Gotham Gazette

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Government

Governor Pataki's 2003 Budget Address


Lieutenant Governor Donohue, Majority Leader Bruno, Speaker Silver, Leader Nesbitt, Leader Patterson, Comptroller Hevesi, respected members of the Legislature, fellow New Yorkers.

The budget I propose today will spell out the very difficult decisions that current fiscal conditions demand of us.

All of us agree that New York faces serious economic challenges in this fiscal year and beyond.

Over the past few weeks, I've spoken of the need for tough choices.

Now, the time for making those tough choices has come.

And as I see it, our choices are limited to two.

It's a clear choice between taxes and jobs.

If New York's record prior to 1995 proves anything, it's that high taxes are the surest way to weaken the economy and drive jobs across New York's borders.

Conversely, New York's record since 1995 shows that cutting taxes encourages initiative, sparks new investment and creates jobs.

Our eight-year fiscal record demonstrates this -- irrefutably.

Likewise, the record we inherited eight years ago demonstrates that raising taxes discourages initiative and investment, and leads to massive job losses.

...Which means that raising taxes this year -- or any year -- is the wrong choice.

We must choose jobs.

So today, I urge you to stand with me and send the right message to the New Yorkers who are worried about their jobs, to those who need jobs, and to the entrepreneurs who create jobs: Let's take the option of raising job-killing taxes off the table on Day One of this year's budget process.

Instead, let's follow the course that we know leads to economic renewal -- the course that lifted New York out of the economic crisis we inherited eight years ago.

Then, we faced a $5 billion deficit, runaway government spending and excessive taxes that fed a bloated government bureaucracy.

Of course, there is a difference between that crisis and today's.

That crisis was the result of more than a decade of misguided policies and poor fiscal management.

Today's enormous deficit was caused by events beyond our control -- the September 11th attacks and the decline of the stock market, compounded by the national recession and the unique problems of the financial industry which is so crucial to New York's economy.

There is only one way to lift New York out of this fiscal crisis -- by creating private sector jobs that are the foundation for public sector resources.

The reason we've been able to make record investments in areas like health, education and the environment is because our tax cuts sparked new investment and new jobs which strengthened our economy and expanded our tax base.

In the weeks and months to come, the debate over this budget will take many twists and turns.

But, again, ultimately the debate comes down to a simple choice: jobs or taxes.

My budget rejects job-killing taxes.

My budget chooses jobs.

Our budget must do the same.

As clearly as I can, let me state the hard facts behind New York's fiscal crisis and the steps we must take to end it.

We face a two-year, $11.5 billion dollar shortfall, a budget gap larger than the total annual budgets of 36 other states.

As a result of the terrorist attacks, New York suffered the direct loss of nearly 100,000 jobs.

Coupled with the national recession, the stock market decline and the problems facing the financial services industry, New York has a deficit of $2.2 billion in the current year, over and above the $8.8 billion deficit we've already closed.

In the coming fiscal year, we face another $9.3 billion deficit.

It is a staggering amount, particularly when you understand what we have already done to properly manage our fiscal affairs.

Immediately after September 11th, we took quick action.

We reduced the government workforce, cut back on agency spending, restructured our debt to take advantage of low interest rates, and took other smart steps to manage the people's money.

That is how we were able to close an $8.8 billion shortfall to date.

These actions will help close another $700 million over the balance of this fiscal year.

We must, however, act quickly to protect our schools, public employees and fiscal stability by closing the remaining $1.5 billion current year shortfall.

Since early December, we have been working together to close this gap with funds from securitizing the tobacco settlement.

I urge you to take prompt action on this measure.

For all we've done, let us not forget that the total of this year's deficit and next year's deficit combined, amounts to a budget shortfall of almost $20 billion.

Never before has our state faced this type of fiscal challenge. But we are New Yorkers. We met the challenges after the barbaric attacks of September 11th. We met the challenges of putting New York back on the path of strength and opportunity.

And we will meet the challenges before us today.

But we must do so while continuing to look toward the future. It's not just about getting through this budget or even the next. Quick fixes will not solve our fiscal crisis.

My spending plan was crafted with New York's future in mind. It's a job- creating budget based on long term economic growth.

Yes, there are difficult decisions to make, but I know we will make the right ones because we have made them before.

