Tuesday Rudy Giuliani was hugged at Saint Patrick’s by Calvin Butts. Wednesday he was embraced in Washington by Strom Thurmond.
Thursday the mayor announced a budget containing $882 million in city funding over four years for baseball stadiums and zero this year for youth programs. Friday he and Council Speaker Peter Vallone said they were jointly seeking legislation in Albany to kill the independent Board of Education, which the mayor suggested should be “blown up” during his budget press conference.
Littleton imagery aside, the suggestion was the second time this year that Giuliani has urged the decimation of a public educational institution: in January, in his State of the City speech, he said we should “blow up” the City University. Together, CUNY and the Board of Ed serve 1,046,478 black, Latin, and other minority students, more than any other school or university systems in the hemisphere.
Without provoking so much as a murmur of editorial board opposition, the mayor was also busily saluting himself last week for a $2.1 billion surplus—the largest in history—even as he cut libraries by $38 million, youth by $20 million, Legal Aid by $7 million, CUNY merit scholarships by $10 million, antieviction programs by $5 million, code enforcement by $2.7 million, and direct food purchases for the hungry by half a million. Vallone’s council will restore most of the worst cuts, but why would a post-Diallo mayor single out these programs when a meager 4 percent of his surplus could easily keep them intact?
Though a near majority of the CUNY Board of Trustees was appointed by his fellow Republican George Pataki, Giuliani is proposing budgetary language that would cut off all $110 million in city assistance to the 17-college system. He says he will do this unless his latest two punitive demands are instantly adopted, even though state law requires a level of city aid that Giuliani may already be denying the system.
In between repeated praise of what he called “a great budget,” Vallone mumbled that CUNY’s defunding would occur “over my dead body.” Since Vallone has apparently returned to his pre-1998 role as a Giuliani accommodationist, it’s unclear if he was making a prediction or a threat.
One of Giuliani’s CUNY demands is for a voucher remediation program similar to the one he’s pushing for the public schools. He’s managed to portray his Board of Ed voucher initiative as a “challenge” to powerful “special interests,” though until he was reelected in 1997, he kowtowed to the teachers union himself. No one in the press noted the irony that, after five and a half years, the mayor’s top “reform” of a still-struggling school system is to pay people to leave it.
Predictably, the media took the voucher bait and made it this year’s budget issue when no one, least of all the mayor, is serious about it. Giuliani is using it both to play to conservative contributors and to give Vallone a token win, so the speaker can cave on police and stadiums. Incredibly, while the mayor devoted much of his budget presentation to the voucher diversion, he never mentioned his once ballyhooed, but now stealth, stadium bonanza, and his 257-page budget message failed to contain even a single reference to it. The coverage unfortunately reflected this sucker spin.
Given an opportunity at his own budget press conference to invoke his stadium referendum stand of 1998—the proudest moment of Vallone’s otherwise docile, nearly three-decade career—our new mayoral wannabe instead said that trying to put these colossal stadium expenditures before the people, as is routinely done around the country, wouldn’t be “an ultimate solution.” The mayor could always “block it” with another charter revision, said Vallone. Unsaid was that this year the speaker might well be drafting the charter revision with him, especially if a provision to modify term limits is part of the package.
As sad as Vallone’s turnabout on referendums is, his finance committee’s alternative budget, which offered $360 million to a stadium/arts development corporation over three years and the entire proceeds of the lucrative hotel tax thereafter, was a cowardly collapse. As Deputy Mayor Joe Lhota noted on NY 1, the council and the mayor now disagree only about the funding source (Giuliani favors the commercial rent tax), not the longterm gouging of the public treasury by sports moguls who want taxpayers to build their TV studios for them.
Vallone has so far resisted Giuliani’s plea for 1500 more cops, but his position looks more like a stall, until he can get the council’s 23-member black and Latin caucus in line, than a matter of principle. If the start date for the next police class is moved up, as Giuliani insists, the department would hit an all-time high of 40,915 cops on January 1, 2000, right around the time Rudy formally announces his Senate candidacy. No new class would enter the academy thereafter for at least a year and a half, according to the council’s finance committee analysis, with an expected 2400 departing cops going unreplaced.
The $10 million minority recruitment drive that the mayor is now dangling before the council would consequently be the best-financed false advertising campaign in city history, juicing up thousands of minority applicants for a handful of short-lived vacancies. Giuliani auditioned his new-cops screed during his budget talk, throwing charts up on the screen that showed the precincts where the murder rate is now surging and contending that the only way to stop it is to put the new cops in those precincts.
Unable to withstand this “blood-on-your-hands” taunt, Vallone is likely to accept a “compromise” that allows the council to claim victory because the new cops will be assigned to precincts, instead of Rudy’s long-favored specialized units, and the mayor to get what he’s wanted all along: the largest municipal army since Caesar’s Rome.
It’s not just vouchers, the start-up of minor league baseball in Staten Island, massive new tax cuts, and the police hiring schedule that dovetail with Giuliani’s Senate agenda. He induced Vallone into jointly blocking the Board of Ed’s capital construction plan, siding with Queens beep Claire Schulman, who endorsed the mayor in 1997 and just might do it again.
Likewise, the mayor’s use of the lion’s share of the surplus to prepay debt service in the next two fiscal years, instead of retiring existing debt as fiscal monitors like the Citizens Budget Commission recommend, virtually guarantees that he will be announcing another good-news budget in the middle of his Senate run in 2000. His decision is similiar to a homeowner using a salary bonus to get his mortgage payments off his back for a couple of years, paying them ahead of time to temporarily improve cash flow, rather than trading the mortgage in for a new, smaller one that would be materially cheaper over the long haul.
Combined with the $11 billion in tax cuts Giuliani and Vallone have already enacted and plan to engineer, as well as the nearly 10,000-position growth in the city workforce since 1996, the squandering of the surplus may well leave a post-Giuliani mayor and a post-Vallone speaker with gargantuan gaps. Neither of the currently term-limited leaders seems to care.
Giuliani’s budget doesn’t contain a cent for labor, and offers next to nothing over the next four years to cover the cost of the promised 2001 closing of the Fresh Kills landfill. The mayor is thus positioned to negotiate endorsement-inspiring contracts with the police, fire, correction, and sanitation unions when they expire midway through 2000, leaving his successor with the headache of finding a way to pay for them (DC 37, the UFT, and the Teamsters 237 are also up, but no Giuliani deals are likely with them).
Rudy’s also free to get the electoral credit for shutting Staten Island’s dump while the next mayor has to come up with the cash to cover the resulting garbage exports, which the Independent Budget Office conservatively estimates will begin at $230 million a year right after Giuliani ascends to the Senate.
Vallone spent most of 1998 wounded by defecting Democrats who he thought doomed his run against George Pataki. But his acquiescence now to Giuliani’s unabashedly political budget may turn out to be the most damaging shot a Democrat will take at the party’s 2000 Senate candidate, whether she’s a First Lady or a Westchester lady.
Research: Camila Gamboa, Coco McPherson, Kandea Mosley, Soo-Min Oh, Ron Zapata