Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Understanding Proper Quinntax

We read with some interest, the accounts of Speaker Quinn's talk before the Citizen's Budget Commission; particularly the juxtaposition of tax increases with the cutting government waste. First the tax issue: "New York draws about one-fifth of its revenue from Wall Street, and with the economy in crisis, the city is bracing for tough times ahead. On Sept. 23, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said that his administration is considering imposing a 7 percent tax increase on homeowners in January...In remarks on Wednesday to the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit civic association, the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, said that there’s another idea percolating in the hallways of City Hall: increasing the personal income tax."

Well now, we do live in the most taxed environment in probably the entire country, so why's the speaker looking to raise revenue through this manner? The answer lies in the fact that she is a creature of government, with little understanding of the interplay of taxes and local business productivity; she's concerned with her revenue, but not those of the city's hard working small businesses and tax payers: "According to Ms. Quinn, the property tax increase — which would essentially eliminate a popular 7 percent tax cut already included in this year’s budget and set to be rolled back in July, anyway — would generate $2 billion in revenue in fiscal 2011. Raising the income tax, she said, is one of the things the city could do to close the remaining $3.2 billion gap.

Quinn does, however, look at the expense side of the ledger, and this does provide some interesting thoughts: "But unlike the mayor, who ordered across-the-board cuts, she favors a more discriminate approach, with some agencies, perhaps, cutting more than others. She offered suggestions, like reducing the number of Human Resources Agency staff members assigned to a unit that reviews match eligibility to public assistance to the actual number of people who apply for assistance. (The speaker said that this unit has the same number of workers that it did in 1998, when the city’s welfare rolls were at their highest.) Doing so could save the city more than $10 million annually, she said."

Not such bad thinking, but where was she (and the mayor) for the past three years? We have no doubt that when it comes to greater government efficiency there are many more examples than just the ones that the speaker has cited. This is a process, though, that should have begun in the flush times; and would have if we had a mayor who understood government and the need to make it more efficient. Isn't this a task, one that would reduce the local tax burden and increase economic development at all levels (and not just for the rich developers), that has greater importance than a football stadium on the West Side?

So, by all means, sell ad space on the city's garbage trucks, but the larger rubbish removal task lies with cleaning out the deadwood in local government-something that a government novice like Bloomberg (encumbered by a John Lindsay-like philosophy) never knew enough to initiate.