And other mayoral hopefuls' bad ideas
A decade of Mayor Bloomberg has bought New Yorkers a luxury: being able to ignore the usual city pols. But a year and a half from now, Democratic primary voters will pick the likely next mayor, so it's time to notice what this motley crew is saying.
On Thursday, City Comptroller John Liu was the latest to give a song-and-dance "State of the City" speech — literally. Lion dancers regaled the crowd, followed by song and praise for Liu.
It's easy to make fun of the superstar trappings. But Liu came from nowhere to hold powerful office because he's a master politician, with charisma, a sense of humor and an eye for the interests who can best help him out. There's no guarantee that the legal problems of his fund-raisers will hold him back — or frustrate the policies he pushes.
So it's worth noting the ideas he put out there after the lions, especially because his biggest idea, on the city's biggest problem, is: Do nothing.
Liu cheerfully admits: "The city is spending more money than it takes in." But he won't admit that the biggest reason is public-worker pensions and health benefits, which cost $16 billion a year. He's mum about health benefits and on pensions insists everything is great.
He insists that new public workers don't have to make any of the changes that Gov. Cuomo has suggested: working longer, contributing more or shifting to private-pension accounts. Instead, Liu claims we can fix the pension crisis with some housekeeping — saving money on fees to the managers who invest the city's pension funds and getting better returns on those investments.
Cutting fees is fine. But chasing higher returns usually means taking greater risk — meaning taxpayers, who guarantee pension benefits, could pay even more in the future. Nor does either move come close to solving the problem.
Liu wants to gamble with pension money in another way, too — by increasing the pension funds' role as a political slush fund. The city already puts $1 billion in pension-fund money into "economically targeted investments" — such as "affordable" housing. Liu would expand such investments to small businesses — likely minting campaign donors interested in this cash.
His other big idea is taxes — raising them for people who make more than half a million dollars a year. In his speech, he said "equality" is just as important as economic recovery.
Yet the "top 1 percent" pays 43.2 percent of city income taxes, on earnings that comprise 33.8 percent of city incomes. If a few of these taxpayers leave town, New York would end up losing money, thanks to the tax hikes.
Liu puts on the best show, but his rivals have their own bad ideas targeted to core primary voters.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is pushing a "living-wage" bill that would force companies that get city subsidies to pay their lowest-skilled workers at least $10 to $11.50 an hour (depending on whether they offer benefits). What the city needs is fewer subsidies — not subsidies that make it even more costly to create private-sector jobs.
She also criticizes the mayor for "stigmatizing" food-stamp recipients by fingerprinting them — even though doing so deters fraud and isn't a stigma. (Stock market workers are fingerprinted.)
Plus, Quinn wants even more "affordable" housing — benefits for a few at a great cost to the many.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer supports the living-wage bill, as well as the no-fingerprint push, and he's pushing his own tax-hike plan for the wealthy. In fact, Liu has sort of borrowed Stringer's plan.
Brooklyn Beep Marty Markowitz, for his part, spent some of his "State of the City" speech reminding people that his biggest "achievement" was a basketball stadium . . . which happens to rely on hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer cash.
Yeah, these guys are pikers compared to Liu — and they've all been strategically quiet on pensions. But the need to attract primary votes may yet push them more tightly into the arms of the municipal unions and other special interests.
Bloomberg has hardly been a stellar mayor on the economic and fiscal fronts. (In fact, Liu justified his tax-hike plan by paraphrasing the mayor's statement that New York is a "premium product worth every penny.") But he at least didn't win his job by buying special-interest votes with taxpayer money. Sadly, the race to succeed him may look more like an auction.
Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/john_liu_the_lion_king_Q3ffBcX4a3j8esEqkCzcRP