Wednesday, April 27, 2005

WHO PAYS? Nicole Gelinas of the New York Post has been carefully planting explosives under the Mayoral candidacy of Freddy Ferrer. She's not the only one, of course; some local bullshit liberals have been saying the guy is too non-bullshit liberal to win against the beloved current Mayor, Richie Rich, and his dog Dollar. Take New York magazine, please:
Ferrer’s remarks are well tailored to his audience. This is a union-proud, racially diverse, stone-liberal crowd of academics and students, about half of whom wear anti-Bush buttons on their lapels. In other words, a strong sampling of the city’s leftish Democratic base...

Assembling only a textbook New York coalition of unions and racial special interests actually does Bloomberg a favor, however: It allows the mayor to spin his wealth as a positive, declaring himself unbought and unbossed, a plutocrat channeling Shirley Chisholm...
The author, Chris Smith, is probably the only person alive who looks at Michael Bloomberg and sees Shirley Chisholm. Scratch that; I don't he sees that, either. He's just casting about for metaphors, however feeble, to help explain the appeal of the Boston fixer beyond the distressingly simple fact that Giuliani pushed for him last election -- after of course pushing for himself -- and squeaked him by the useless Mark Green.

But that's how the cognoscenti do when they lose their guts. Local conservatives have their own methods. The Posties have been fanning the flames lit by some cop-friendly comments Ferrer made about the Diallo shooting years ago -- never mind that the Post itself has routinely excused every shooting of civilians by cops since the dawn of Rupert Murdoch.

In the intellectual wing of that movement, though, they have to come up with stronger stuff. Gelinas works the angle that Ferrer, even more than his less-electable competition for the Democratic nomination, is anti-business: "None of the four Dem candidates for mayor has much experience in the for-profit economy," she writes, "...But only one candidate is willing to repeatedly reveal his irredeemable lack of understanding of how private-sector Gotham works: former Bronx Borough President Freddy Ferrer."

Ferrer is suggesting that we address our large shortfalls of City revenue with taxes on big business -- in this instance, on stock transfers. Gelinas will have none of it. That will chase big business out -- "Wall Street isn't a captive of New York City, as it once was," she says.

In Gelinas' view, big business is in no way to be touched up for City revenue, or even addressed disrespectfully. She finds our cigarette taxes and the State's big-tobacco lawsuits equally noxious -- not on grounds of injustice to smokers, but because the transfer of funds from tobacco companies to the government is "hypocrisy"; and when City pension fund managers lean on companies like Winn Dixie on discrimination grounds, she sounds the tocsin at the City Journal: "No longer content merely to change corporate America from the outside, public-pension funds are now taking advantage of a chastened and weakened post-Enron corporate America to shift the focus of their political and economic power to the inside of the corporate boardroom. Their resolve to change the world one shareholder resolution, press release, and board election at a time spells trouble for taxpayers, U.S. corporations, and the national economy."

New York is of course not entirely a business-unfriendly environment; we give corporations tax breaks all the time, but despite the jobs this has safeguarded, we're still in the hole. Even Gelinas has noted that "From 1988 to 2000, [a Center for an Urban Future] report notes, Gotham handed out $2 billion in tax breaks and incentives to 80 top-notch firms, simply to keep the jobs in the city. But half of those companies still moved jobs out of town." Such payoffs "have simply warped the city's growth pattern, at best." Her solution: cut other business taxes, such as "unforgivably regressive 8.625 percent tax on consumer goods [which] openly encourages merchants to leave," and thereby make a still more favorable climate for business.

One may ask, then, where Gelinas expects the money New York pressingly needs to come from. A hint comes in a recent Gerlinas essay on the parlous state of our subways. Along the way she calls for the usual conservative remedies: privitization, sticking it to the unions, etc. The firms that pick up the MTA's baton ought to do very well under this plan. But there is a constituency to whom Gelinas offers no surcease:
Cutting artificially high costs is one goal — but politicians must also allow the MTA to hike the artificially low price of a ride. Right now, city and state pols treat the subway as a social service — when the fare is raised, they complain of a regressive tax.

The MTA should ensure that fares cover the actual cost of a ride. Fares should cover operating costs (after federal and state capital grants), just as they did 100 years ago, and should be indexed yearly to inflation.

Will some low-wage workers be unable to pay? Sure — but the city and state governments can offer them vouchers based on need. Gov. Pataki could never stiff the city of that subsidy — or the poverty police would come knocking. (We'll take care of them later, one imagines Gelinas saying under her breath -- ed.)

Treating the subway as a market service paid for by customers, not as a social service subsidized by politicians, would improve the prospects of long-stalled projects.
These big, gleaming buildings, these roads, these trains, and whatever stadia Bloomberg and his allies muscle through -- they were not, and are not being, built for you, fellow citizens. In the new order, it will be made clear in the form of user fees, fare hikes, and whatever else you can or can't spare. Just don't ask the folks making huge profits off you to kick in a little. That wouldn't work; more to the point, it would be very unfair.

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