I received my new New York City Card in the mail this week. The pocket-sized card is one of 50,000 mailed out by a non-profit organization chaired by Mayor Bloomberg to New Yorkers who contributed to federal political campaigns. The idea is to "[provide] political donors with city's top federal and state issues to hold candidates and elected officials accountable for New York City's needs." The issues run the gamut: the card highlights the ways that comprehensive immigration reform would strengthen New York City and the nation, but also reflects Mayor Bloomberg's misguided suspicion of financial regulation. Charter schools, illegal guns, and health programs for 9/11 survivors round out the mix of issues Albany and Washington are asked to help the city tackle.
The problem? The NYC Card's list of purported city priorities fails to address some of New York's most real and pressing needs: for teachers to educate our children, firefighters to respond in emergencies, senior centers that represent a lifeline for the aging, social workers to rescue troubled families, libraries, centers for the homeless, youth programs... All city services New Yorkers rely on every day that face ruinous cutbacks in the Mayor's new budget.
Apparently helping New York City retain its most critical public services is not among the "easy-to-reference issues" city-based political donors should consider "when political candidates are calling for contributions." Yet there are viable federal and state policies on the table that would avert the need for harsh service cuts and diminish the impact on New York's most vulnerable and the middle class alike.
George Miller's Local Jobs for America Act is intended precisely to help American cities and towns preserve essential services, while preventing cuts to public sector jobs and the private jobs they support. The bill would steer $1.2 billion to New York City to retain or rehire 22,484 city workers including teachers, fire fighters, and police. This aid would be critical at a time when New York schoolchildren, already learning in overcrowded classrooms, stand to lose 6,700 of their teachers. The vocal support of Mayor Bloomberg and other major NYC-based political donors for this bill would do wonders for its prospects.
At the state level, donors who care about New York might consider proposals for a temporary tax on Wall Street bonuses that would address the state budget crisis (and the state's ability to aid NYC) by "recapturing a portion of the financial sector's record profits that largely result from the taxpayer-financed bailout." Mayor Bloomberg has already rejected the prospect of a tax similar to the one London enacted, but $6 billion in annual revenue that could aid the city and support our staggering transit system through historically hard times shouldn't be dismissed so cavalierly. Concerns that Wall Street firms would pick up and leave at the prospect of what would be for them a moderate and increasingly common type of taxation are overblown. Indeed, as the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Center for Working Families, who devised the plan note the "world financial crisis brought about by excessive Wall Street risk taking and predatory practices have caused New York to lose nearly 300,000 jobs while 100,000 New York families have lost their homes to foreclosure over the past two years." It's not unreasonable to ask an industry that posted a record $61.4 billion in profits in the midst of a deep recession to give back to the city that nurtures it.
Don't get me wrong: better policies on immigration and gun control would unquestionably benefit New York. Funding health care for 9/11 responders is a no-brainer. But by failing to seek out ways the federal and state governments can help New York to preserve critical its city services, the New York City Card reveals itself and its backers to have a highly skewed sense of priorities for the city.