If you can’t wait for the June 13 release of Dumb and Dumberer, come to New York. Governor George Pataki and Gotham mayor Mike Bloomberg are starring in a slapstick saga about public mismanagement. This cautionary tale should be required viewing, especially for Republicans nationwide.
Give Pataki one cheer for being bright enough to veto the state legislature’s free-spending $94 billion budget, featuring $2.5 billion in tax hikes. Alas, Democrats and Republicans in Albany breezily overrode Pataki’s veto as Bloomberg applauded. They found Pataki’s born-again fiscal conservatism as credible as a madam trying to padlock a bordello.
“The truth is, Pataki is a hypocrite, and nobody trusts him now,” an anonymous GOP state senator told the New York Post’s Fred Dicker.
Desperately seeking reelection, Pataki last year arranged $1.8 billion in pay hikes for city hospital workers and $275 million for Gotham teachers. With taxpayer money, he captured the endorsement of these normally pro-Democratic unions.
The invoices for these political payoffs have arrived. So has next year’s $220.4 million tab for Family Health Plus, a Hillary-style medical entitlement that Pataki launched, then promoted through ads recruiting new beneficiaries. The marketing worked. Since October 2001, enrollment has grown from zero to 237,000 individuals. FHP’s 2003-2004 budget will skyrocket 59.2 percent above this fiscal year’s $138.4 million outlay.
Pataki also aired TV ads in which he and several smiling kids celebrated Child Health Plus, another warm, fuzzy program. CHP has ballooned from about 94,000 pint-sized participants in 1994 to some 500,000 today. “All that increase is under the governor,” says state Health Department spokesman Rob Kenny. This will cost New York’s grownups $457 million, up 7 percent from last fiscal year’s $426.8 million expenditure.
As the budget showdown approached, the normally disengaged Pataki unveiled a leaner, $1.8 billion city bailout plan. It went nowhere. It promised $210 million in revenue from 4,500 video lottery terminals in existing government-owned horseracing parlors. It also proposed $73 million in coop mortgage recording taxes and $90 million from a 50 percent surcharge on absentee landlord property levies. He also included such gimmicks as having the state purchase $125 million in city assets, so Gotham could claim this money as “deficit reduction.”
The legislature’s override made a gelding of George Pataki. The next day, Standard & Poor’s cut New York’s bond rating from “stable” to “negative,” even as Pataki’s job approval slid to 37 percent. What a rough week for a man who reportedly craves the White House.
Unfortunately, Pataki resembles an Oxford don compared to the increasingly boneheaded Bloomberg. True, Bloomberg took office less than four months after al Qaeda carved huge holes in lower Manhattan and the local budget. Bloomberg should have extended outgoing mayor Rudy Giuliani’s post-9/11 budget cuts (15 percent across-the-board, except for 2.5 percent reductions in police, fire and government schools). On arrival, Bloomberg should have proposed a three-year budget freeze and told squawking unions, city workers, and activists to fax their complaints to Osama bin Laden’s cave. Holding constant through 2005 the $41.2 billion budget baseline he inherited would have saved taxpayers $14.6 billion those three years, compared to Bloomberg’s projected spending, the city’s Independent Budget Office estimates.
Instead, Bloomberg has juggled a dreary combination of higher overall spending, selective program cuts and layoffs of 4,500 City employees. Creative initiatives in privatization and productivity enhancement are lacking.
He also has taxed nearly everything but the litter, graffiti and vagrants that are returning as Giuliani’s magic spell fades. Among the hikes in taxes, fares and fees that New Yorkers now face:
Property taxes: Up 18.5 percent (Bloomberg sought 25 percent, but the overwhelmingly Democratic City Council demurred.)
Income taxes: The Manhattan Institute’s E. J. McMahon calculates that top local and state income-tax rates in Gotham will grow from a combined 10.5 percent to 12.15 percent.
Sales taxes: State and local levies will rise from 8.25 to 8.625 percent.
Local water fees: 5.5 percent more.
Newly required license to perform weddings: $15.
Lobbyist registration fee: Rises from $100 to $150.
State parking-ticket surcharge: Triples from $5 to $15, plus cost of local violation.
Subway fares: $2.00 (They may return to $1.50 if the Metropolitan Transit Authority loses its appeal of Manhattan supreme court judge Louis York’s decision. In a lawsuit filed by the Straphangers Campaign, the subway riders’ lobby, York ruled that the MTA justified the 50-cent hike by pretending to be “in worse financial condition than it knew itself to be.” State Comptroller Alan Hevesi and City Comptroller Bill Thompson, both Democrats, say the Pataki-controlled MTA feigned poverty by concealing $500 million in projected revenues. If MTA officials intentionally stashed half a billion dollars to trick subway passengers into higher fares (rather than simply misdescribe this money, as the MTA says it did), the fare should return to $1.50, and the responsible bureaucrats should be sacked and prosecuted for fraud.
