Angry New Yorker

Tuesday, June 17, 2003
By LEELA de KRETSER, New York Post, June 17, 2003.

June 17, 2003 -- New York is the world's 10th most expensive place to live - and the most pricey in the United States, a new survey says. But New Yorkers may not be getting their money's worth.

The survey, by Mercer Human Resource Consulting, says that the quality of life of New Yorkers ranks only 44th worldwide.
City residents don't have to travel far to find the second most expensive American city. It's White Plains. That's followed by Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and San Francisco.

New York did get a bit cheaper - relatively speaking. Last year it was seventh on the list. Tokyo won the dubious distinction of being the world's most expensive city. It's followed by Moscow; Osaka, Japan; Hong Kong; Beijing; Geneva; London; Seoul and Zurich.

Want to live cheap? Move to Paraguay. Its capital, Asuncion, is the world's least expensive city.

The annual survey compares the cost of more than 200 items in 144 countries. Housing and transportation costs were big factors in placing New York high on the list, said Mercer's international consultant, Rebecca Powers. Internationally, the two cities that offer the best quality of life are both Swiss and expensive - Geneva and Zurich, Mercer said.

The exact rankings of quality of life in U.S. cities were not immediately available. But Mercer said at least five cities outscore New York - San Francisco, Honolulu, Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Boston.

Friday, June 13, 2003
In Poll, Pessimism From New Yorkers Rubs Off on Mayor

Dispirited by job losses, tax increases and service cuts, New Yorkers say they are increasingly pessimistic about their city, according to the latest New York Times poll.

Those negative feelings appear to have colored New Yorkers' views of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Only 24 percent of those polled said they approved of the job he was doing, the lowest approval rating for a mayor since The Times began taking polls on mayoral performance in 1978. It is a drop of seven percentage points since January.

By almost every measure, city residents have a gloomy view of the economy, the quality of life in the city and New York's prospects. Asked to rate the condition of the city's economy, 73 percent said it was bad, and 62 percent said that its condition had taken a personal toll on their lives.

Sixty percent said that they thought life in the city had gotten worse in the last year, compared with 43 percent in a January poll.

The findings represent a sharp turnabout over the last two years in how New Yorkers view their city and their own lives within its boundaries. For example, less than a month after the World Trade Center attack in 2001, 54 percent thought that the city would be a better place to live in 10 to 15 years. A month before the attack, New Yorkers gave the city some of its highest marks in 25 years.

Among those polled over the last week, only 30 percent said they believed that New York City would be a better place to live in 10 to 15 years.

"They're raising subway fares, they're raising rents, the jobs are decreasing," said Belinda Butler of Manhattan, who was laid off from her job as an office manager six months ago. Ms. Butler, 25, said in an interview after the poll was taken, "I do see that the number of jobs available is shrinking, and I see the same positions at lower rates, but it costs more to live in the city, and that doesn't really help."

The citywide telephone poll was conducted among 962 adults last Friday through Tuesday. The margin of sampling error for the entire group is plus or minus three percentage points.

Those polled appeared to link their opinions of the mayor to their own financial problems. For example, among the 59 percent of respondents who said that it is harder to make ends meet than a year ago, 74 percent disapproved of Mr. Bloomberg's performance. Among the 59 percent who said the proposed budget cuts would hurt them personally, 74 percent also disapproved of the job Mr. Bloomberg was doing.

Follow-up interviews with people surveyed indicated that respondents seemed turned off by the measures Mr. Bloomberg has taken to balance the city's budget and by his personal style, which tends to be nonconfrontational, low-key and generally enigmatic. His reputation as an outsider -- by birth or by his income bracket -- appeared to persist.

"He's not a New Yorker, and he's not a fighter," said Stephanie Wilson, 50, who lives in the Bronx. "You have to be crazy to run this town because we're a bunch of crazy people," Ms. Wilson said. "You've got to kick down doors. Rudy's crazy, and he was effective. Bloomberg doesn't have the gusto to really deal with issues in an aggressive manner."

New Yorkers seem to take displeasure in every move taken by the mayor and the State Legislature to face down billions of dollars in red ink; 70 percent of those polled disapprove of the way the mayor handled a roughly $4 billion budget gap.

For instance, those polled were asked about their priorities for city services. The largest group, 30 percent, said they would protect firehouses, some of which have been closed because of budget cuts. In second place were classroom aides in public schools, and a police antidrug program came in third. Only 9 percent said their top priority would be to put off reductions in garbage pickups, and only 7 percent called for preserving library hours. Yet those two services were the ones the mayor restored to the budget last week.

Service cuts were unpopular, and few tax increases drew cheers. Fifty-nine percent of those polled said that a New York state tax increase on people in high income brackets was reasonable, but only 34 percent thought the city's recent sales tax increase was reasonable. And only 20 percent approved of the city's 18.5 percent increase in the property tax.