Prior to September 11th, we set aside the highest level of fiscal reserves in state history. Because we had the foresight to protect surplus funds -- because we took responsible steps to ensure we were prepared for the worst -- we are better prepared today than other states to make the tough choices.

Those decisions won us praise from fiscal watchdogs who -- a year after September 11th – said New York had weathered a storm that would have crippled a less prepared state.

When I addressed you two years ago, I said that "fiscal restraint is more than just sound economic policy, it's our obligation.

We have to prepare our State to withstand a potential slowdown in the national economy."

That was months before any official declaration of a recession, but I saw it coming and we prepared.

That was also months before the attacks.

I urged you to hold the line on spending to gird against the national recession.

My call for fiscal restraint led to some significant battles here in Albany, battles we can not afford to repeat.

Now more than ever, we cannot afford to be blind to the fiscal realities we face.

This year, more than ever, we need to work together to put in place a budget, and that budget must spend less than last year's.

I welcome an honest debate in the weeks to come, but let's work together to get the budget done promptly so that we can ensure the recovery that will allow us to again make the new investments in education, health care, and the environment that we all support.

Last year, knowing that tough decisions would have to be made in this budget, we froze salaries for all appointed employees earning over $75,000.

And we asked all agencies of government, with the exception of Public Security, to reduce their operating costs by five percent.

In the forefront of our efforts to reduce spending and find new efficiencies in State government is the Executive Chamber, where we said we'd reduce costs by 10 percent, but we're going to do even more.

In the coming year, we'll reduce Executive Chamber costs by roughly 19 percent.

In all areas of government -- starting with my office and my staff -- we must work aggressively to eliminate waste, consolidate functions, and reduce overhead costs.

We must streamline our state workforce to ensure that it is as lean and as efficient as it can be.

Since 1995, we've reduced the size of government by nearly 20,000 positions, while actually increasing efficiency. The budget I present today calls for a state workforce reduction of an additional 5,000 positions.

Those reductions are targeted intelligently to maximize the efficiency of our government and to provide the greatest opportunity to avoid layoffs.

As we have in the past, we will work closely with the public employee unions, while striving at all times to keep any layoffs to a bare minimum.

Trimming the state bureaucracy and cutting costs at our agencies will help. But state operations account for only 15 percent of the state budget. Those cuts will only get us so far.

We cannot expect to fully solve New York's fiscal problems unless we spend less than we did last year and make reductions in almost every area of the budget.

One area of the budget that will be exempt from spending cuts is public security.

To protect New Yorkers in the post-September 11th environment, my budget includes $180 million for public security activities, an increase of seven percent over this year.

This includes $8 million in new funds to support an additional 120 State Troopers to protect and bolster security along our northern border.

Overall, we have to spend significantly less. In 1995, you and I passed a budget that spent 2.2 percent ($720 million) less than the year before.

This year, I will ask you to pass a budget that spends 2.9 percent ($1.1 billion) less than last year.

These are the difficult decisions we have to make -- decisions that will result in less funding to worthwhile programs that we all support.

I don't want to reduce spending for these programs. None of us do. But then, none of us was elected to make just the easy decisions.

We can either cut these programs today and allow for the growth that will fuel them tomorrow, or subject New Yorkers to job losses and a fiscal crisis for years to come.

But as we make the necessary cuts, we're also going to make sure our health care system remains the best and strongest in the nation.

Our Health Care Reform Act has helped make New York's health care system the best in the world.

But these difficult times mean we must make it more effective and more efficient.

This budget will protect HCRA and extends it for an additional two years.

Across the country state governments are grappling with the high cost of new medical treatments, spiraling prescription drug prices and the needs of America's growing senior population.

New York is no different.

A failure to address Medicaid spending growth could jeopardize the vital health programs we have championed together.

This budget will not do that.

We will propose reforms that will reign in Medicaid spending this year, including steps to control prescription drug costs – the fastest growing segment of Medicaid.

At the same time we will reaffirm our commitment to providing care for the most vulnerable New Yorkers through our nationally renowned programs – Child Health Plus, EPIC and Family Health Plus -- which will continue to be the best in the nation.

Our Medicaid reforms will also help New York's local governments.

The new Medicaid cost-savings measures will generate $160 million in savings for New York City and $395 million for county governments during the next two years.

