I have a modest proposal for Bloomberg. That is Bloomberg LLC, the business media company. I propose that it implement a huge pension enhancement for existing staff and those already retired. Huge enough to push pension costs up to 25 percent of wages, force it to dramatically increase what it charges its customers, and cut back on some services. Then, since its labor costs would be high, I suggest that the company drastically reduce starting salaries for all new hires, and their benefits, to the point where virtually everyone else in their industry in the New York area pays more to those they are recruiting.
One of the tricks, or possibility of playing a trick (which I would never do), in the presentation of social and economic data is adjusting it – for population, income, inflation, and other conditions – so it is truly comparable and meaningful across geography and time.
With the May 31 release of fiscal 2004 state and local finance data from the U.S. Census Bureau, you may have heard that New York’s state and local taxes are still the highest per capita in the country. The per capita measure doesn’t take into account the higher overall wages and costs in downstate New York, which both limits the pain of higher taxes and requires them to purchase public services of equivalent scope and quality. Thus I have always used the Bureau’s other measure, revenues and expenditures as a share of the income of area residents, as the more fair and accurate metric. No matter: New York is still number one among states, and by some margin, and New York City is much higher than the rest of the state.
The well worn path to prominence in New York politics is to bestow benefits on the small number of active interests already privileged by state and local policy. Then when “forced” to impose sacrifices on everyone else, even those comparatively worse off, blame “inevitable” circumstances, or the other political party.
It is three years until the next Mayoral election, and New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson has already lost my vote. Lost it by saying two words I never want to hear from any elected official or aspirant: “senior citizen.” I don’t want to hear those words not because I have anything against senior citizens; indeed, I hope to become one myself one of these days. It don’t want to hear them because today’s senior citizens have just about the greatest sense of entitlement, both in terms of what they are to receive and what they ought not have to pay, of any just about anybody on the planet. And public policy, including tax policy, already benefits them to an enormous extent – especially in New York City.
Might public school enrollment increases explain the huge increase in public school employment in the rest of the state? Not exactly.
In 1990, the rest of New York State had 17.7 public school employees per 100 public school enrollees. New York City, despite a far needier and more troubled student body – and a reputation for over-staffed schools — made do with just 14.9.
From 1990 to 1998 public school enrollment soared in New York City, as the children of the baby boomers (the baby boom echo generation) and of immigrants entered their school years. With a fiscal crisis, a low share of state aid, and other priorities, however, the City’s public school employment did not keep up, and its ratio per 100 students fell 13.8 in the latter year. The low year, at just 12.2, was 1996, following the implementation of Governor George Pataki’s first budget – which cut state school aid to New York City and increased it for the rest of the state, cutting the city’s share of state school aid from 33.2% to 29.6% (New York City’s share of the state’s public school students was about 37%).
So, as noted in the previous post, local government employment has soared by over 100,000 over 15 years in the portion of New York State outside New York City. Could population trends explain this?
Not exactly. In fact, local government employment has fallen steeply relative to population in the city, and risen in the rest of the state.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, New York City’s population rose from 7.3 million in 1990 to 8.15 million in 2005, a gain of over 800,0000. Accordingly, the number of local government workers per 1,000 residents fell from 64.4 in 1990 to 55.1 in 2005, a substantial decrease of 14.4%.
Local government employment is going through the roof as politicians spend recklessly to reward their friends and supporters. The cost is soaring beyond the ability of New York City taxpayers to pay. What am I describing?
New York City in the Dinkins administration?
New York City in the Giuliani administration?
New York City in the Bloomberg administration?
Wrong. It is in the rest of New York State during all those years that local employment has soared. This is quickly ascertained using the latest re-benchmarked Current Employment Survey (CES) data from the New York State Department of Labor. And yes, New York City taxpayers (along with those elsewhere in the state) are having a hard time paying for it.
“Littlefield is a policy wonk.” That is how Erik Engquist, then a Brooklyn Politics columnist, described me when I ran as a minor party protest candidate for state assembly in 2004. While I may consider myself more of a moral philosopher, you will probably want to read posts based on my knowledge of comparative public finance, land use planning, regional economics and transportation. I will try to limit myself to pointing out things that I know that perhaps you don’t, but probably should, and to avoid topics where the reader knows more than I do.
I ran for office after years of mounting disappointment with public policy at the state level in New York, and increasing frustration that when I went to cast a vote for legislative offices, there was generally only one name on the ballot – or perhaps a second name of someone who didn’t even bother to campaign. Eventually just complaining and saying “someone should do something about this” seemed lazy and dishonest. The last straw was when my Assemblymember came to my neighborhood for a nonsense PR public meeting, I asked him if he could vote “no” if the next state budget continued contain certain very objectionable (possibly even to him) priorities, and (while not directly answering the question) he pretty much indicated that he could not. So I did my civic duty, and having done so (“sorry about the collapse of public services and the bankruptcy of the government kids, but Dad did all he could”), I can go back to complaining.