The Mayor's Budget — Fiscal and Political

Mayor Bloomberg’s budget plan has good news and bad news.

On the good side, the city’s economy seems to be on the mend---the revenue forecast is up by $2 billion, thanks to receipts from personal income, sales and real estate taxes.

On the bad side, the mayor wants to slash the teacher payroll by 6,166.

It seems that the fiscal agenda morphs into a political agenda here. The mayor is determined to end the rule requiring that the last teachers hired are the first fired. And his threat to slash more than 6,000 teachers from the budget seems intended to get Albany to give him more of a free hand in deciding who gets fired.

Dick Dadey of Citizens Union tells me: “I’m not sure why teachers are bearing the brunt of budget cuts, why he isn’t spreading the pain more evenly. As a political strategy, it seems fine and merit-based hiring and firing is a worthy objective.”

But Dadey questions whether there are “enough reliable criteria” to assess teacher performance. He says that tests of student performance have been shown to be flawed and that evaluating teachers depends, to a large extent, on such tests.

We have made the same point -- and that seems to be the essential flaw in the cry from the mayor and his educational surrogates for the right to fire teachers, regardless of seniority.

There is a kind of bureaucratic war on senior teachers. That the veteran teachers make more money than junior teachers is an obvious motive for agitation to get rid of them. It would do wonders for the educational budget.

As Dadey points out, the mayor is in a tough spot. He deserves credit for running the city efficiently and doing better than other municipalities in creating jobs. Also, the 48.7 million visitors to New York City in 2010 have been a boon to the city’s budget as has the commercial real estate market, strongest in the United States.

One angry voice from the city’s labor force deserves to be heard. Lillian Roberts of DC 37 points out that the $80 million CityTime contract revealed fraud, deception and thievery. She wants City Hall to scrutinize billions of dollars in private contracts for more possible savings.

Not a bad idea.

The budget world, in City Hall and Albany, is a world of figures, of pluses and minuses, of income and outgo. There are hundreds of thousands of human beings involved too -- the mayor’s employees, and, of course, the living and breathing taxpayers who have to foot the bill.

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