Friday, January 16, 2009

Feckless Leadership

We have already commented on Mike Bloomberg's phony disposition on politics and ideology in his state of the city speech; but what's really a pip, is his spinelessness in not tackling the city's greatest problem: the size of government and the existence of a bloated municipal workforce.
Leave it to Nicole Gelinas to call him out on this fecklessness.

Gelinas points out in her NY Post column, that it is vital for the city to upgrade its infrastructure-particularly so we can see the commute times for New Yorkers properly reduced; which is something that the mayor now promises to do: "How important are commutes to New Yorkers? Well, the night before Bloomberg's speech, nearly 700 regular people came out for a marathon seven-hour hearing at a Manhattan hotel to voice their fears over proposed subway and bus-service cuts. Why didn't the city use its boom-era dollars as leverage to insist on these upgrades to our most important assets (at a time when emerging cities around the world were investing heavily in their infrastructure)?"

The reason lies at the heart of the Bloomberg failure: "And the main reason those vast boom-year tax revenues couldn't go toward better infrastructure is that they went toward supporting ever-higher salaries and benefits for public-sector workers instead. As the Citizens Budget Commission pointed out last week, the average city worker costs more than $100,000 a year once you include their generous benefits, including mostly free health care. These same benefits costs for public workers, of course, are what imperils the rest of what the mayor talked about yesterday, too."

So did the mayor, who disdains politics and ideology, take this opportunity to call for the serious trimming of public worker benefits? Not on your life; that would take real political courage: "So, it's good that the mayor said yesterday, "It's become painfully clear that the time has come to bring our municipal pension system in line with reality. . . People are living longer and longer, yet we're still offering full retirement benefits after only 20 years of service. It's costing taxpayers a fortune." But it's too bad that the very same mayor lavished the municipal workforce with huge raises into 2011 just a few months ago - because that generosity removed a huge incentive for that workforce to support any reform."

This being an unexpected election year, the mayor was out at Brooklyn College bobbing and weaving-or shucking and jiving might be a better way of describing his failure to call for real reform: "Plus, the reforms the mayor has proposed are not only a day late but also a dollar short. While Bloomberg has supported some (very) modest changes from Albany to future pension benefits, he's said very little about expecting workers to pay a little something for their own health benefits - which could save hundreds of millions a year, every year, almost immediately."

Again, why not? Well, because this would upset the very same workers who Bloomberg is counting on to support his re-election. For a man with all that money, Mike Bloomberg demonstrates an astounding deficit of political courage. Instead of actually taking a hard political stand-something that the Bloombucks could then be employed to defend in front of the larger electorate-he elects to pander: "The mayor would've been better off using his time yesterday to announce one new initiative for the year. He should have pledged to use his political capital to explain to the public clearly why the state, the city and all-important public authorities like the MTA must work relentlessly to cut public employees' benefits to a competitive level, starting with those health benefits."

Without this kind of political courage, there's no good reason to give Mike Bloomberg another term in office. These are, after all, dire and challenging times. If all we're going to get in the charm of a third term is sucking up to municipal labor, we might as well elect one of his impoverished challengers. Gelinas has the last word on this: "The mayor and the governor have to set the bar here - nobody else will. And the public should understand the true cost of the mayor so far not having done that job."