Giuliani told reporters May 19 that “tax increases are not good for the economy.” In what is seen as his first substantial criticism of his successor, the supply-sider added: “We’re far better off with tax decreases to stimulate the economy.”
Bloomberg also has turned Fun City into Fine City. Cops and local inspectors are fining New Yorkers for minor infractions to swipe even more cash. Police Benevolent Association president Pat Lynch told the Post, “The NYPD has become a summons-generating machine, generating millions of dollars to close the city’s budget gap while eroding the relationship between the police and the communities they serve.” The patrolman’s union has launched a $100,000 ad campaign called “Don’t Blame the Cop” to inform New Yorkers that these fines are not their idea.
The New York Post’s Andrea Peyser discovered that Brooklyn gym owner Michael Ganim got smacked with $12,500 in fines this month. His crime? His awnings contained the facility’s logo, phone number, and “excessive wording” in violation of a lightly enforced 1961 zoning ordinance. So, Ganim ripped down his $20,000 awnings hoping to avoid this fine.
Anything beyond a business’s name and address technically is prohibited. However, this law sat relatively quietly on the books. Now it fuels a municipal protection racket. The 469 awning offenses cited in 1999 are expected to reach 2,400 this year.
The New York Daily News discovered other victims of this ticket-writing craze. They include:
Jesse Taveras. A cop wrote the 19-year-old Bronx resident a ticket on May 18 for “unauthorized use of a milk crate,” namely sitting on one outside the hair salon where he works. Apparently, this is a previously ignored violation of article 17A of the General Business Law. “Don’t blame me,” Taveras said the cop told him. “Blame Bloomberg.” A judge is expected to decide the amount Taveras could pay at a June 25 hearing. Unfortunately, Taveras is scheduled to visit his ailing mother in the Dominican Republic that day. If he stays in New York for his court date, he will have to cancel his air tickets and lose $700.
Yoav Kashdia. This 22-year-old Israeli tourist received a $50 ticket for occupying two seats on a largely empty F Train to Jamaica, Queens. His arms and head had slid into the adjacent seat after Kashdia had dozed off. He woke up to find two officers writing him a summons. “It’s no way to make money for the city, to take from tourists,” Kashdia said. “This $50, I wanted to spend them here, but not on a ticket.”
Jacob Walzer. The 28-year-old found a ticket envelope May 20 on the windshield of his parked car in Manhattan. The $55 violation was for “improperly displayed plates.” Apparently, his license plate was bordered by a black frame that was there when he bought his vehicle. “Every car in the city has a frame from the dealer,” Walzer said. “There are so many laws that people don’t know about.”
The multibillionaire mayor also commits foolish, unforced errors. While appearing with legendary Yankees manager Joe Torre on May 16, he pronounced the well-known, four-time World Series winner’s surname “Torrez.” On May 10, the Daily News reports, Bloomberg introduced veteran folk singer Pete Seeger as “Pete Rose.” At a May 13 town-hall meeting, Bloomberg annoyed Brooklynites by arriving 30 minutes late without explanation, then splitting after answering just four questions.
As New Yorkers suffer sharpening headaches, Bloomberg visited ABC’s The View May 8 for a fantasy wedding with Barbara Walters. The next morning’s Post showed Bloomberg lifting a champagne glass beside a tiara-clad Walters. Headline: “He feels your pain.”
No wonder Bloomberg’s popularity is plunging. The May 8 New York Daily News dubbed him “The Incredible Shrinking Mike.” That day’s Post called him “Mr. 32 %,” quoting a Quinnipiac University poll in which less than a third of New Yorkers praise his performance. Sixty-six percent believe he misunderstands average New Yorkers. Let them drink champagne!
Here’s the moral of this farce: The GOP must stop nominating and electing phony Republicans. If they stand for anything, GOP candidates must be energetic economic conservatives. If Republicans win office, then raise taxes and waste money, voters might as well support Democrats.
Indeed, were liberal Democrat Mark Green elected mayor in 2001, he could not have dispensed half the fiscal hemlock that Bloomberg has ladled out. Rather than acquiesce, Republicans would have rallied against Green for pursuing stereotypically leftist measures. Instead, New Yorkers are getting Green policies, only in elephant-print gift-wrap.
“Mayor Mike” is a life-long liberal Democrat impersonating a liberal Republican.
“I am a liberal,” he declared October 24, 2001 at a joint press conference with Pataki. As a few of us warned that year, Bloomberg switched parties solely to avoid a crowded Democratic primary. “I’m more of a Democrat than any of those guys,” he said of his erstwhile rivals in Business Week that April.
Now, Bloomberg is alienating New Yorkers who voted Republican, only to watch him and his GOP pals in Albany vacuum their wallets. Next time, they just might place a Democrat in City Hall and/or the governor’s mansion.
Dumberer? They don’t call the GOP “the stupid party” for nothing.
— Mr. Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.