Budget Blues

Albany has dominated conversations about budgets and fiscal distress over the past year, in part because of the recently completed gubernatorial election. But if you thought New York City’s finances were exempt from the ongoing fiscal crisis in state and local governments, think again.

In announcing a cut of a billion and a half dollars in the current city budget and next year’s, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that the city simply cannot continue to provide current levels of service. The mayor wants to cut the city payroll by 10,000 through attrition and layoffs in 2011 and 2012. Fortunately, he has no plans to cut police officers–a good and absolutely necessary choice at a time when head count is down and murders are up ever so slightly. But the Department of Education, the mayor’s own creation, will not be spared. Even though the city will increase spending at the agency, thousands of teachers may lose their jobs if the state fails to provide needed financial assistance.

Elsewhere, City Hall has tried to minimize pain by limiting the number of new hires to replace retirees or resignations, and by cutting back on the number of firefighters on duty at night. The plan no doubt will generate criticism in the City Council, but it is incumbent on the Council to provide realistic and practical alternatives. That has never been the Council’s strength.

Bad as all of this is, things are not going to get better anytime soon. Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith warned that things will be “much, much more difficult” in 2012. Measures taken today, painful though they may be, may ease those looming difficulties. Those who find fault with the mayor’s proposal must do more than criticize. They must generate ideas. Budget Blues