Monday, September 17, 2007

Softening in the Middle

In yesterday's NY Daily News the paper's Errol Louis reports on the growing exodus of middle-class New Yorkers. Citing a report done by Comptroller Thompson, Louis worries about what this exodus means for the kind of city New York will become: "It means the backbone of the city is weakening as hundreds of thousands of teachers, cops, firefighters, bus drivers, security guards, transit workers, barbers and administrators - a big slice of the people who make the city go - give up on New York every year."

And Louis is quite right. What he doesn't comment on, however-in his otherwise incisive column-is the way in which municipal government is often directly responsible for this mass exodus. The fact is that the high cost of living in this city-a reality that has often been derided by our wealthy mayor-is a major factor in the reason why people choose to relocate. Louis hints at this when he observes that; "In reality, professionals are statistically more likely to size up their buying power and quality of life and start scanning real estate listings in nearby suburbs or in places like Atlanta, West Palm Beach and Raleigh-Durham."

This high cost is directly related to the outrageous taxing policies that make NYC one of the most expensive places to live. When the mayor pushed through his 18% property tax increase in 2002-an increase that was exacerbated by higher assessments as well-we were treated to a spate of exodus stories that have since died down in the wake of the media's canonization of Mayor Mike.

Now, however, the chickens are coming home to roost, and with them also comes the realization that all of are high tax enablers are almost as big as danger as the elected officials who blithely raise fees in the name of fiscal "prudence." These are the DMI kind of folks who define the middle class down to such a degree that the category loses all recognition. And these are the people who try to insist that are car commuters are privileged by invidiously comparing them to mass transit users in the congestion taxing debate. The reality is that our car commuters are the ones most likely to, in Louis' words, "size up their buying power," and look around for less expensive places to live. The mayor's congestion fee is simply another tax-as New Yorkers in poll after poll scream out.

Which brings us to Louis' political point: we need to craft policy so that we can preserve this vital resource that our middle class represents. This means, as Errol points out, that the cries for "affordable housing" need to be tempered somewhat by the realization that the middle class is being squeezed by the housing crunch. Here's Louis' money quote:
"That means we have to end the zero-sum politics that pits the needs of the poor against those of the middle class. Look at any of the big development projects around the city that include affordable housing - Atlantic Yards, Queens West, conversion of the Domino sugar factory on the Brooklyn waterfront - and there's a fight about whether subsidizing middle-class families amounts to a wasteful "giveaway" of resources best reserved for the very poor."

The size and scope of municipal government needs to be squarely addressed, and the 2009 wannabees will have to do that if they want to make the step up on the governmental ladder. The mayor's wealth has dazzled our media watchdogs and has given him a Reagen-like Teflon status. Those who try to emulate him best beware.