TAKING AIM: Bloomberg targets teachers, firehouses and seniors

Although claiming that New York City’s economy has recovered faster than anywhere else in the country, many agencies, organizations and elected officials have raised their concerns about Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $65.6 billion budget for the coming fiscal year.

Unwilling to raise taxes, Bloomberg says he has no choice but to slash $1.6 billion from the budget, which would chase 6,166 teachers out of classrooms, including 4,666 teacher layoffs while concurrently causing the closing of 20 firehouses and shuttering 100 senior centers.

Bloomberg says that deeper cuts in the form of $600 million from the city’s budget could occur unless Albany increases aid to the city by $400 million and adopts changes to pension rules that he says could save $200 million. Changes to pension rules would also mean changes to New York State law and an uphill battle against union leaders.

“From one end of this country to the other, there is a war on public employees, with lawmakers using budget deficits as a smoke screen for attacking our jobs, our pensions and benefits, and the programs and services that sustain working families and our communities,” said Lillian Roberts, executive director of District Council 27, the city’s largest public employee union, with 125,000 members and 50,000 retirees who now have their pensions in jeopardy.

Roberts says that deep concessions should come from billions of dollars in private contracts rather than from public employees. They will be holding a hearing on Friday, February 25 at Union Headquarters to examine the budget in terms of fairness and shared sacrifice.

Local elected officials are concerned about how the slash to the budget will affect the growing senior population in Queens.

"The proposal to take $22 million in federal money from the Department for the Aging, would mean closing more than 100 of our senior centers,” said State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky. “The burden would be the greatest on our senior citizens – the people who are clearly the most vulnerable, living with the highest rate of poverty. This shortsighted proposal will be hardest on our homebound elderly. Our projections show a cut like this will end up costing more in the long run in terms of care.”

"If the senior centers close, where will our seniors go? What will they eat?” said Assemblymember Grace Meng. “In addition, the social and emotional consequences that these closures bring about will have a far more serious impact than can even be imagined now."

Others, like City Central Labor Council President Jack Ahern, believe the mayor is holding the educational system hostage unless Albany gives in to his demands.

“There is no room for debate, there is no discussion and there is no negotiation. He wants Albany to be a co-conspirator in his assault,” said Ahern. “We have seen this time and again around the world where a ‘state of emergency’ is declared for the purpose of seizing power and destroying due process. Never in my lifetime did I expect to see such an effort undertaken in my own city.”

NYC Comptroller John Liu’s office says they will be reviewing the Mayor’s preliminary report and will present testimony in the coming weeks on their findings.

“We will continue to identify savings potential at city agencies to ensure that the budget is not balanced in a way that punishes our students, or unfairly singles out our city’s employees,” said Liu.

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