The most memorable part of last night’s debate, for me, was the moment when Michael Bloomberg and Bill Thompson attacked one another when asked who would “consider raising taxes” to balance the budget.
It’s likely, if not unavoidable, that whoever is mayor over the next four years will have to raise taxes or fees, since he’ll be faced with a multi-billion-dollar deficit and little hope of getting help from Albany or Washington. As mayor, Bloomberg has already been forced to find unpopular ways to generate revenue (property, sales and water rates, to name a few).
But last night, each of the candidates made the prospect of new taxes into a boogie man hiding in the other person’s closet, just waiting to turn the city into the nineth layer of hell.
“My opponent has proposed something over $5 billion in expenses which would be required to be paid for with job-killing taxes,” said Bloomberg. “And that would just make this city so much more affordable. Either he’s going to drive out the small business people we need to keep their jobs here, or he’s going to make everybody else who has trouble making their payments every day–we all are struggling with this kind of economy–they’re the ones who are going to have to reach into their pocket and pay for those job-killing taxes.”
Bloomberg, on a roll, added, “He said he wants a broad-based tax, and then he said a millionaire’s tax. He said so many things I can’t keep straight who he wants to tax, but he is going to tax somebody.”
Hearing this, anybody would be forgiven for thinking Bloomberg had ruled out such a move himself.
Thompson, after a moment, said, “Mike, when you first became mayor you increased taxes on those making one-hundred thousand dollars a year, or more.” And, “You supported a millionaires’ tax in the past. You helped put that in place.”
Later, in response to a question from a viewer who asked about the possibility of raising taxes or cutting services, Thompson said, plainly, “No, I would not raise taxes. First, you need to start looking at the $9 billion in services that are contracted out each and every year by the city of New York. That’s a great place to start.”
Thompson also said the city needs to “close some of those tax breaks that are out there,” like the one Cablevision has for Madison Square Garden.
What cuts, specifically?
“I’m talking about the Department of Education,” he said, where there are no-bid contracts.
Cutting waste at the Department of Education may be part of the answer, but it is a very, very small part.
Bloomberg, when asked about raising taxes or cutting services, was frustratingly short on specifics.
“We, number one, cannot cut essential services. That’s a mistake that was made in the 70s,” the mayor said. “Number two, we certainly cannot raise taxes. We shouldn’t. We have no plans to do so. And unless there was something like Albany going bankrupt, we will not do that.”
On this issue, Bloomberg was more candid last week, when, in response to a question from Crain’s editor Greg David, Bloomberg said, “Nobody can ever promise for sure that they can’t raise taxes.”