Bloomberg Doesn’t Blow $3 Billion
There are very few certainties in life, but here, surely, is one of them: Give a politician a surplus, and he or she will find a way to make it disappear. Quickly. And most often, into the pockets of friends and allies.
Michael Bloomberg prides himself on being a different kind of politician, and he once again has demonstrated why his self-image is no mere conceit. Mayor Bloomberg begins his second term with, of all things, an unexpected budget surplus of more than $3 billion. Even in New York terms, that’s real money. A shrewd politician could buy a lot of love with $3 billion, by offering whopping tax cuts and new spending initiatives.
Mr. Bloomberg, no slouch when it comes to spreading around his personal fortune, has a refreshing view regarding the city’s windfall. He wants to put it away, where it can maybe earn some interest and, most importantly, act as a rainy-day fund for the tough times that are always a part of any government’s budget cycle. And those tough times aren’t far off: The city’s ballooning health-care and pension costs will result in multibillion-dollar deficits by 2008.
Journalists, academics and professional windbags (assuming one can distinguish among them) regularly bemoan the lack of foresight among politicians. In their opinion, politicians have never met a surplus they couldn’t turn into a deficit in no time flat. Elected officials live to spend; they abhor the idea of passing along an inheritance that might help some future politician—perhaps even an enemy.
There is a lot of truth in that stereotype. One need only look across the Hudson River, where New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine is grappling with not just a $6 billion deficit, but the legacy of legislators from whom no surplus is safe.
Mr. Bloomberg, however, has chosen to shatter the stereotype, no doubt to the chagrin of the City Council, which delights in passing out goodies to neighborhood groups and causes. The Mayor explains that “you can’t, when you all of a sudden have better-than-expected revenue, rush out and spend it.” He made it sound like doing so would be irresponsible, which is correct.
Lots of Mayors, and lots of incumbent City Council members, would have snapped up that $3 billion. Mr. Bloomberg clearly wants to change the way the city approaches its finances, so that there will come a day when nobody would, in fact, dare to spend better-than-expected revenues.
His decision is precedent-shattering. No doubt he will hear from lots of people who have a better plan for all that money. He will do right by the city by turning a deaf ear.
N.Y.U. Child Study Center Expands Its Reach
New York simply does not have enough mental-health services and facilities for its children. This gap in the city’s social safety net means that a thousand children a year are sent out of state to psychiatric hospitals. There just isn’t enough room for them here. This unacceptable state of affairs is about to change. New York University recently announced plans to build the nation’s largest pediatric medical center on the East Side, along with a children’s psychiatric hospital in Rockland County.
The N.Y.U. School of Medicine Child Study Center already has an international reputation based on its work on childhood depression, anxiety and attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder. It has given aid and comfort to thousands of children and their families, under the visionary leadership of its executive director, Dr. Harold Koplewicz. Now the center will be able to expand its services, reaching at least three times as many children and training more doctors.
This welcome and necessary initiative comes with a $200 million price tag. Governor George Pataki, recognizing the truly breathtaking proposal that N.Y.U. has put forward, has pledged to contribute more than $65 million in state funds for the facilities—a bold gesture of genuine leadership from the Governor.
N.Y.U. currently offers outpatient care to about 2,000 children per year. The expanded center will be able to handle perhaps as many as 8,000. That is tremendous news for a woefully underserved population—our children. In addition, the center will have the resources to train 16 child psychiatrists a year. That’s double what it now trains. Moreover, the center will train thousands of pediatricians a year in the difficult and urgent task of identifying and treating mental disorders in children. In addition to its work on depression and other maladies, the center will also conduct research into autism and eating disorders.
Mayor Bloomberg properly noted that the center, which will be housed on First Avenue between 25th and 26th streets, may revolutionize mental-health care for children. This kind of thing doesn’t happen by chance: It was the hard work, brilliance and dedication of Dr. Koplewicz and his colleagues that has resulted in this unprecedented gift to the city’s children.
The Blizzard of 2006
The city was tamed on Sunday, as the largest snowstorm in New York’s history arrived just in time to put to rest any complaints about an overly balmy winter. Even if one turns the calendar back to 1869—the first year anyone thought to actually measure how much snow had fallen—there had never been a storm like it. Central Park reported 26.9 inches of snow, a half-inch deeper than the previous record, set in 1947. And this snow arrived in true New York fashion: No gentle carpet dropping from the sky, it fell with a passionate intensity, at rates of up to five inches an hour.
And yet, while many of our suburban friends found themselves without power and housebound, city residents were greeted by an astonishing display of cleared sidewalks and plowed streets even before the last snowflakes had fallen. City officials dispatched over 2,000 trucks equipped with plows, put 2,500 sanitation workers on 12-hour shifts and used temporary workers to clear bus stops and crosswalks. By 7 a.m. on Monday, all of the city’s streets—a total of 6,300 miles—had been plowed and salted, many more than once. Shopkeepers and homeowners worked briskly to clear the sidewalks, showing an admirable pride (and avoiding fines). Schools were, remarkably, able to open on time.
Removing snow in a timely fashion is essential for the functioning of this city, since failure to clear the streets quickly is viewed as a fundamental failure of municipal leadership. Mayor Bloomberg and his team, along with the sanitation workers, police officers, firefighters and emergency-service workers, deserve credit for working through the day and night to make sure that the city could function smoothly in the wake of a wallop from Mother Nature.