While 22 percent said raising taxes was their preferred method of balancing the budget, 46 percent said the city should borrow its way out of its troubles.

The mayor's press secretary, Edward Skyler, said the mayor was making tough choices on taxes and spending. "Leadership is about doing what is right, not what is easy or popular," he said. "Under his leadership, crime keeps coming down, the schools are being fixed, housing is being built, jobs are returning and the city is staying a place where people want to live and work."

Clearly, many New Yorkers believe that much of the fate of the city's economy is in the hands of the mayor, even though outside forces like Wall Street and the state and federal governments play a major role. Fifty-three percent of those polled said they believed that the city economy was something that the mayor could "do a lot about."

City residents gave Gov. George E. Pataki a 42 percent approval rating, a far cry from the 82 percent approval rating he received in the city a month after the trade center attack, but far from his lowest rate ever, 26 percent in April 1995. Although the governor did not get high marks for his role in the city's budget, it is clear that more people blame the mayor.

"I feel like the state government has less to do with my life than the city government," said Takemasa Kurita, 27, a graduate student from Astoria, Queens, who was upset about cutbacks in the city's recycling program and potential cuts in the public schools. "The things that Bloomberg is proposing are different from what Giuliani was proposing, and Pataki was in office then as well, so I think these new changes are Bloomberg changes."

Although Mr. Bloomberg has made some attempts to forge close relations with minority New Yorkers, this poll did not show that his efforts were paying off. For instance, his approval rating among whites is 31 percent, but only 15 percent among black respondents and 19 percent among Hispanic residents.

Blacks cared more than whites about the city's unemployment rate, and that group reported a far higher rate of joblessness than whites did.

But even though Mr. Bloomberg can hardly be pleased with his standing in the polls in the last six months, even Democrats concede that it is too early to write him off as a one-term mayor. For example, President Ronald Reagan's lowest approval number -- 35 percent -- was in January 1983 during poor economic times, yet in 1984, he won a second term by a landslide.

Further, the bench of potential Democratic challengers to Mr. Bloomberg appears less than intimidating at this point, with few fresh faces and no one with a comparable financial war chest. However, Mr. Bloomberg's contention that people dislike him because of the economy he inherited and not for other more personal or undefinable reasons would be tested if the city's financial shape improves.

But just like the mayor, most people -- 55 percent -- said they planned to stay in New York in the coming years. This is slightly more than in January, when people were less gloomy about the economy.

"I've lived here all my life," said Kendrick Stovall, 39, a truck driver from Brooklyn. "I've been to England, out of the country, I've been places, and even though you think that New York is so sickening, and dirty, and disgusting, there's no other place that you'd want to live." [ed. note - ah, we all live on as much illusion as we can afford.]

Thursday, June 12, 2003
Council Irked at Mayor's Call for Tax-Free Shopping Weeks Council Irked at Mayor's Call for Tax-Free Shopping Weeks

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg called on the City Council yesterday to approve two tax-free weeks on clothing sales, leading Council officials, who said they had long planned to do so anyway, to speculate that he was trying to take credit for the move.
From March 2000 until this month, when taxes that the mayor had lobbied Albany for took effect, there was no sales tax on shoes or articles of clothing costing less than $110 each. When the state and city raised their sales taxes and dropped the exemption on clothing, the state said that it would keep two tax-free weeks on clothing sales, and it invited the city to do so as well.
Mr. Bloomberg said in an interview last night on NY1 News that the Council should "do something for these people who are paying more taxes" and approve two weeks free of the sales tax on clothing, instead of rescinding more proposed budget cuts. The move would cost the city around $47 million in lost revenue.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003
Why are New York political leaders so embarassing? I'm not sure... but Schumer is a true embarassment, unless you are ultra liberal. Hillary, well, enough said. Pataki -- Mr. Flip-Flop. Bruno and Silver -- the Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum of state politics. And then Bloomberg... Mr. Opportunity Squandered.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003
These Budgets Unravel Again and Again and Again
By Harvey Robins, June 4, 2003, Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.

"Have we learned so little from the 1970s' debacle that we need to be at the brink again for our civic leaders to act?

In the coming days, the mayor and the City Council will adopt the budget for fiscal 2004, which begins July 1. Afterwards, I see a much harsher place in which to live, thanks to the four men who have put Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a fiscal straightjacket: Gov. George Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former Council Speaker Peter Vallone.

We're in this dire strait for reasons beyond the U.S. recession and the aftermath of 9/11. In the last two years of his term, Mayor Giuliani, a Republican, created a $3-billion budget gap while increasing spending 7 percent and 9 percent, respectively, as the city's economy was tanking. Speaker Silver, a Democrat and a resident of the Lower East Side, lost the city $500 million a year by repealing the commuter tax in 1999 for shortsighted political reasons. Former Council Speaker Vallone, a Queens Democrat, was legislatively cowardly, freezing the relatively low property tax for 10 years as the pressure built for this year's 18.5-percent increase. Republican Gov. Pataki has been AWOL for the past two years, in denial about the worst fiscal crisis since the 1970s - some say since the Great Depression. These four men dug the fiscal hole the city is now in.

