” Protecting the city is in the country’s interest, too: New York is America’s financial and cultural hub, vital to the national and global economy, and maintaining its safety is a priority for everyone.
Having won over Congress, the Mayor also had to do some quick maneuvering in his own backyard: In the past week, Governor George Pataki had started to loudly oppose the 80 percent formula, indicating he would work hard to derail the money earmarked for the city. He wrote a letter complaining about the formula to his friend, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, and instructed his aides to speed-dial Senate and House leaders. But the Governor apparently realized that he’d arrived a bit late to this party: He was raising his objections only after the House Appropriations Committee had already acted. Committee members told the press that unlike the Mayor, the Governor had not paid them any house calls. And so Mr. Pataki chose to back off rather than test Mr. Bloomberg’s newfound ties with Congress or risk reading a tabloid headline along the lines of “Pataki to City: Drop Dead.”
Both the Mayor and the Governor deserve credit for avoiding a public feud at a time when both the city and the state are in dire financial shape, and need to present a united front as they slash spending and appeal to Washington for help.
A Commuter Tax: Long Overdue
With the city in the throes of its worst fiscal crisis since the calamity of the 1970’s, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is asking for help from commuters, who currently pay zero income tax to the city. He is exactly right to seek a new, and higher, commuter tax, and Albany is terribly wrong to jerk its collective knee in opposition to this fair and just measure.
Readers of this page no doubt are familiar with the history of the commuter tax and its repeal in 1999, but it bears repeating: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the alleged protector of New York City’s interests in Albany, agreed to repeal the tax in order to boost the chances of a Democratic State Senate candidate in Rockland County. Mr. Silver’s allies dispute this account, insisting that the Speaker wouldn’t authorize the disappearance of about $400 million or so in annual tax revenues just to help a State Senate candidate. Perish the thought! Members of the State Assembly, you see, are not supposed to interfere in elections for the State Senate. So, according to Mr. Silver’s friends, the Speaker approved the commuter-tax repeal to help Democratic Assembly candidates in the suburbs!
Aren’t you delighted to learn the true reason why the city is about $1 billion poorer at a time when it needs every penny? Isn’t Speaker Silver a model of political and civic responsibility?
Now that the damage is done, Mr. Silver is trying to help Mayor Bloomberg get the commuter tax back on the books. (With friends like Mr. Silver …. ) Mr. Bloomberg’s plan would increase the tax significantly, so that top earners would pay 2.7 percent, the same as city residents; the old commuter tax was 0.45 percent of annual earnings.
The problem is that Governor George Pataki and State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno-both upstate Republicans-would sooner be caught cheering for the Red Sox than arguing in favor of a tax increase. Taxes kill jobs, the Governor says. He has yet to explain how and why so many millions of jobs were created nationwide after President Bill Clinton raised taxes in 1993, and how and why so many jobs have been lost since President George Bush began hacking away at taxes in 2001.
To win justice for the city, Mayor Bloomberg must persuade Albany to put aside both hack politics and blind ideology. He deserves the support of every responsible elected official from the city. And Sheldon Silver, too.
The Invisible Economy
How are Americans faring in the current economy? Traditional indicators, such as the Dow Jones industrial average and real-estate prices, give part of the picture, but hardly an accurate one when it comes to how average New Yorkers are living their lives. Marc Miringoff, director of the Fordham Institute for Innovation in Social Policy, which is part of Fordham University, publishes an annual study that gives a more nuanced portrait of the nation’s families. As The New York Times recently reported, the Fordham index looks at social indicators, such as infant mortality, child poverty and health-insurance coverage, and comes up with a single composite number. The index reveals some of the blind spots in more conventional economic indicators. For example, until 1976, social health kept pace with economic progress. Since then, even though the gross domestic product has continued to rise, social health has suffered a decline. One cause: the disappearance of the kind of blue-collar jobs that used to provide stability and decent benefits and salaries. Blue-collar workers are being paid less in today’s dollars and receive fewer benefits. Mr. Miringoff also notes the large increase in the percentage of workers without health insurance, as well significantly higher rates of child poverty and teen suicide. Income inequality is also growing, with New York showing a larger gap between rich and poor than any other state.
These are troubling numbers, and demand the attention of both the public and private sectors. As Mr. Miringoff told The Times , “We have a lot of people who are playing by the rules and simply not making it.”