News & Politics

Mike Bloomberg Draws Praise for the Same Budget Decisions That Reap Tabloid Ridicule for Shelly Silver

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The recently passed Bloomberg and state legislative budgets each contained precisely the same, optimistic assumption that New York would get hundreds of millions of additional federal Medicaid funds even though the bill to provide the windfall was stalled in Congress.

The Daily News said Bloomberg’s budget met “the test of responsible governance” and “puts to shame their supposed superiors in Albany,” while simultaneously condemning the legislature for “recklessly dismissing the need to adopt a contingency plan that addresses the likely loss” of the Medicaid money. The News never noted that Bloomberg has no contingency plan either, and that his budget counts on getting nearly $300 million of this funding this year and again, next year.

But that’s just where the paradox starts.

Big Mike begged the legislature to make major restorations in state school aid, revenue sharing and senior center funding, opposing the cuts in Governor Paterson’s proposed budget. The legislature gave him $186 million in direct education assistance, other school cost shifts that tallied another $50 million, $30 million for senior centers, and nearly $300 million over two years in revenue sharing. Mr. Fiscal Responsibility even put $150 million of the revenue sharing restoration in the city’s just-adopted budget.

But when the legislative budget became a punching bag for the tabloids, Bloomberg let Paterson veto all of this aid without a word of complaint. Indeed, the mayor’s budget assumed Paterson’s veto of the school aid, a demonstration that the city could get along fine without it even before the governor started his virtuoso veto video performance. Pushed at a press conference about whether he disagreed with the Paterson school aid veto or hoped the legislature would override it, Bloomberg got downright undecipherable, saying “it depends how much” Paterson is “willing to give,” and avoiding a direct answer by simply asserting that “anything that gives us less than our fair share is an outrage.”

Instead of opposing vetoes that hurt the city, Bloomberg went out of his way to rush to the defense of hedge fund titans from Connecticut and elsewhere, urging Paterson to ditch a new $50 million state tax on them. Paterson quickly announced his reversal, underlining how helpful it might be for the city if Mayor Mouth turned up the volume once in a while for someone who wasn’t a brother billionaire.

Marc LaVorgna, a mayoral spokesman, told the Voice that the mayor “hasn’t weighed in on who’s right or wrong” in the fight between the legislature and the governor because “he doesn’t feel it’s his place” to do so, and that he wouldn’t tell the governor “not to veto this or to veto that.” Then, oddly, LaVorgna explained that Bloomberg had to speak out on the hedge fund tax “because he believes it will have an impact on the city,” driving hedge fund companies out of town. This is the same mayor who imposed the largest property tax increase in history and an income tax surcharge on the rich when he believed, as he repeatedly said during his first term, that his class comrades valued city services over upticks in their tax costs.

LaVorgna takes the perfectly reasonable position on the Medicaid funding (FMAP) that the city routinely does budget modifications and that it can adapt if Congress doesn’t act. “By waiting and using a full quarter of data, we will have a much more definitive picture and then we can make an informed decision on whether or not the FMAP loss, if it happens, needs to be compensated for with spending cuts,” LaVorgna said. Indeed Bloomberg noted today on his radio show that if there’s “no reasonable likelihood” of the FMAP money by October, “we’ll have to take it out.” He says he wants his budget staff to “start planning” for what he calls “the next round,” possible modifications, and that “everybody understands that.”

Didn’t Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver say almost precisely the same thing about changing the state budget if FMAP dies, evoking ridicule?

Indeed Charles Brecher, whose business-funded Citizens Budget Commission is a sharp critic of other state excesses, sounds liked a Silver echo chamber on FMAP. “I’m not sure explicit contingency plans are a necessary way to do this,” says the city’s top outside budget analyst. “If you show them how you can deal with not having the money in a manageable fashion, then they won’t give you the money. So instead you make promises of how terrible it’s going to be, then they give the money.”

The same tabloids that were demanding Paterson’s head just a few months ago are now writing budget policy for him, then praising him for channeling them. He’s gotten so giddy over all this gushing that he announced his regrets that he didn’t stay in the gubernatorial race right after the Times revealed that top aide David Johnson had taken the Fifth Amendment in the ongoing probe of the governor’s own possibly criminal conduct. It might at least get momentary notice in the press that it was Paterson himself who put the FMAP assumption in his January budget, switching only very recently, when he suddenly demanded the authority to make a billion in state cuts utterly on his own, without legislative oversight, if the Medicaid funding did not come through.

That’s at least how Brooklyn Assemblyman Jim Brennan described the sequence of events to me. Brennan also said that the city is dealing with FMAP “through its normal processes,” counting on its “right to modify” the budget if the federal aid fails, and that “it should work the same at the state level.” He also said that Bloomberg “came and pleaded” with the legislature to make the school and other restorations, and “now he’s not crediting the legislature” for having done it. “The legislature would sure appreciate a more balanced approach by the mayor,” said Brennan.

Additional research by Michael Cohen, Nicole Maffeo and Jenny Tai

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