2002-11-16 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

Hey, Mayor Bloomberg, have I got a plan for you. You have to cut the city’s budget by five or six billion bucks. No problem! I can get it for you wholesale.

No cuts to police service. No cuts to fire department service. No cuts to school services.

Here’s how to do it.

First of all, cut out the 32 community school districts and five high school districts. They were put in place to serve the local school boards and those local school board will disappear in June. They have become sinecures for the friends of the superintendent and they serve little purpose in the everyday life of schools. In fact, they have a negative effect, often stifling the initiatives of principals who run individual schools in the district. Doing away with the district offices will save more than a billion dollars (that’s with a capital B).

While we’re talking about schools, cut the racist and self-defeating bilingual program. It has been proven over and over again that the program destroys Hispanic children by forcing them to learn in Spanish, keeping them from developing the necessary English language skills to live successfully in the real world. The program now exists simply to give jobs to all of the Hispanic educators who have found a home in the program. Cutting it would save about $150 million.

Next to go should be the community boards. The boards were set up to act as a buffer between elected officials and those who live in the city. Those who sit on the board are appointed by those same politicians. Except in very specified matters, the boards have no power – they are strictly advisory. I am not sure how much each of the local boards cost the city, but the total for all of the 45 local community boards has to approach a half of a million dollars or so. It’s nice to have the boards, and our board is especially helpful, but I would rather see cops and firefighters and teachers than 50 appointees debating something they have no control over in the first place.

Of course, the office of the Public Advocate would be the next to go. There is no earthly reason for this position to exist, except that the men and women who wrote the new City Charter years ago did not want to fund a deputy mayor and liked the old board of estimate model so much that they funded a person to act as a counterpoint to the mayor. It has not worked that way under Mark Green and it is not working that way under Betsy Gottbaum. Betsy earns $150 thousand a year for sitting at city council meetings and banging her gavel – not a bad job. The powers that be, however, want to take even that job away from Betsy. She has a staff of a dozen people, and you can bet that they each earn about $100 thousand as well, so figure, with everything, about $1.5 million for cutting out this unneeded agency.

While you’re at it, get rid of the Borough Presidents. They have no job. Those who wrote the city charter knew that fact, but they didn’t want to put such nice politicians as Claire Shulman out of work. There are five of them and each of their offices is funded for about $1.5 million or more. Wipe out another $7 or $8 million without causing any reduction of city services whatsoever.

So far, we have cut about $2 billion without missing a beat or cutting any really necessary program or agency.

That’s about half the nut necessary to balance the budget.

I love parks, but the listing for the Department of Parks personnel in the city’s Green Book runs from page 261 to page 288 and none of those folks are working in a park nearby you or I. There has got to be some fat in an agency that lists 35 high-paid executives in its citywide offices and 50 in its borough operations. That’s 85 people who are probably earning more than any teacher, firefighter or cop. Cut them in half and save another half-million or so.

What we need is a zero-sum budget. That kind of budget takes off from a base of zero. Every job, every program is reevaluated. Our city budget begins with what is now on hand and cuts a percentage from that existing total.

We need to take a fresh look at the agencies that have been draining our tax money for years.

Those agencies do not need a ten percent cut. They need a hundred percent cut.

That, however, is not going to happen. There are too many politicians and their friends at the public trough. They will continue to sit there and do their unnecessary jobs while cuts are made to real services instead.

If Bloomberg really wants to make a change, he should take another look at everything, just as he is taking a hard look at the entire Education Department, or whatever it is now called.

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