Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bloomberg's Disastrous Legacy

There is a must read piece by Nicole Gelinas in today's NY Post that graphically details Mike Bloomberg's complicity in the fiscal mess that now confronts NYC-deconstructing the Myth of Mike that did so much to corrupt the last election cycle, and the fight to overturn term limits that preceded it:

"The inevitable is finally happening: New York's failure to fix spending is endangering decades of progress in public safety and infrastructure. Taxpayers won't stick around for shootings and derailments. It's time for Mayor Bloomberg to do the job New York needs him to do: cut union spending to keep the city livable...The bill for fiscal denial is coming due. For 25 years, an ever-growing Wall Street lulled New York into thinking that it could afford everything. Bloomberg doubled down on this belief. He avoided labor reforms, like pushing public-sector benefits costs in line with what little people get. So cops retire in their 40s and civilian workers in their 50s -- all with great pensions and health benefits."

And what about the educational miracle effected through the vehicle of mayoral control?-the Potemkin Village fraud that, in spite of huge increases in educational spending-particularly teacher salaries-yielded at best modest improvements; although even those are dependent on test scores that don't seem to be decent standards of success by any measure: "And it wasn't just benign neglect: Bloomberg made problems worse. Thanks to 43 percent raises for teachers, the Department of Education payroll alone -- now $10.1 billion -- is nearly one-sixth the entire budget. For overseeing this spending, 553 administrators earn more than six figures each -- $70 million."

The entire Bloomberg image of sober fiscal stewardship is crumbling before our very eyes-even while Wiz Kid Wolfson plots an unlikely foray into presidential politics for the over rated and under examined mayor: "Playing nice with the unions is how we get a $63.6 billion budget -- more than 25 percent higher than when Bloomberg came in (adjusted for inflation). Even now, with services declining, spending is still on the rise, by more than 10 percent over two years."

Can anyone check to see if Morticia is awake over at the Daily News? This guy Bloomberg deserves to retire the paper's Knucklehead Award for his failure to tackle the burgeoning and unaffordable growth of the city's public sector. But now, in Rip Van Winkle fashion, Mike arises from his Big Sleep to discover? Pensions are out of control: "The retirement of a top Fire Department official with an eye-popping $242,000-a-year pension prompted Mayor Bloomberg yesterday to demand that state lawmakers reform a pension system that the cash-strapped city can no longer pay for."

Well Mike, pension reform is necessary, but the best kind of reform of the public pension predicament is to-drum roll please-hire fewer public sector workers. Will someone school the dude on the law of cause and effect? As Gelinas points out: "The mayor has to re-work his budget in the next few weeks. He should stop trying to make more room for impossible benefits and education costs. Sure, Bloomberg has talked about getting givebacks from the unions -- but nobody will listen until he does something. The mayor has gotten us into a mess on education -- and getting out will be ugly. He should slash thousands of teachers starting now, doubling class sizes -- then tell outraged parents: If you want the teachers back, call the union."

The pension explosion-and the Curuther's excess is simply symbolic, even while it is excessive-is the reason why we are broke. And the Post lays out the grim details: "But, meanwhile, the city's pension obligations have grown by some 800 percent over the past decade -- to nearly one-tenth of the entire budget."

So we are about to go back to the future-and that friends is anything but nostalgic for those of us who weathered through the 1970s. But unfortunately we lack a chief executive who is able-as Rudy was for crime and welfare-to challenging the political culture of the city. The little guy simply doesn't have it in him.

So we'll treat Gelinas' last word comments as rueful rather than prophetic: "Yes, Albany controls subway service, and future city pensions -- but that doesn't leave our multibillionaire mayor helpless. The Legislature is up for grabs this fall; Bloomberg should say he'll aggressively support candidates who promise to fix the pension mess and the rules that govern labor agreements. It's going to take dirty work to keep New York clean and safe."