Monday, July 06, 2009

ECT For The Mayor?

The City Journal's Steve Malanga has a piece, excerpted in this morning's NY Post, on what Mike Bloomberg needs to do for the city's budget shortfall. In our view, what Malanga proposes to the mayor could only happen if Bloomberg underwent political ECT; it's simply not in the mayor's genetic make up to pursue the prudent path recommended: "MAYOR Bloomberg says that balancing the city's budget in tough times requires "shared sacrifice" -- meaning combined tax hikes and spending cuts. Yet (as is so often the case in New York), it's the taxpayers who get stuck with the lion's share of the sacrifice -- this time, nearly $1 billion in tax hikes on top of what is already the heaviest tax burden among major cities in the nation."

But what about Bloomberg's view of, "fair share?" "The city's budget-cutting, by contrast, is exceedingly modest. In fact, Bloomberg isn't really cutting the city's budget in the new fiscal year; he's merely slowing (slightly) its rate of growth. According to the Independent Budget Office, city-funded spending to provide services will grow $1.6 billion, to $46.9 billion, in the new year. That's a 3.3 percent rise, once you include outlays that the city has already paid with surplus funds from the Wall Street boom."

It is, what we have been saying for some time-Mike Bloomberg came into the job of mayor with little experience; and was also limited by a philosophy that viewed large government as a benign phenomenon. We are paying for his failings now: "Of course, city spending has grown significantly faster than inflation throughout the Bloomberg era. But this year is different: Facing the possibility of a long-term Wall Street decline, the mayor will need to consider real budget-cutting and restructuring of city services."

Which bring us to the ECT speculation. As sound as Malanga's analysis and prescriptions are-and we believe he's definitely on the right track-it's still hard to see Bloomberg going heavily into this kind of course correction; not with the mayor's penchant for payroll padding: "SINCE 2003, the city payroll has grown by some 41,000 workers, including over 16,000 paraprofessionals made full-timers at the Department of Education and the Department of Parks. At an average cost of more than $100,000 per worker in salaries and benefits, workforce size matters."

And even more unlikely to be considered is the Malanga reinvention of government suggestion: "In refusing to consider competitive bidding for services now handled by public employees, the mayor has removed a valuable bargaining chip with the unions -- which is one reason he's struggled to win productivity gains when negotiating contracts. In his first year in office, Giuliani used the threat of privatizing residential-garbage collection to gain productivity concessions that saved the city $300 million a year. Bloomberg has achieved nothing to compare."

Upon entering office, Mike Bloomberg immediately demonstrated that he was little more than a richer version of John V. Lindsay-raising taxes immediately; and embracing an expansive government ethos that would better enable him to implement his health conscious behavior modification plans. To expect him to change now is pretty silly.

What the Malanga article does suggest, however, is that Mike Bloomberg's failures do not merit being rewarded with re-election. Not when the current fiscal meltdown can be seen to have been exacerbated by Bloomberg's, "Grasshopper and the Ant," nonfeasance; a tenure that has left the city over burdened by taxes-and run by a politically sclerotic mind ill-equipped to take up the current challenges.