Keep the Promises
Recently Mayor Bloomberg announced plans to sharply reduce city spending in Fiscal Year 2009. This is due to the recession this country is currently experiencing, and by extension a drop in city revenues by $2 billion. These reductions will impact almost every city agency and threaten to cut off vital services and programs, which service vulnerable populations. If passed in their current form they would have an especially adverse impact on the quality of education in New York City and severely restrain the efforts of community centers to provide programs and activities for seniors and youth.
What makes the reductions in spending on community development and education so egregious is that these cuts, though incidental in terms of the city budget are devastating. Currently, the budget for community development in the city of New York is $32 million, and these monies cover the operation of all community centers in the city.
These community centers serve multiple functions such as providing important information and social interaction for seniors and giving impoverished children activities to enjoy and meals to eat during the summer. These cuts would potentially force the New York City Housing Authority to close 14 community centers in Queens alone. At the same time they would hinder productivity among many workers in the city who leave their young children at these centers for daycare. Also, it will push older children out on to the streets in disadvantaged areas that could potentially be problematic.
The underlying reason that measures like these are allowed to progress is economic bias against the city's working poor and elderly. The working class has a disproportionately low presence at the ballot box; and usually their votes are the only voices they have. As a result, Bloomberg believes that he can do whatever he wants to this group of people with impunity. Also by starving the NYCHA of funds he can force the sale of housing projects to land developers and private enterprises that have benefited in the past from the sale of public buildings such as 110 Livingston Street (formerly NYC Board of Education headquarters). With seniors the city has also shown this lack of interest and concern, of which the Neponsit Home Care debacle is emblematic.
Another target on Bloomberg's hit list is the New York City public schools. In Fiscal Year 2009, he proposes robbing the Department of Education of $180 million this year, and $325 million the year after that. This situation is exacerbated by the state shortchanging the city of $193 million in Contract for Excellence grants. These cuts have the potential to drastically restrict a school's ability to provide extracurricular activities, provide music and art classes, and in some cases pay its own operating costs. To add insult to injury, the budgets of the DOE's crown jewels; Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech, Townsend Harris and Bronx Science are to be cut by more than 5 percent.
Instead of cutting money from education and community development, Bloomberg could easily implement a variety of measures to generate income. First, in order to lend legitimacy to tax hikes being proposed, Bloomberg should slash the salaries and amount of money spent on official perks for elected officials by 10 percent or $57.9 million. This would send a signal that everyone must prosper during boom, and suffer during bust. Then the mayor should stop the sell-off of municipal buildings to private developers for prices far below market value. Following this he should embrace the idea of a millionaire's and billionaire's tax, which he opposed on the state level recently. He should switch his position and support a 1 percent tax hike on the very wealthy, which would generate a lot of revenue.
Assuming there are 10,000 millionaire's in the city of New York that makes a median income of $5 million, this tax would bring $500 million into the city's coffers. Additionally, there are 72 billionaires in the city of New York, and if they earned a median salary of $2 billion and they were given a 1 percent tax increase this would raise $1.44 billion. If all these measures were adopted I estimate they would save the city over $2 billion. Though these taxes would have a nominal effect on these people's finances, they would be crucial to closing the city's budget gap, recouping lost revenue, and restoring money to vital city programs and agencies.
Regardless whether the nation is in a recession or in a depression, education spending should never be reduced at the level that is being proposed. A good education is essential to success and breaking the cycle of poverty many disadvantaged children live in. Quality public education is also instrumental in determining the prosperity of the city and nation. Community centers facilitate this goal, and make sure that the most vulnerable have access to the most basic services. Last year, when the new city budget was being drafted, a recession was looming. At that time, Bloomberg and his subordinates sagely chose to increase spending for education and community development. It is now time for the state to join with the city in keeping their promises.