Monday, September 13, 2010

A Living Lie

Adam Lisberg continues in the NY Daily News with more insightful commentary on the Bloombergistas-this time it's over mayoral hypocrisy on living wage: "It was the day after Labor Day when Mayor Bloomberg seemed to question the whole idea of a minimum wage. "I've always wanted to let the marketplace set the wages," he said when asked about higher wages on projects that get city subsidies. "Government should not be in the business of doing that," Bloomberg said. "The last government that tried that doesn't exist anymore. That was the Soviet Union." It's a strong statement from a mayor who three years ago hailed Congress for hiking the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour."

Well, where do we start with this arrant nonsense? And this is from a mayor who wants to control how we eat and live-something that was tried with some limited success by the Nazis in the 1930s. But the mayor has always held to the most rigorous of double standards. Remember the kerfluffle over the head butting incident at a West Side filming? Here's what steady as he goes Mike said at the time: "Head-butting somebody just doesn't make a lot of sense," he said. "The real question is, do we want to have jobs for people so they can feed their family?"

That is exactly what the mayor had said when he came out in support of the minimum wage-he was for it before he was against it. As Lisberg reminds us: "Those that are working at the minimum wage are just, you can't possibly put, feed your family," Bloomberg said then. "There is no reputable economic study that says that it would hurt. ... Businesses will be able to absorb it and we just have to do something." Getting dizzy yet?

But, as Lisberg points out, all of this was prior to the mayor getting his butt kicked over the Kingsbridge Armory: "What happened since then? The Kingsbridge Armory. The Related Companies wanted to build a massive shopping center in the empty Bronx building, with $14 million in city subsidies. Some politicians, unions and community groups said businesses at the mall should pay higher-than-minimum wages to their employees in exchange for those subsidies. The dispute killed the project last year, but the issue didn't die."

In response to the site fight in the Bronx, Council members Palma and Koppell introduced a city wide living wage bill that has the real estate community's knickers in a knot: "Most City Council members have signed on to a bill requiring a "living wage" - $10 an hour plus health benefits, or $11.50 without - on any development that includes a city subsidy. Bloomberg doesn't like it. Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who comes from a liberal background but is wooing the business community for a mayoral run, hasn't lifted a finger to move it out of committee. "There's been meetings here with folks who are on both sides of the issue," said Quinn spokesman Jamie McShane."

What Quinn is trying to do is discover a more advanced form of geometry that would enable her to square circles-but Bloomberg is slicker and quicker; calling on his EDC puppets to cut the rebels off at the pass: "To answer those questions, Bloomberg's Economic Development Corp., which manages city subsidy programs from its 110 William St. offices, hired an outside consultant for a $1 million study of "the estimated impact of wage requirements." Supporters of the bill say the city stacked the deck by drawing up the study terms without outside input - and hiring a firm whose lead economists are outright opposed to a minimum wage. "It's not hard to see what is going on here," said Daniel Morris of the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy. "The EDC's study is a convenient political tool to delay public debate ... and generate predetermined findings."

EDC, however, defends its virginity: "EDC spokesman David Lombino insists the firm doing the study, Charles River Associates, is unbiased and will listen to the arguments of living wage supporters. "If individuals disagree with the results, they will, of course, have an opportunity to voice their concerns," Lombino said."

Lombino's getting a bit like Baghdad Bob with his proclamations of innocence-and one thing that you can absolutely depend on here is that no city study will ever contradict the mayor's position; or, if it does, it will never see the light of day-and said consultants can look forever for work somewhere else.

That is exactly what happened with the DEP food waste disposer study-a joint effort in collusion between the mayor and the speaker, designed to kill a pilot program that had the support of 33 members of the council. The DEP was adamantly opposed to the use of disposers and dutifully produced a study that faithfully mirrored that attitude-while contradicting the facts on the ground from municipalities all over the country.

As we said last spring when commenting on the Quixotic city council composting efforts:

"But Crain's doesn't see food waste disposers as an option: "The idea of lowering the rate cap seems to have been shelved for the moment. Council Speaker Christine Quinn has been burnishing her recycling credentials lately, so the effort is likely to return in another form. But it probably won't include legalizing the commercial use of food waste disposers. A Department of Environmental Protection study poured cold water on the idea a year ago, and there has been no progress on the issue since then, an industry lobbyist says."

Let's be very clear about the so-called DEP study-it's as full of drek as the city sewers. It's the only agency that claimed it could better analyze the impact of disposers in a study that eschewed the collection of empirical data-as the proposed pilot program would have. As we have pointed out time and time again: "Given the DEP's publicly expressed hostility to the use of the device it makes no sense for the council to give the agency carte blanche."

But it did when it suited the speaker's purposes-and the bad precedent was set. On the issue of living wage, however, the political blow back is much greater. Lisberg tells us: "Living wage supporters aren't waiting. They're trying to discredit the study before it starts - and they think Bloomberg's crack about the Soviet Union is pretty ironic, for a guy who runs the power structure in this town. "There's tremendous decisions being made at 110 William St. involving large amounts of public money," Controller John Liu said. "One could argue that the Politburo is alive and kicking at 110 William St."

And if the fight over the EDC study on living wage leads to the agency being reined in from its unaccountable perch, much good will be accomplished. Remember, it is EDC that is playing three card monte with fraudulent traffic studies done-without competitive bidding-by pet consultants who know how to whisper sweet nothings into the agency's ears. Let's make EDC accountable to the citizens-the living wage study is simply a case in point.