Last June, Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council passed a budget that unraveled within weeks, and we are headed for a repeat this year. All the players and the schedule of events are in place for this year's budget fandango. Some significant service restorations will be made as a compromise for passage of the fiscal 2004 budget. The Financial Control Board and the bond-rating agencies will "bless" it, while expressing some vague concerns.

By September, the city will need to modify its current budget to keep it in balance because Albany and Washington will have failed to contribute significant and sustained revenues, and because the municipal labor unions will have rejected the mayor's proposals for cost efficiencies leading to greater productivity, such as expanding the work hours, changing the work rules and rolling back benefits.

Albany's recently passed budget will also unravel, requiring the State Legislature and the governor to reconvene in the fall to rework it. And more red ink is projected in the out years.

As contentious as the state budget process was, it did not bring lasting fiscal reform. The governor failed to press the Port Authority to pay the mayor $600 million in back rent for JFK and LaGuardia airports and agree to $90 million in annual future rent. The Legislature failed to approve East River bridge tolls and "congestion pricing" on Hudson and East River crossings to generate $200 million in annual revenue to the city. No progress was made in changing the mass-transit aid formula in which the city gets only 63 percent of the aid even though it has 84 percent of the ridership. This aid inequity translates into an annual loss of $325 million or an equivalent 35 cents of the 50-cent recent fare hike.

Neither the governor nor the Legislature found a way to restore the city commuter tax, which has lost the city $2 billion over the last four years. They also failed to control skyrocketing Medicaid costs, eliminate the Wicks law to cut the cost of public construction or tackle tort reform to prohibit outrageous lawsuit claims.

On the city's budget front, both the mayor and the City Council have not made enough progress in the last two years to streamline government services, nor have they secured structural tax and labor reform. Until these tough choices are made, structural budget balance will continue to be little more than rhetoric. Furthermore, the gap is estimated to be $2.9 billion in fiscal 2005, according to City Comptroller William Thompson. In fact, according to the Independent Budget Office, revenues will grow at 1.6 percent while spending will grow at 3.6 percent, or more than twice as fast, over the next two years.

On the city's service front, our parks will be littered with glass and other dangerous debris. The few public toilets in them will fall into disrepair, no more useful than the upside down john placed in an art exhibit by Marcel Duchamp in 1917. City streets will be noticeably dirtier, and rats, always a health menace, will multiply unchecked. Libraries, museums, recreation facilities and senior centers will reduce hours and programs. Some senior centers and health clinics are likely to close entirely. Albany will hit students at CUNY's four-year colleges with a 25-percent tuition hike for what were once free universities, even in much leaner times than these. And, tragically, we can expect the homeless population to grow beyond the 10,000 families the city now shelters.

Moreover, despite a 33-percent increase in the subway and bus fares today, it is very likely that the fares will increase again in 2005 as the city and state cut their operating subsidies to the MTA-shifting the burden to riders once again.

The dismal quality of our civic leadership mirrors this mediocre period in our history. Although solutions to our crisis abound-in fact, most of these ideas have been around for decades-what's missing is the political will to do what is absolutely necessary."


June 9, 2003 -- THE most heartfelt goal of Speaker Sheldon Silver's Assembly majority, it sometimes seems, is to keep the state safe for the activities of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association (NYSTLA). And now the cost is about to hit home for thousands of New Yorkers trying to do something people elsewhere in the country take for granted: Lease a new car.
In recent months, the financing arms of GM, Ford and Honda have all said they'll stop leasing cars in New York rather than go on operating under the state's peculiarly harsh liability law. Other automakers are eyeing their example. Chase, the state's leading independent provider of auto leases, will pull out July 1; according to an official, it's been hit with lawsuits demanding more than $1 billion." [more]

Friday, June 06, 2003
New York City Council Stated Meeting Report

Quote of the Day:
"Today is the date that we were to have adopted a budget for the next fiscal year. We will not meet that goal today... there is still work to be done." - Council Speaker Gifford Miller on missing the deadline for a new city budget. [full meeting summary].

Study says a fair fare is $1.75 - Hits MTA's higher hike

"The Metropolitan Transportation Authority can afford to scale back bus and subway fares to $1.75 for the rest of the year, according to an analysis released yesterday.
But fares would have to go back up to $2 come Jan. 1, according to the report, done by state Controller Alan Hevesi for the Straphangers Campaign.

"The bottom line is if the MTA wanted to put money back in the pockets of riders, it could do it," Straphangers staff lawyer Gene Russianoff said.

The analysis comes a month after a judge ordered the MTA to roll back its fare increase, saying the agency misled the public on its finances - turning a series of hearings on the increase into a sham. The ruling has been stayed, pending appeal." [more]

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