The Civic Scene: Gov’t options to cutting costs lie in plain sight

By Bob Harris

Our state, federal and city governments are in debt but have a multitude of contracts to provide services and consultants which, if evaluated, revised and eliminated, could go a long way toward reducing our deficits. The state constitution and City Charter require a balanced budget every year. While our federal constitution does not require a balanced budget, it behooves our government leaders and all citizens to pressure for one or we may discover that the world markets may consider us bankrupt someday.

This column has reported on the medical pensions given to almost all Long Island Rail Road employees. Now it has been discovered that since 1936 the state Legislature has expanded illnesses, a move which can entitle firefighters to a 75 percent disability pension. Of course, firefighters injured or who suffer a heart attack while fighting a fire should receive a disability pension, but now due to laws passed in Albany most firefighters are receiving these disability pensions for every conceivable illness. The pension system was not set up to give an entitlement to nine out of 10 firefighters. Our city budget cannot take this drain.

City Comptroller John Liu is auditing city contracts for an IBM data system called ARIS — $89 million — which does not work. Also, iZone, which is supposed to provide interactive online learning, is being audited. There are 12 city Department of Education audits being done. The cost of city contracts has now doubled to more than $10 billion — mostly technology contracts. Under this type of contract, low-level employees receive about $185,000 a year while regular employees in schools and offices receive about $70,000.

The state does the same thing in its many departments. A state audit of its Department of Transportation showed that a couple of dozen state contracts did not have any evaluation of their cost effectiveness. Even when this audit showed that three of the contracts were not cost-effective, they were left in place. Gov. Andrew Cuomo was elected to cut this waste, but we do not hear of cuts in wasteful contracts to private firms or even consolidation of state agencies which are duplicating services. Why can’t the state continue the current surcharge on wealthy citizens? Why can’t the state charge a penny an ounce on sugary drinks?

Tax breaks of about $29 billion are given by our state to businesses as tax credits. Are these still needed? The city does this to corporations in the city. It is ironic that often the city gives a company a huge tax break to stay in the city, then move out a few years later. The federal government gives huge subsidies to the oil, tobacco and corn industries, to name a few.

As one reads the news reports coming from Iraq and Afghanistan, one often sees that a contractor was killed or did something wrong. A large amount of the money we now spend on our wars is paid to contractors to do the fighting, building or carrying of supples. In World War II, naval servicemen built things; today, multimillion-dollar corporations do the things servicemen built.

Our federal government, which is $14 trillion in debt, manages to waste money on a grand scale. The U.S. Department of Defense is gigantic. Its secretary wants to cut $78 billion over the next five yews — a minuscule portion of the money wasted due to contracts for weapons systems or programs which are behind schedule or do not work.

One of the expensive programs is the F-35 Lightening 11, which has jumped to $323 billion since it started in 2000. The government wants to build 2,500 of this fifth-generation fighter plane for the armed services, although our current fighter planes are nearly a generation ahead. Perhaps the program should be scaled back to reduce the deficit and in case China comes up with a compatible plane in the next five years or so. Perhaps it should be terminated as a way to save our nation from bankruptcy.

GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: Our federal, state and city governments are spending more than they receive in taxes to provide services. The politicians do not want to raise or continue a small tax on the rich to help balance the budgets. Why? If our legislators would evaluate contracts, contractors, subsidies and payments to consultants, we could easily balance our budgets.

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