A few weeks ago I commented here on the recent report put out by the New York City Bar Association called Policy Recommendations For New York City's Next Mayor. The report itself is available by following the link here.
Then last week there arrived in the mail from the Manhattan Institute a special issue of the City Journal, titled After Bloomberg: An Agenda for New York. This magazine is available online here.
It is fascinating to compare these two documents, because although seemingly addressing the same topic, there is almost no overlap. The contrast makes for a very clear illustration of the two ways of looking at the world.
The City Journal issue starts from the proposition that we have limited resources here and we need to set priorities going forward, including putting on the table things on which we are currently overspending. The City Bar report has no consideration at all of costs or priorities, and is rather a wish list of new initiatives, some of which are likely very costly and others not, with no recognition that cost or priorities might even be relevant considerations in what can or cannot be done going forward.
The best analogy I can think of for the City Bar report is this: A family living paycheck to paycheck, and heavily indebted on the credit cards, decides to get its advice on running the household from the twelve year old son. The son, with no knowledge or information on the financial picture, recommends major new spending initiatives, such as buying fancy new video games and consoles and lots of tickets to sporting events, meanwhile completely unaware that the credit cards are already maxed out and that the mortgage is soon to be in default.
The most remarkable thing about the City Bar report is what is not in it. How about just a basic overview of the budget situation? The first article in the City Journal issue, by Steven Malanga, is titled "The Coming Budget Crunch," and outlines how certain categories of city spending, particularly debt service, pensions and health insurance, have ballooned during Mayor Bloomberg's tenure and promise to continue to balloon. It's hard to argue with any of this -- it's just a summary of publicly available facts -- nor with the concept that understanding this situation is central to the task of the incoming mayor. Yet the City Bar report contains no mention of the subject. In fact, the City Bar report contains no mention of the cost of any of its proposals. Nor does it contain any indication of suggestions of what spending would be appropriate to cut in order to make way for the proposed new initiatives.
The second article in the City Journal issue, by E.J. McMahon, titled "Overburdened," describes the extent to which New York City's tax regime is uncompetitive and drives away economic activity. Well, there's an elephant in the room if ever there was one! But the City Bar report fails even to mention the subject.
In the area of education, I have previously noted multiple times that in New York City we spend nearly double the national average per student, and get worse results. Of course, the City Bar report does not mention that. Instead, in the area of education, it recommends "new educational programming" to address what it views as the three most pressing educational issues of the times -- teen dating violence, "comprehensive, medically-accurate sexuality education," and humane treatment of animals. You literally can't make this stuff up.
Well, you say, as much as they do seem to be missing everything important, it still doesn't sound like their proposals will cost too much additional money. Keep reading. How about this one: "Remove administrative barriers to accessing cash assistance." That's code for undoing welfare reform, the signature achievement of the Clinton administration in actually helping the poor. Back in the early 90s, New York City had 1.3 million people receiving welfare, one person in six in the population. Today it is about 400,000, about one person in twenty-one. Going back to the old system could easily represent at $10 billion annual budget item. The City Bar doesn't mention any of this history, or anything at all about cost, of course.
Anyway, although of course I don't agree with everything in it, I highly recommend the City Journal issue for at least calling attention to the most important issues and getting at the priorities that need to be set and the trade-offs that need to be made. Meanwhile, the City Bar report is a product of the delusional infinite credit card mentality, where all human problems can be solved by government spending, with no need to consider that there may be limits on resources. It is truly embarrassing that an organization with the seeming prestige of the City Bar could come out with something like this.