Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Man Bites Dog

According to the NY Post, the city council is prepared to challenge the mayor if he unilaterally rescinds the $400 rebate program for city homeowners: "A showdown between Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council is brewing, with the mayor planning to rescind the $400 homeowner property tax rebate without the council's approval - setting the stage for a battle in the courts. Council members insist the mayor needs their approval to yank the popular rebates.
"A local law would be required to eliminate the rebate, so the council would have to amend the local law, enacting legislation," said Jamie McShane, spokesman for Council Speaker Christine Quinn."

At last!-from supine to sublime; we can only hope. But, as we said yesterday, this is not only about process. The rebate program is designed to ease the burden on some of the city's most taxed residents-its homeowners; and the $250 million a year that the rebate represents is dwarfed by some extremely questionable welfare initiatives such as the one that Heather McDonald cited in yesterday's New York Post-a $433 million a year expenditure on housing for single mothers.

As McDonald pointed out: "The $433 million for the "homeless" family-housing program goes to a mere 8,800 families, or .34 percent of the city population. On average, those 8,800 families cost taxpayers $31,000 annually per family. Yet the mayor says that the city can't afford a $400 property-tax rebate for working households." What the council needs to do is to examine the budget closely for items like these-tax payers shouldn't be forced to support expensive social welfare programs at any time; but especially not when the city is planning on raising property and personal income taxes.

The juxtaposition here underscores just how Potemkin-like the mayor's image as a fiscal guru really is; programs such as these should have been replaced by more frugal responses that didn't actually encourage folks to behave in ways that lead to rewards from over burdened tax payers. Bloomberg's entire mindset, however, precluded the kinds of economies and efficiencies in government that are now going to have to be implemented on an emergency basis if the city's solvency is to be protected.

It's as we've said on any number of occasions; Bloomberg's philosophy of government is very John Lindsay-like. In the past seven years, little in the way of innovation has been proffered, and lavish spending has been the norm in too many cases. His re-bureaucratization of the schools-with a budget that is 79% higher than before he arrived, is characteristic of the Bloomberg model.

The Wall Street windfalls of the past few years are gone, though, and now we're faced with a harsh reality that the mayor is ill equipped to deal with in any creative way. It only dramatizes just how much the mayor's advertised success has rested on the hard work of his predecessor-and the influx of cash from the finance sector. It's really time for him to step aside for a more savvy and innovative chief executive.