Let's get back to why this blog is called Manhattan Contrarian. The intellectual orthodoxy around here is really completely preposterous. A couple of weeks ago I covered a forum for the mayoral candidates where the chosen topic of the sponsors was "environmental sustainability.," and where the candidates competed by one-upping each other for the most ridiculous ways to undermine the economy of our city. Now the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, aka the City Bar, aka the club of the great and the good, has scheduled a mayoral forum for June 6 and, in advance of that, put out an 81 page report of recommended policies for the new mayor. We'll review that in a minute.
But first, recall that I have had a few things to say already about priorities for the new mayor. Far and away the number one priority must be dealing with the cost of pensions and other benefits for city workers. That cost is not just out of control, but set to explode over the next several years, to increase by far more than any tax increases could hope to cover, and to crowd out all other spending priorities. For example here, in a post titled "The Mayoral Candidates Are In For A Rude Surprise" I predicted that "there is a very nasty surprise coming down the road for whoever is the next mayor, in the form of vastly increased pension contributions." In another post titled "State And Local Government Financial Data Are Also A Problem" I did some calculations of the magnitude of the problem.
With that in mind, let's consider the City Bar report, available by following a link here. First, because I know you're dying to know -- Do they even mention the problem of city worker pensions and benefits? No. Please, such issues are far beneath the great personnages of the City Bar. Well, how about the fact that essentially all city workers are unionized and are working with long-expired contracts, refusing to deal with current Mayor Bloomberg, pouring money into the campaigns of the contenders and plotting to cut a deal with a new guy they have just put in office? No, they don't even mention that either.
So what do they mention? I'm not saying that I'm against every single one of their many dozens of proposals, but still, it is not an exaggeration to say that this is a complete left wing wish list, mostly not just stupid but also ridiculous. Many of the proposals call for the expenditure of additional money without the slightest recognition that the money is already spent, let alone that somebody needs to do some prioritization here.
Let's start with topic II, "Infrastructure, The Environment, And Emergency Preparedness." You are thinking, they must be advocating for better water and sewers? Puh-lease. Topic "A" under Infrastructure is "Continue to Pursue an Ambitious Environmental Agenda," and has five sub-topics, every one of which is about committing the City government to fight the global warming dragon. Continue to Advocate for Municipal, National and Global Action on Climate Change . . . Encourage and Empower New York City Residents and Commuters to Reduce their Carbon Footprint . . . . Support Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy . . . . etc., etc.
How about topic III, Public Safety and Civil Liberties. Well, the number one issue there is "Continue to Champion Gun Control Measures." Among the pooh-bahs of the City Bar, the term "civil liberties" actually means the suppression of our Federal constitutional rights. The pooh-bahs are also completely impervious to evidence that gun control does not work.
Of course there is a long section on "Access to Justice," otherwise known as spending more money on lawyers, although the crass subject of money is not actually mentioned. Instead we use soft euphemisms like "Support Initiatives to Decrease the Number of Unrepresented Litigants in Civil Cases." If I might suggest a response of a mayoral candidate to a question on this subject, it would be, "Hey, City Bar, that's your job."
Anyway, even as the people who ought to be our civic leaders are completely lost, Mike Bloomberg, for all his faults, has it right on this one. Presenting his budget last week, Bloomberg warned that "The next mayor has to face the fact that our expenses keep going up . . . ." The other source that has it right is the New York Post. Their lead editorial today is titled "Mayoral Math" and has some of the grim pension numbers. Try this:
In 2002, for instance, the city shelled out just 34 cents on benefits for every buck it spent on salaries. A decade later, it was laying out 72 cents on the dollar, more than double. By next year, the figure is projected to balloon to 78 cents. At the fire and police departments, the cost of pension and benefits has already outstripped salaries.
An attached chart shows that we are already spending 116 cents on pension and benefits for every dollar spent on active firemen; for police the figure is 104 cents; for sanitation 88 cents; and so forth. And all those percentages are set to jump to far higher levels based on formulas long agreed to and slowly doing their inevitable destruction through the system.
I'd say I'm embarrassed by my colleagues at the City Bar, but they are not really my colleagues. I have long refused to join that organization. Very few of the big firm partners have followed my lead on that.