Monday, May 04, 2009

Bordering on Stupidity

Mike Bloomberg-our indispensable leader in a time of economic uncertainty-is once again playing a role that's all too familiar role of tax man. As the NY Times reports: "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg proposed a budget Friday that would increase the city’s sales tax by half a percentage point as the centerpiece of $1 billion in new taxes to help the city avoid deeper spending cuts and minimize layoffs. Even clothing, which has long enjoyed at least a partial exemption from the city sales tax as a way to make city retailers more attractive than their suburban counterparts, would be subject to Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal."

So just what part of the Bloomberg five borough economic plan is this? Once you get past the glossy brochures, we are faced with a business exodus fostered by an administration that has badly damaged the small business infrastructure in NYC. Now this damage is compounded by the sales tax boost and an inane 5 cent charge on paper bag use.

And the city's shoppers aren't happy; but be careful you don't get trampled in the consumer stampede towards the border: "Mayor Bloomberg's proposed sales-tax hike got a big thumbs down yesterday from New York shoppers who predicted the "terrible" idea will further cripple the city's economy and send consumers scurrying across the river to spend their dough in New Jersey. "We have the highest taxes of anyone to begin with -- we're suffering enough," said Oksana Bitetti, 26, of Staten Island, outside Best Buy on Fifth Avenue. "I already go to New Jersey to shop, and those trips are going to increase if this goes through."

Which brings us back to the mayor's relentless campaign droning on how he's going to bolster small businesses by providing millions of dollars of loans. As his Ministry of Propaganda brochure tells us: "Increase loans to small businesses so they can meet payroll and stay open."
It is sheer balderdash. The plight of small business is correlated, not to the absence of loan capitol, but to the high costs of doing business; something that just got ratcheted up by the mayor's budget proposal.

As the NY Daily News points out, the folks are none too happy: 'Mayor Bloomberg wants to balance the budget with nickels and dimes - but in times like these, New Yorkers say they can't spare the change. "How much more are they going to squeeze from the little guy?" asked Reggie Hines, a 52-year-old tour bus driver from the Bronx. The mayor's new budget would raise the sales tax to almost 9%, charge sales tax on clothes and shoes, and put a 5-cent levy on every plastic bag you take home from the store."

And the plastic bag thing is really galling: "It's 5 cents to go shopping now!" Hines said. "They're going to force the working class out of the city." Let's not forget that the city council passed a plastic bag recycling program last year, so this tax proposal adds a further burden on both small retailers and low income shoppers.

All of which leads to a further deepening of the city's small business crisis; one that has led to the impetus behind the Jackson Small Business Protection Act. The reality, Mike, is that your bogus plan to, "create or preserve," 400,000 jobs (a metric that can't be gauged by anyone), is a smokescreen designed to hide the fact that your tax, spend and regulate policies have devastated neighborhood businesses-and now more of the same.

As the Daily News shows us: "The sales tax hike would charge 50 cents on a $100 purchase, but merchants say it sends the wrong message to shoppers who are already keeping their pocketbooks shut. "The $175 leather jackets are now $99. We can't go any lower. We've got rent to pay," said Gregory Bennett, manager at Delaney Leather in Brooklyn's Fulton Mall.
At Mitchell's Bar & Grill on nearby Flatbush Ave., manager Mike Issa gazed at the empty tables and said Bloomberg should pay more taxes out of his own pocket. "Give people a break," said Issa, 45. "I'm overtaxed. People are not making money, and you want to increase taxes? He should pay more taxes."

And the City Council has begun to show some push back on this, at least according to the Daily Politics analysis: "The pieces of Mayor Bloomberg's proposed FY 2010 budget generating the most early opposition are the 0.5 percent sales tax increase, with critics calling the move "regressive," and eliminating the tax exemption on clothing under $110. Council Finance Chairman David Weprin, who is running for comptroller this fall, predicted there would be "a lot of opposition in the Council" to the hike, adding: "It's not something that's going to be such a slam dunk."

We'll see just how much backbone the entire body has; but it's nice to see the speaker at least demur: "Council Speaker Christine Quinn also expressed her opposition, saying in a prepared statement: "I continue to believe that increasing sales tax is a regressive way to generate revenue because it places an unfair burden on those who have the least. The idea of eliminating the tax exemption on clothing only compounds that burden."

All of this underscores the extent to which the Reign Of Mike has not been a seven year Golden Age of good government and economic advancement. While he certainly made the right move to keep some surplus funds ready for a rainy day, he squandered the opportunity to rein in government so that his current position is both comical as well as hypocritical when he says: "We cannot afford the size of government we have," Bloomberg said. He blamed the recession for a nosedive in city revenues. The administration expects 328,000 New Yorkers to lose their jobs before the downturn ends, which is 12% worse than the previous estimate of 294,000."

The only remaining question for us, is whether or not we will have a meaningful debate in the fall over the gap between the mayor's campaign rhetoric and the reality of his rule. With record advertising spending on the way, it is likely that Bloomberg will suck all of the air out of the political discussion. Which means that a real burden will be placed on our local media to speak truth to power.