Bloomberg’s Taxing Debut

Beyond Feel-Good Aura, a Brutal Budget Plan

As welcome as the friendly atmospherics are in Bloomberg's City Hall, the new mayor's inaugural declaration that he intends to close the largest budget gap in decades without a dime of new revenue made him sound ominously partisan and ideological, echoing the simultaneous Bush "over my dead body" line out of California. In a Voice interview, Bill Cunningham, Bloomberg's communications director, made it clear that the mayor even opposes the restoration of the commuter tax, putting Bloomberg to the right of Rudy Giuliani on tax policy. "He said during the campaign that the commuter tax is counterproductive when you're trying to get employers dislocated by September 11 back into the city," explained Cunningham, the former executive director of the state Democratic Party who was Bloomberg's campaign manager this year. "Reimposing it could come back to haunt you."

Bloomberg apparently believes he can get the feisty new City Council—with blacks, Latinos, and white liberals dominating the Democratic caucus—to do a Vallone and roll over on a mayoral budget, satisfied with a few million in service restorations. He also apparently believes that a union-influenced council will ratify a budget that asks nothing of the city's wealthiest or its commuters, closing a $4 billion hole solely through attrition, service cuts, work-rule changes, and other employee contributions.

On the plus side, he's at least indicated that he expects every agency, including the New York Post-protected police and fire departments, to find ways to shave costs, presumably focusing on crunching overtime and assigning civilians some functions currently performed by uniformed employees. Gifford Miller, the new council speaker designate, told the Voice that he agrees with Bloomberg that tax increases "should be avoided if we can," but added that "we can't afford to take anything off the table." Bill Perkins, the Harlem councilman whose Miller endorsement will undoubtedly give him a leadership position in the new council, said Bloomberg's no-new-revenue position "doesn't sound too creative" and is "premature." Perkins said Bloomberg was "echoing the past administration's attitude," adding that the mayor took his position "without talking with the council."

Bloomy: won’t tax commuters
photo: Cary Conover
Bloomy: won’t tax commuters

Pointing to an Independent Budget Office finding that the city could gain a half billion in revenue with a 1 percent surcharge on people making a half million in income, Perkins said, "My eyes are open to all possibilities." Voice interviews with several leaders in the new council—including Angel Rodriguez, who lost the speaker race to Miller—found unanimous skepticism about the mayor's position.

Bloomberg may be responding to state senate Republican leader Joe Bruno, who told the Post last week that he would not support legislation authorizing the city to increase taxes. But if this preemptive bow to GOP recalcitrance in Albany is just a sample of Bloomberg realism, why is he pushing forward with his campaign for state approval of mayoral control over the school system when the assembly Democrats have made it just as clear that they aren't aboard? A united Bloomberg-council insistence on new revenue authority can prevail in Albany, just as it did during the city's last two fiscal crises—in the '70s and the early '90s—and some taxes can be boosted without state legislation.

As partisan as Bloomberg's tax approach has been, his new team has been put together without regard to party or narrow ideology, leaving many Giuliani favorites out in the cold. But there are prime positions yet to fill, especially the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Parks, the Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC), and Youth and Community Development (DYCD). The current DYCD commissioner, Jerry Cammarata, is pressing hard for reappointment, though he was rejected unanimously by the Bloomberg transition committee, which sent three other names to the mayor. Also ex-borough president Guy Molinari's Staten Island representative on the Board of Ed, Cammarata was nominally active in the Bloomberg campaign, with one of his aides gathering a record number of petition signatures for the candidate.

Joel Miele, the DEP commissioner, is also fighting to hang on at DEP or elsewhere in the administration. Robert Kennedy Jr. and other environmentalists have long made Miele's mismanagement of the city watershed a major issue and are vigorously opposing his retention.


Research assistance: Peter Bailey, Sam Dolnick, Rivka Gurwitz, Jeffrey Herman

 
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