Thursday, October 21, 2010

NYC's Leviathan: Bloomberg Shrugged

One of our major criticisms of the Mike Bloomberg mayoralty is the fact that he never had any real feel for the dangers of of an ever expanding government bureaucracy-and came into office with a governing philosophy-more of a liberal mindset-that made him ill equipped to tackle this threat. As a result, NYC government has continues to expand under his watch, with ominous consequences for both city tax payers as well as local business.

The shame of this situation is that Bloomberg in 2002, unencumbered by political debts, was perfectly situated to begin a re-inventing government project-if he had just any idea of what that concept meant. Now, late in the day, he has brought Steve Goldsmith into his administration, someone who really gets the need to reform the size and scope of the city bureaucracy. We are left to wonder what Goldsmith might have accomplished, even as we cheer on his current efforts, if he had been an earlier hire of the mayor's.

The sense that we have, not only more government than we need, but more than we can afford, is underscored this morning by a trenchant column of Andrea Peyser in the NY Post: "Did you know that you, the taxpayer, are feeding and paying the bloated pensions for workers employed in a veritable alphabet soup of agencies? The list is so long, it fills 11 full pages on the city's Web site! And no one can say exactly what many of them do."

And she goes on to catalogue this useless compendium of bureaucratic unnecessaries: "The Department of Design sketches things like police station houses and manages their construction, said spokesman Matthew Monahan. The Design Commission? No one really knows. "It exists on the third floor of City Hall with a handful of employees," said an amused city source. Its job, evidently, is to make sure the new station houses are pretty. The Department of Environmental Protection is a mammoth agency (5,800 employees) that makes sure your drinking water is clean and poison-free, said spokesman Farrell Sklerov. But a mention of the similarly named Office of Environmental Coordination drew an involuntary giggle from a source. Evidently, the fine folks, who wouldn't speak to me, "coordinate" -- whatever that means -- the "greening" of buildings and planting of trees, among other tricks."

The idiocy doesn't stop there: "Why not combine the Commission on Women's Issues -- which improves gals' "personal and professional lives" -- and the new office of the Daddy Czar, whose $90,000-a-year commissioner aims to cajole deadbeats into paying child support? Build a ring. Let each side duke it out. There's a Latin Media and Entertainment Commission, which lures supposedly lucrative Hispanic media outlets, but no agency to promote media and entertainment created by blacks, Asians, Inuits or whites. And, if the Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement is to "address quality-of-life issues" like strip bars, then why is there also a Community Assistance Unit, which works with neighborhood groups "to improve the quality of life?"

What the mayor never apparently grasped-or if he did, he simply had other issues that were more important to him, like insuring people ate right-was that these overwhelming governmental edifice is what is making the city too costly a place to live and to do business. When Mike said that NYC city was a, "luxury item," he was being dismissive of the high cost of living and doing business here.

But that dismissive attitude has been costly-as Steve Malanga points out in the Post today-opining on the High Rent Party antics of Jimmy McMillan: "This lack of opportunity is one reason why New York is losing so many people to other states. From 2000 to 2008, for instance, New York led the country in migration to other places -- a net outflow of 1.5 million residents, according to a study by the Manhattan Institute's Empire Center for New York State Policy. And, lest you think these folks are fleeing high rents in places like Manhattan, the net outflow took place in virtually every upstate county, including many where rents are quite affordable by national standards. People are following jobs. A new study by the Empire Center found that New York is among the states that lose the most jobs to other states. New York also ranks among the worst in job creation. This isn't surprising, considering that business executives consistently rank the state as one of the least desirable places in the country to operate."

So, when the mayor inveighs against a paid sick leave bill as a, "job-killer," he does so without clean hands. Put simply, his lack of concern with the growth of city government-and the taxes, fess and fines needed to fund it-has done more to create an inhospitable business climate than scores of such sick leave bills.

Peyser's cataloguing should make us all weep: "And my favorite, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. Workers for that agency don't hire or promote anyone, don't build anything, or as much as hand a sheet of loose-leaf paper to kids seeking homework help. These folks "coordinate" -- again, whatever that means. "They provide a lot of the human resources," said a city source. Like people? I asked. Well, no. The agency "works to ensure that city agencies have the critical resources and support needed to provide the best possible services to the public." Mmm-kay."

What we have built in this city is an unsupportable Leviathan that is way more government that any of us needs-arguing that all of these agencies are providing essential services is a riff best suited for Comedy Central. But, as Malanga highlights, the results of all of this expensive folly is the unrelenting referendum of the feet-as tens of thousands of productive New Yorkers throw in the towel and leave in search for an easier place to live and start a business.