By Billy Wharton
From Counterhegemonic Blogspot
There is a certain arrogance in the mannerisms of the elite; social privilege feeds their overwhelming sense that they control the future. Case study number one is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Despite announcing a 2009-2010 budget, which would accelerate homelessness, devastate City schools and shrink the quality of life of the elderly, Bloomberg confidently pronounced that “New York’s business model is sound.” In fact, his budget amounts to a carefully crafted document which caters to the interests and well-being of those securely located at the center of his business model – the City’s business elite. The prospects for those of us outside of the business model – working class and poor New Yorkers – are far less “sound.” We are, at best, nuisances to be policed and warehoused in the name of law and order.
Bloomberg’s budget is designed to fill the nearly $6.4 billion budget deficit while protecting the wealth of his fellow elites. The gap is closed, in part, by defunding City agencies by $1 billion, demanding $2 billion in givebacks from labor unions and generating $1 billion in revenue from an increase in the already regressive sales tax. Further savings will be squeezed by shifting the burden for healthcare onto city workers to the tune of 10% of policy premiums. Many New Yorkers, especially the most vulnerable, are converted in Bloomberg’s budget into mere liabilities in the business model.
During a time when homelessness is sure to be on the rise, the proposed budget would add to the challenges faced by the neediest of New Yorkers. The homeless face cuts in various services. Included in the budget proposal is the possible elimination of the Home Base program, which offers a variety of counseling services aimed at reducing the number of homeless persons through family and landlord mediation. Other cuts will reduce the amount paid for family hotel stays, the number of staff in the Department of Homelessness and even the cleaning kits provided to people moving out of the shelter system into permanent housing. These cuts are not only bad social policy, but display the cruelty the elite in New York City are willing to engage in to defend their privilege.
New York City students will face dirtier schools, overworked staff and fewer support programs. Bloomberg proposes sharp reductions in school custodial staff as well as the slashing of all sorts of teaching and support staff. Programs which target early literacy training will be reduced, after-school programs reduced by $2 million and even school food services programs will face “streamlining.” Working people depend on city schools and after-school programs as safe havens for their children. Schools provide more than education; they offer a sense of connectedness and structure fundamental to strong working class communities.
Public school teachers and staff will also suffer at the hands of Bloomberg and New York State Governor David Paterson. Current proposals call for the reduction of more than 14,000 teachers and support staff through layoffs and attrition. Those who survive the cuts will be made to pay 10% of the cost of healthcare. This proposal is one part of a series of in-contract give-backs Bloomberg hopes to force onto unionized workers. Just to make sure the future remains firmly in the hands of elite New Yorkers, the mayor also intends to raid the Teacher’s Retirees Health Benefits Trust Fund to the tune of $1.1 billion over the next three years.
Prospects for public higher education look equally dim. Despite a $400 increase in tuition, Bloomberg is still cutting more than $40 million from the CUNY budget. Cuts will reduce student services such as, tutoring and counseling, library services and institutional research programs. Existing trends of increasing the number of non-tenured instructors and reductions in the number and variety of class offerings are sure to be accelerated by these broader cutbacks.
For the elderly, Bloomberg’s budget makes permanent regressive policies that were already implemented in 2008. The home delivered meals program was changed so that deliveries are made three times a week instead of five, and the meals are frozen instead of fresh. This reduces both food quality and eliminates some of the only human interaction older New Yorkers have. Senior Centers, a social oasis for many elderly New Yorkers, are also targeted by the Mayor. They are scheduled for 5% reductions in their budgets. To be old in Bloomberg’s New York is to live an anonymous life of social irrelevance.
But, that is not the end to how far reaching these cuts are. Is your house or apartment on fire? Watch out. Bloomberg intends to eliminate three engine companies and one Ladder Company, 30 Basic Life Support Tours and EMS workers. In jail and lonely? Expect fewer visitors. Visitation schedules will be reduced to four instead of five days. Care to read a book? Fat chance. Bloomberg’s intends to reduce the New York Public Library budget by 7%. Need to get somewhere quick? Pay attention. Bloomberg wants to install more than 20 speeding cameras. Has it gotten a bit darker on your street? Well, Mayor Mike is changing the street lamp bulbs from 250 watts to 150 watts and pocketing a tidy $2 million in the process.
There is nothing “sound” about the budget proposals made by Bloomberg. Despite a near total meltdown in the economy of New York City, he offers no change in economic strategy. Bloomberg’s New York continues to be a place characterized by an irresponsible dependence on tax revenue from Wall Street and an unprofitable link to a declining tourist industry. His is a city of police, yuppie bankers and tourists. He expects residents to be passive and orderly; divided from one another by neighborhood or age, race or occupation. Our New York is another place. It is a city of the working class and poor, the street artist and the student, of vibrant ethnic communities and cultural mixture. We need well-funded, quality public institutions to bring out the best in our City.
Perhaps now, after nearly three decades of dominating our city, of gentrifying our neighborhoods, decimating our ethnic enclaves, and sucking every last bit free expression from our communities in the name of law and order, the day of the yuppie in New York City has ended. But, as history teaches, outdated political projects die hard and this one will need a significant social force to sweep it aside. Our social movements can do this – by speaking and writing, marching and confronting – in the name of those left out of the business model. All of our hopes for a progressive future depend on saying a speedy and long over due farewell to Yuppie New York, their business models and their Billionaire Mayor. And ushering in an era of a New York City shaped by those who live, work, study and create here (Staten Island groundhogs included).