Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pay As You Go

The city's vaunted Fiscal Steward has once again treated the city work force with great generosity-offering nice fat raises to scores of workers in the middle of what the NY Post (not here, but elsewhere) calls a "tax revenue meltdown." As the NY Times reports: "New York City’s top fiscal watchdog attacked Mayor R. Bloomberg on Monday for giving City Hall aides raises of up to $18,000 in the middle of the worst recession in decades, calling it “bad government” and “bad policy.”

And when did the city do this? Well, they announced the news last Friday, at the beginning of a summer weekend-not quite like the pride the mayor shows when a reading score goes up one tenth of a percent: "A little before 5 p.m. on Friday, when much of the City Hall press corps was headed home for the weekend, the Bloomberg administration disclosed the raises — 4 percent retroactive to March 3, 2008, and another 4 percent raise effective this past March 3."

The mayor's response, cited by Daily Politics, underscores the bankruptcy of his governing philosophy-note that he even tries to riff that the raises are helping middle class folks: "I didn’t give them the raises the last time, simply because the economy was so unknown or our tax revenues and we didn’t have the sales tax legislation pass," Bloomberg said. "Now that it's passed, I feel a little more comfortable about our ability to pay. And if we’re gonna have good people - remember most of these people, these 6,000, you know middle class people, they make from $45,000 on up - but you know in the middle price range of city workers, and they have to get the raises at the same time or you’ll not be able to attract good people and the amount of the raises is exactly the same. In fact, in some cases less than some of the union contracts that we negotiated that cover this period."

Two things to be noted here. First, the idea that you need to give raises to government workers in order to attract good people-and do so when the private sector is shedding jobs like Circuit City before declaring bankruptcy-is foolish. To have to do so in order to keep them on a par with the sweet union contracts he negotiated, is adding insult to injury. As Nicole Gelinas told the Times: "Financial watchdog groups, which have long criticized the mayor for giving generous pay increases to unionized city workers, said they were equally frustrated by his raises to nonunion workers. “They are not justified,” said Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative policy group. “Most people in the private sector, especially in New York City, are not expecting a 4 percent increase this year. They are happy to keep their jobs."

Second, note what the mayor is saying. He held off last fall because of budgetary uncertainty; but now that the budget is settled-and the sales tax revenue has passed-Bloomberg feels free to raise the payroll. Okay, so it's all right to whack New Yorkers with a regressive sales tax while many are out of work trying, in some cases, to keep hold of their homes, so we can hike the pay of city workers? Thompson is right to call Bloomberg out of touch; in fact, he's lost all tactile sense.

Which brings us to the Bloomberg Post. In the editorial cited above, the paper expresses some umbrage at the city council's profligacy. What is bothering them? Purchases like digital cameras and swivel chairs. And they end with this flourish: "We wonder: Has Council Speaker Christine Quinn told her members about the tax-revenue meltdown?"

So the NY Post, the paper that has been in the forefront of condemning public pension benefits and bloated municipal payrolls, avoids the opportunity to hold Bloomberg's hand to the fire so that it can excoriate what amounts to the council's nickle and dimming? And, of course, its lead editorial is another chapter in the Mayoral Control series. The Post did, however, cover this issue extensively in the so-called news sections-giving the honor to the AP-with an 83 word! blurb on the Thompson complaint.

The fact remains, that the city is hemorrhaging private sector jobs-with minority unemployment at its worst in decades-and Mike Bloomberg fails to see the correlation between public sector bloat, higher taxes, and concomitant job loss in the private sector. And this is the fiscal genius we need to steward us through a recession? Adding real high comedy to all of this, is that the Bloomberg campaign is seeking another party line called, get this, "Jobs and Education Party." Don't any of those high price consultants have a sense of irony?

What Bill Thompson needs to do now is connect the dots. It's not just that Mike Bloomberg is out of touch; it's also that he doesn't have a good grasp of how to govern prudently and enable the real economy to grow. There's a cause and effect embedded in the raises handed out and the accompanying reports of job loss. The purpose of a campaign is to dramatize this-and bell the Bloomberg cat.