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New York Post

 

Mayor Bloomberg's Parting Gift

December 23, 2013

By Nicole Gelinas

Michael Bloomberg has left Bill de Blasio a gift: a blueprint to how to be a progressive mayor.

How the new mayor treats this present will tell New Yorkers lots about de Blasio: whether he’s competent, how beholden he is to labor unions and if he’s aware of the city’s defining problem.

Last week, Bloomberg made the most important speech of his mayoralty, warning of the threat the “labor-electoral complex” poses to New York.

As he put it, “The future that most elected officials worry most about is their own. Winning election — or re-election — is the goal.” And how do pols get votes? Overwhelmingly, via endorsements from public-sector labor unions — who can get out the vote.

And how do they get those endorsements? By offering ever-higher salaries and benefits, even when the city has more than enough qualified applicants for each job.

To give an example: New cops and firefighters can still retire after 22 years with a guaranteed pension that equals their final-year’s pay, including overtime. Plus, all city workers and retirees get free health care. The city even pays Medicare premiums.

The mayor outlined the “explosion” in pension and health benefits costs. The city will spend $8.2 billion on pensions during de Blasio’s first year, Bloomberg said, up from $1.5 billion when Mayor Mike took office. Health costs for city workers and retirees have reached $7.1 billion, from $2.7 billion.

When Bloomberg took office, these two costs were 17 percent of the city-funded budget. Now they’re a third.

Money spent on pensions is money we can’t spend on other things we need. The example Bloomberg gave was that since he took office, the city has spent $68 billion on pensions, and “only” $5.3 billion on affordable housing.

But if subsidized housing isn’t your thing, what about better subways? The city just spent $2 billion extending the No. 7 line from Times Square to the Far West Side. That, in turn, encouraged developers to build thousands of new apartments. Bloomberg rode in the first train westward Friday (it opens to the public come summer).

Imagine what the city could have done with $10 billion dollars in such investments.

As the mayor said: “The $7 billion additional that taxpayers are forced to spend on pensions every year is $7 billion that cannot be invested in our schools and our parks and our social safety net.”

The issue isn’t unique to New York. As Bloomberg said, the problem “comes up again and again in my conversations with mayors around the country,” and has “already bankrupted a number of cities.”

And it’s a progressive issue. Why should the city hire a worker today who’ll be able to retire in his 40s — when it means, eventually, that the city has to cut back on pre-school to pay the bills?

The mayor-elect is supposed to be the progressive guy. But through the campaign, he never said a word about this problem.

De Blasio’s progressive path is clear: Bloomberg has plowed it for him.

Three years ago, Bloomberg said he wouldn’t allow city workers to get raises (beyond what they already get for seniority and the like) unless their unions agreed to pension and health-benefit reform in their next contracts.

Labor refused. Now the unions expect the next mayor to grant them “retroactive raises” worth as much as $7.8 billion.

Bloomberg is leaving de Blasio a balanced budget — but it’s barely balanced, and the problem is long-term. And it has no money for those retroactive raises.

De Blasio should tell labor leaders — in private, if he doesn’t like negotiating in public — that they won’t get a better deal from him. And if they want to pick a fight with a new mayor, he’ll happily tell the public that he won office to help the poor, not to protect workers’ right to free health care forever.

In fact, he should direct labor to do a quick deal with Bloomberg now.

De Blasio can do this. Big unions didn’t endorse him until he had the election wrapped up.

But will he?

After Bloomberg’s speech, the mayor-elect said ungraciously that “he can give his speeches, and that’s his right. We’re the ones who will have to resolve” the labor issues.

That’s the Democratic line: Outgoing city Comptroller John Liu also said last week that Bloomberg left this issue “unresolved.”

Nope — Bloomberg resolved it. All de Blasio has to do is keep it resolved.

Original Source: http://nypost.com/2013/12/22/mayor-bloombergs-parting-gift/

 

 
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