- Last Updated: 1:35 PM, February 6, 2010
- Posted: 12:57 AM, February 5, 2010
Mayor Bloomberg issued a stern warning to state lawmakers last month: Gov. Paterson's budget cuts would meet stiff resistance in the Big Apple.
"Let me tell you," Hizzoner huffed, "the cuts the state's fiscal mess will cause us to make will not sit well with New York City residents."
Well, maybe not. But it sure is good to see something forcing the city to rein in spending -- since Bloomberg would never do it on his own.
Truth is, state-imposed trims might be just the medicine the city needs. If ever there were a time for belt-tightening, this is it.
Indeed, if City Hall can't roll back spending now -- at a time when the economy is said to be the worst since the Great Depression and the city and state fiscal predicament more precarious than in decades -- then, let's be honest, it's never going to contain the budget.
Which would be a shame. Because New York City shells out far too much money. This year's bottom line: $63 billion.
That massive spending fuels a corrosive tax burden, among the heaviest in the nation -- which, in turn, drags down the economy, driving out businesses and jobs.
The governor's plan would slice $1.3 billion in state funding for the city, triggering thousands of layoffs, including 3,000 cops and 1,000 firefighters, says Mayor Mike. There'd be "dramatic cuts in city services." The teacher head count alone would fall by 8,500. Ooh, scary stuff.
True, no one likes cuts. But some funding trims are better than others: Chopping cops to the point where it risks a jump in crime, for example, makes no sense. Parks may be valuable, too, but less so than police.
Education? Basic funding is essential. But city schools already spend far more per student than most other places in America. In recent years, City Hall, Albany and even Washington have showered mountains of cash on them. What about showering a bit less for a change?
Medicaid? Again, the poor need health services. But in New York, a full third of the population -- some 2.8 million residents, far more than just the poor -- gets generous Medicaid benefits. Why?
Another juicy target: health and pension perks for city employees. This year, city pension outlays alone will hit nearly $7 billion -- 11 percent of the budget (and up a stunning 353 percent since 2002). The private sector has sacrificed; why not public employees?
It's up to Mayor Mike and other officials to pick sensible priorities. But any city leader who truly cared about lightening New York City's onerous tax burden would have moved to roll back spending drastically -- long ago.
Instead, New York's mayors let spending soar nearly 450 percent between 1980 and 2009. (It's up 47 percent just since 2002, according to the city's Independent Budget Office.)
So when the city proposes a budget that climbs "just" 1 percent, as Bloomberg did last week, the logical question is: Why is it growing at all -- after all those increases, and at a time like this?
On the other hand, any annually recurring budget cuts now will lower the city's budget baseline forever. If the economy heats up someday and churns out fat tax revenues -- fat enough, say, to spur surpluses for City Hall -- Hizzoner can use the extra cash to pay down the city's fast-growing debt, saving interest costs. Or shore up pension funds. Or, best of all, lower taxes, helping grow the economic base.
Alas, few mayors think this way. Bloomberg himself has said that he believes the public always "wants and deserves" more city services.
No wonder taxes and fees climbed early in his first term and never fell back to pre-Mike levels. No wonder he's groaning about Paterson's planned cuts in city funding.
Albany itself, meanwhile, has an $8 billion hole to plug (it can use its own dose of fiscal discipline). So Paterson's trims in city aid may be unavoidable. If so, expect hollering -- loudest of all, from the city's spender-in-chief.
But in the long run, Albany's cuts could be just the right prescription for a spend-crazy, tax-crazy city. email@example.comFollow @NYPostOpinion