The tragic shooting in Arizona earlier this month has caused us all to reflect on the plague of gun violence in our society, and the need for greater civility in our political discourse. We laud the Mayor for his longstanding leadership and tireless efforts to get illegal guns off of our streets, and to reduce gun violence.
But we are disappointed that Mayor Bloomberg spoke about the need to "face reality" in his State of the City Speech today without outlining a real plan of action to address the economic realities facing most New Yorkers at a time when our city remains in a severe economic crisis.
Residents of outer boroughs may appreciate the chance to hail a livery cab ... but too many can't even afford the ride. Especially when a recent report shows that income inequality is greater in New York than in any other large American city. The top 1% of New York households, just 90,000 people, earn the same amount in one day as the 900,000 New Yorkers in deep poverty earn in a whole year.
Most New York City workers and their families have experienced very little real income or wage growth over the past two decades, and high unemployment continues to plague our city. Unemployment remains at an official rate of 9%, but nearly double that when you factor in discouraged people who have dropped out of the labor force, and the rate is much higher among African-Americans, Latinos and residents of low-income neighborhoods.
The Mayor spoke to the need to attract tourists, college graduates and white-collar entrepreneurs, but we heard nothing about how we can create living-wage jobs for New Yorkers who are struggling to make a living here. The jobs that are being created in our city tend to pay low wages, often without benefits or even the ability to take a day off when you're sick. And homelessness remains near its all-time high. 37,363 people slept in City shelters last Thursday night, of which more than 16,000 were children.
On jobs - our city's most pressing issue - the Mayor's speech, like his recent performance, was disappointing.
*The Bloomberg administration has not launched a single new major jobs initiative for low-income New Yorkers. Community service jobs and wage subsidy programs are scheduled for further cuts.
*Despite giving his recent "jobs speech" at the Brooklyn Navy Yard - where innovation is thriving in new industrial niches - the mayor has dramatically reduced his policy commitment to the manufacturing sector, and presided over a steep decline in blue-collar jobs.
*City contracting with minority- and women-owned businesses (MWBEs) is embarrassingly below goals set in 2005. While the Mayor acknowledged a need to improve in this area, a recent report showed that only 1 out of 15 major City agencies met even half of the MWBE goals.
*The Mayor has opposed and stalled consideration of living-wage job creation requirements, even when the City is providing millions in subsidies to for-profit corporations and real estate developers.
These challenging economic times do require fiscal discipline, and the City Council - under the leadership of Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Finance Chair Domenic Recchia - has worked with the Mayor to make difficult decisions and choose painful spending cuts. But we need a fair approach that keeps our city strong and asks for shared sacrifice, rather than balancing the budget primarily on the backs of the poor and the middle class.
Mayor Bloomberg said no today to any new taxes - but our current tax structure is unfair and regressive. That's why the Progressive Caucus has proposed a temporary income tax surcharge on household incomes over $250,000 - to recapture the windfall that Congressional Republicans won for the wealthiest 2% of households. Mayor Bloomberg has been the chief defender of these very households - he's opposed regulatory reform of Wall Street despite the fact that it was Wall Street speculation that cost us millions of jobs in the first place.
The Mayor today asked nothing of Wall Street or the wealthiest New Yorkers, and for sacrifice only from public school teachers, police officers, librarians, and the working- and middle-class New Yorkers they serve.
While the Mayor has often said that the rich pay more than their share, the opposite is true. The wealthiest 1% of New Yorkers earned 45% of the city's total income, but they only paid 34% of city taxes. Our plan would make our tax structure more fair, raise $8 billion dollars to address State and City deficits, help us save core services like education and public safety, and allow us to create the jobs we so desperately need.
In response to the Administration's failures to address the recent blizzard, the City Council held hearings, led by Speaker Quinn and the Progressive Caucus' own Letitia James and Jumaane Williams. At those hearings, the Bloomberg Administration acknowledged its mistakes, announced significant policy changes, and pledged to do better in the future.
We need the same kind of commitment to do better to create well-paying jobs and advance economic security for struggling low-income, working, and middle-class families in neighborhoods across the five boroughs. We also need policy changes to ensure affordable housing for our residents and policies that make sure our children get the kind of education they need and deserve.
The Progressive Caucus calls for a real plan of action to move New York City out of this economic crisis and appeals to Mayor Bloomberg to work with us in our shared vision of a better New York City.