By Bob Friedrich
I woke up March 1 amazed to find buses and subways running, planes still flying and creating too much noise in Bayside and the gears of government grinding along. After weeks of nonstop predictions of a sequestration Armageddon from Washington, I was relieved that the roads were still open and traffic lights functioning, enabling me to reach the deli and my morning joe at the Glen Oaks Shopping Center.
Of course, budget cuts have an impact and they can be painful at times. But continuing to borrow almost 50 cents on every dollar our nation spends, pushing us toward $17 trillion in debt that will be inherited by our children, is not only painful but immoral. This debt will handicap their financial well-being, making it harder for them to succeed.
As an accountant and president of the board of the largest co-op in Queens, balancing a budget, keeping spending under control and making choices that affect people are responsibilities that are taken seriously. It is unconscionable that elected officials continue to put politics ahead of people. A trillion-dollar deficit year after year may be hard to envision, but its manifestations are all around us.
Ever wonder why bridge tolls that were under a dollar less than 20 years ago are now $15 and there is not enough money to repair broken curbs, cracked sidewalks or firehouses or provide high-tech equipment and supplies in schools? Billions that were once spent on infrastructure and operating costs are now spent on servicing the unprecedented debt of our nation and its states and cities.
Like a family living above its means, its new home mortgage consumes 50 percent of the family income, leaving little extra for everything else. Extricating oneself from such financial recklessness is impossible. Either earn more money or cut spending. There are no other choices. Even if the government taxed the top 5 percent of wage earners at 100 percent it would not cover the deficit for a single year and do nothing about the $17 trillion of accumulated debt.
With all the doomsday scenarios of sequestration, one would think we were talking about real spending cuts. Not so. Sequestration called for cutting the rate of projected spending growth, but on Jan. 1 all families suffered an immediate 2 percent real cut in their income through higher payroll taxes. These families, unlike the government, did not have the luxury to whine about it and had no choice but to cut family spending.
Surely they were not happy, but families managed without theatrics, hand-wringing, scoring political points or demagoguery. Those choices were not an option and only delayed the cure and prolonged the pain.
The president, of course, is not responsible for the disease. The deficit has been years in the making. But five years into his presidency, he must take responsibility for finding a cure and must stop blaming everyone else for that failure.
And this problem is not just limited to Capitol Hill. Here in New York City, we see curbs and sidewalks throughout our communities in a perpetual state of disrepair. Crushing toll increases now cost a family $15 round-trip to cross the Whitestone Bridge or Queens-Midtown Tunnel.
Money that years ago could have been spent on these projects is now used to pay interest on the ever-mounting city and state debt and pension costs. Scarier still, the leading mayoral candidates do not even acknowledge that there is a problem. The upcoming primary elections will be our best chance to fix that.
Voters must punish candidates who demagogue this issue while rewarding those willing to tackle the debt crisis without pretending that free-wheeling spending can continue forever.
Bob Friedrich is president of Glen Oaks Village and a civic leader.