A half century ago, New York City’s “Liberal Experiment” failed.
After a generation of runaway spending on anti-poverty programs, instant welfare and housing supports, a massive health care system plus shameless budgetary gimmicks, the Big Apple ran out of money in April 1975 and was facing bankruptcy.
To save the City, Gov. Hugh Carey declared “The Days of Wine and Roses Are Over,” and forced the incompetent mayor, Abe Beame, to begin internal reforms.
To further tame the City, Carey convinced the state Legislature to create the Emergency Financial Control Board (EFCB) that was empowered to accept or reject City budgets and proposed labor contracts. The EFCB could also impose its own budget or order operating cuts.
Thanks to Carey’s leadership, the City avoided filing Chapter 11.
But the crisis was far from over. Beame’s successor, Ed Koch, a self-proclaimed “liberal with sanity,” bit the bullet and imposed significant budget cuts across the board, which included the elimination of 20,000 City jobs.
While Koch was able to achieve a truly balanced budget by 1981, the City’s quality of life declined due to cuts in the police, fire and sanitation departments.
Koch’s successor, David Dinkins, a liberal who learned nothing from the 1970s debacle, returned to business as usual. By the end of his term in 1993, crime was out of control, and the cost of government was once again on the rise.
The post-Dinkins administrations of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg rejected failed liberal formulas. The result: spending was contained, the economy boomed and crime dropped to all-time lows.
But when the radical leftist Bill de Blasio became mayor in 2013, he began spending money like a drunken sailor. He gave away the store to all the municipal unions except the cops and firefighters. He added 35,000 bureaucrats to an already bloated payroll. He defunded the police and tolerated mobs roaming the streets destroying and looting businesses.
His leadership during COVID was dismal. The economy tanked, garbage piled up on the streets, rats ran rampant and crime creeped upward.
After eight years of DeBlasio’s follies, exhausted New Yorkers rejected DeBlasio clones in the Democratic Primary and chose an ex-cop, Eric Adams, who talked tough.
However, since Adams was sworn into office in 2022, he has failed to tackle the mess he inherited.
As a result, Adams now faces another fiscal crisis due to the failure of the latest “Liberal Experiment.”
In the 1970s, it was spiraling welfare and Medicaid costs that crippled the City. (1.198 million people — 30% of the City’s population were on welfare and 546,000 were receiving Medicaid benefits — 70% of the state total.)
This go around, the spiraling costs of illegal immigration are driving the City to the edge of the fiscal abyss.
In the past year and a half, Adams has spent over $2.5 billion to service migrants. And he projects spending as much as $11 billion more during the next two fiscal years.
These outlandish costs plus sagging tourism sales and hotel occupancy tax revenues, waning commercial real estate taxes and the exodus of the City’s top taxpayers to Florida, has forced the mayor to come to grips with a budget deficit that the Citizens Budget Commission projects could hit $10.6 billion next year.
What is Adams doing about it? He’s proposing cuts to essential services — including defunding the police.
The next five police academy classes will be suspended. The force will decline to 29,000 cops — the lowest level since the 1980s.
Total proposed cuts for the NYPD are $132 million, for the fire department, $74 million, and $32 million for sanitation.
Such cuts are absurd. They will further impair the quality of life.
If the mayor is serious about saving the City, he should fire the 35,000 bureaucrats De Blasio hired.
He should stop treating the Teachers Union with kid gloves and demand genuine productivity increases and the elimination of perks.
He should end the tens of millions of dollars in fat-laden goodies City Council members distribute to favored special interests every year.
Also, he would be wise to sit down with the Citizens Budget Commission and other fiscal watch dog groups who have identified billions in cost-cutting and saving opportunities.
If Adams fails to pursue these recommendations, and the City continues on the road to perdition, then it’s time for the EFCB to come out of hibernation.
That board, whose members include Gov. Kathy Hochul and State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, possess the power to step in and save the City. And if the Adams’ administration ends the fiscal year with an operating budget deficit of $100 million or more, the EFCB can seize control of the City finances and impose financial discipline.
I can only hope there is the political will to heal the ailing City of New York. If not, it will be 1975 redux.
George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact," and "Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy." Read George J. Marlin's Reports — More Here.
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