By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The legislature's unprecedented support of income and sales tax increases at both the city and state levels will generate enough new revenue to balance the budget the council must approve by June, without a dime of the $600 million in union concessions that Bloomberg has been demanding. Bloomberg spokesman Bill Cunningham told the Voicethat the mayor will still seek concessions, especially "involving a new pension tier and efficiencies in the benefit funds," to help close the gap for the next fiscal year, which begins midway through 2004. But Bruno and Silver's tax bonanza has taken the need to achieve any labor savings off the table for the upcoming budget, allowing the unions to behave, as they did at a Friday press conference at City Hall, as if the legislative largesse was a union gap-closing contribution.
The press conference was labor's attempt to pressure the mayor to rescind the 3,000 layoffs already underway. Cunningham did tell the Voice that Bloomberg would pull back on some of the layoffs "if any particular union" whose members are affected "is prepared to agree to offer real and meaningful savings to the city." With only 10 days before the layoffs go into effect, Cunningham was doubtful however that there was enough time to stop the layoffs. "What's more likely," he said, "is that if we can identify true savings and achieve a new level of productivity with a union, we could bring these people back and get them working."
With Pataki insulated from the tax and transit hikes by the legislature and the MTA, Bloomberg is the chief executive who may well be associated with them in the public mind, especially after he explicitly supported the legislature's taxes last week. Having already engineered the largest property tax boost in city history, the mayor will soon pay another political price when that increase helps push the Bloomberg-appointed Rent Guidelines Board to approve record-breaking rent hikes. Having gone further than any liberal Democratic mayor could realistically go to close daunting deficits with new revenue, he still faces a union stonewall, willing even to cynically surrender thousands of jobs rather than make concessions such as the administration of benefit fundsthat ask little or nothing of workers.
As salutary as the legislative restorations are for the city, especially in education, it is a shame that this year's budgetary drama may end without commuters or unions making any contribution to the city's fiscal health, while hundreds of school aides and sanitation workers make the ultimate, "job-killing," sacrifice.