Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Waste Not, Want Not

While the Billionaire Boys Club has lionized Mike Bloomberg as the indispensable fiscal maven NYC needs in these dire economic times, there's ample contradictory evidence that Mayor Mike isn't necessary the right man for the ongoing job of getting the city out of its mess. Some of the evidence can be gleaned from Heather McDonald's insightful column today in the NY Post.

McDonald demonstrates the way in which the spending habits of the Bloombergistas has the redolence of a bygone era-particularly the ill-fated fiscal reign of J. V. Lindsay: "The city also needs to get out of the welfare business and concentrate on the core function of urban government: providing the public infrastructure that allows individuals to seize opportunity. Over the decades, New York has created a host of welfare programs that are unique in the nation, the product of litigation by well-organized poverty advocates. Those programs transfer onto government responsibilities that in the rest of the country are borne by family and civil society. For a select number of putative victim groups, City Hall acts as father, extended kin or friend, at an astronomical cost to the taxpayers."

What kind of money are we talking about? Let's take a look at spending on the so-called homeless: "A prime example of counterproductive largess is the city's housing subsidies for unmarried mothers. Reducing them would free up money that could be used to protect public safety or reduce taxes. This year, New York will spend a mind-boggling $433 million to provide free housing for families claiming homelessness, virtually all headed by single mothers. That's on top of the nearly $200 million the city spends on "homelessness prevention"- cash grants and lawyers' fees for fighting eviction suits. No other US city offers this entitlement."

Are there better alternatives to these kinds of expenditures? "Are these alleged homeless families really homeless? Here's a test. After a hurricane or other natural disaster wipes out people's homes, the Red Cross opens emergency shelters for the newly homeless - dormitory-like facilities that people who otherwise would have no roof over their head gratefully accept before they move on to the assistance of family and friends. Such group accommodations aren't what the city means by "homeless-family housing," however. Homeless-family housing in New York consists of a free private apartment with kitchen and bath, in which the average single mother stays nearly a year."

Here's a better, and more cost effective approach; one that doesn't encourage the kind of dependence that Bloomberg seems to meekly accept: "If single mothers claiming homelessness were offered Red Cross-type group accommodations, rather than their own apartment, the number of families trying to enter the system would drop precipitously, as would the length of stay. Many young women claiming homelessness have alternatives to free city housing, such as continuing to live with their own single mothers or moving in with friends. Those alternative accommodations are undoubtedly crowded and less than ideal. But a less-than-ideal housing arrangement isn't the same thing as no housing at all."

Think of the savings to the tax payers-and to some of the programs that have a greater utility to New Yorkers: "To put that $433 million in perspective, it's nearly a third of the $1.5 billion in spending cuts that Bloomberg proposed last week and almost twice as much as the cost of the $400 dollar property-tax rebate that the mayor wants to eliminate. That property-tax rebate - costing $256 million annually - helps hundreds of thousands of hard-working New Yorkers. 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."

This is what we mean when we say that the mayor's vaunted expertise is much like the reproductive equipment of the "Master of the House, who, according to his less than doting wife, "Thinks he's quite a lover but there's not much there." When the mayor cancels homeowner rebates and the new police class, but leaves programs such as these alone, who can defend his indispensability?


And than there's the plastic bag tax. As Assemblyman Dov Hikind highlights: "Bloomberg is essentially saying, ‘Look, we can possibly generate $16 million with this scheme, so the public be damned,’” said an incensed Hikind. Wall Street’s meltdown has already cost New York State 160,000 jobs, and the Mayor just yanked the $400 City property tax rebate out from under struggling homeowners. “While Bloomberg is busy seeing green, New Yorkers, especially in my district, are seeing red.” Hikind said. “How does the Mayor expect New Yorkers to have any cash to spare when people are already overtaxed and overburdened?”