Channel 2: WCBS News

November 14, 2002

 

Cuts, Cuts And More Taxes

Mayor Announces Deficit Reduction Plan

New Yorkers will see fewer cops, fire trucks and garbage trucks on the streets and cuts in some school programs under a Bloomberg administration plan to close a massive budget gap.

    

Mayor Michael Bloomberg also reiterated the need for a 25 percent property tax increase -- the first phase coming Jan. 1 -- and an income tax on commuters to help the city battle a budget deficit that could climb to $6.4 billion in the next fiscal year.

The controversial tax on commuters -- an earlier form of which was repealed by the state Legislature three years ago -- would need state approval again. The proposed tax would cost commuters over five times what the previous tax did.

Eight fire companies in Brooklyn, Queens and East Harlem will come under the ax, while the department would cut back from five to four the number of firefighters on dozens of trucks, officials said. The police department will field hundreds fewer officers.

Police and firefighter unions claimed the cutbacks would hurt public safety, although Bloomberg said in announcing his budget plan that New Yorkers would remain well protected.

"In the post 9-11 world, New York City is on top of any terrorist's list. We cannot reduce fire coverage," fire union spokesman Tom Butler said. Union officials said firefighting would be riskier and certain communities would be unprotected.

The police department would help close the budget by contributing $84 million in increased revenues and slashed expenses. The fire department contribution was to be $22 million.

Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said the cutbacks could slow non-essential services, such as building inspections, and public safety would not be at risk.

"While the company closings and staffing reductions outlined may affect services in some communities, the department does not believe that these reductions will endanger public safety," he said.

The police department will have to cut 1,900 uniformed positions through attrition, bringing the number down to 37,210, city officials said.

Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Pat Lynch said the cutback would cause crime to rise. "We will not be able to keep crime under control without the manpower to do it," he said.

The police department said in a statement that it was confident cutbacks would not lead to higher crime rates.

The sanitation department could cut back on the number of garbage trucks and street sweepers by extending some trash routes, spokesman Vito Turso said. That could lead to potentially fewer sanitation workers on the streets, but no reduction in the frequency of trash pickup, he said.

Among other cuts:

  • A total of 32 senior citizen centers will be shuttered.

  • City colleges and universities will cut administrative staff and scholarships.

  • The education department will cut $200 million through administrative staff reductions, and cutbacks in teacher mentor programs and summer camps.

The cuts in school spending won't affect classroom instruction or teaching time, Department of Education spokesman David Chai said. He said a "significant portion of the cuts" will come through the elimination of 500 central administration jobs.

"We're going to keep (the cuts) away from the classroom," Chai said.

Heather Mac Donald, an education policy analyst, said the $200 million in cuts represented a small percentage of the overall education budget.

"This is one of the highest-spending school districts in the country," said Mac Donald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, an urban policy think tank. "The $12 billion school budget is higher than the budget of entire cities and states. So the notion that this is a system starved for resources is ridiculous."

The United Federation of Teachers, though it had some concerns, offered general support for the budget plan.

"Mayor Bloomberg has been gutsy and creative in proposing revenues that can help maintain New Yorkers' quality of life in tough fiscal times," said Randi Weingarten, the union's president.

But one education advocate cried foul.

"This is totally devastating and totally unacceptable," said Cynthia Nixon, the "Sex and the City" actress who is also a leader of the Alliance for Quality Education. "I think that the idea that this is not going to affect the classroom is a lie."

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