These savings will grow even larger in future years.

We are also going to continue our push for legislation we proposed last year that would provide counties and New York City with a total of $172 million in new fiscal relief by eliminating the requirement that these governments repay previously advanced State Medicaid funds.

Our Budget also takes additional actions to help local governments cope with their own fiscal challenges.

It includes a comprehensive mandate relief package that would provide new incentives and greater flexibility to municipalities to reduce costs and remove long-standing impediments to greater efficiency.

Also, in spite of our own fiscal difficulties, the Budget maintains nearly $800 million in unrestricted State aid for cities, towns and villages at current levels -- including more than $327 million for New York City.

At the same time, with actions contained in the Budget -- and through other measures -- we are committed to providing the City with more than $1.2 billion in net fiscal benefits in our fiscal year.

These measures include: new mandate relief measures, additional support from the Battery Park City Authority...

...support for legislation advanced by the City that would provide new fiscal relief, authority to restructure City debt...

...additional airport lease payments from the Port Authority, and continued partnership to achieve full Federal reimbursement of World Trade Center costs.

Much of the fiscal relief provided in the Executive Budget for New York City is recurring -- and will in fact grow in future years.

Clearly, the most difficult decisions facing us involve education – an area where we have worked together to make record investments.

As someone who was educated in New York's public schools -- and as a father whose children have benefitted greatly from our excellent public school system -- the last thing I want to do is reduce spending on education.

However, the crisis is that bad. We have no choice.

In these difficult fiscal times, we need to focus on the fundamental aspects of our school aid formula – those components that are absolutely critical to the basic mission of K-12 education.

Therefore, some of the most significant reductions are in categorical programs -- programs that we all support.

Certain categorical programs will be suspended -- while others such as Bilingual Education, Improving Pupil Performance, Categorical Reading and Magnet schools will be maintained.

In addition to categorical reductions and certain other reductions, operating aid will be reduced by four percent, or roughly $400 million, with reductions made on an equitable basis – with a greater share targeted to those districts that have the greatest means to sustain them.

We will also provide greater flexibility to our schools in the use of State aid – allowing local officials to have increased ability to manage local resources during these difficult times -- and we will provide meaningful mandate relief for our schools.

On education, we've made record investments, year after year.

Currently, the State is providing 50 percent more in school aid than we did in 1995.

And even with the difficult decisions we will be making this year, school aid will be $3.6 billion more than it was in 1995.

And this year – despite our spending restraint – we will remain among the nation's leaders in per pupil spending.

Let me be clear: I believe in public education. I'm a product of public education.

In 1995, my priorities were clear -- straighten out our state's finances, restore our state's economic competitiveness, and create the economic growth necessary to make record investments in education.

Those priorities haven't changed.

We've done it before. Now we must do it again...

...so that we can once again make record investments for our children, our teachers and our future.

And as we adopt a budget that creates jobs and grows us out of crisis we must continue the long tradition of compassion that sets New York apart.

In addition to preserving our successful health care initiatives we will continue to fully fund welfare benefits, day care slots and other programs critical to New York families.

We also fulfill our commitment to the New York State Cares program.

This budget expands New York State Cares, providing additional opportunities for developmentally disabled New Yorkers to have a home in the community.

Our policies have also allowed working families to keep more of what they earn.

We've dramatically increased the Earned Income Tax Credit over the past eight years -- making it one of the most generous in the nation.

Our tax cuts have reduced income taxes on those making less than $30,000 a year, by nearly 50 percent, and we have removed more than 400,000 working families from the tax rolls altogether.

They don't pay a dime in state income taxes.

In fact, according to a national study, New York's lower income working families pay less in state income taxes than virtually any other state in the nation.

We've done well. But even in these difficult times, we can do more.

That is why this budget will increase the earned income tax credit to 30 percent, maintaining New York's national leadership in providing help to working families.

As a result of this increase, 20,000 additional lower income working families will be removed from the income tax rolls.

As we work together to address the challenges of today – we must work just as hard to embrace the promise of tomorrow.

It all starts with good jobs and the high tech economy. All of us know that a good job is the key to building a strong family. That is why we must continue on the path to growth, and continue building the foundation for 21st century economic renewal.

You and I have worked hard to transform our economy into a global leader in high tech research, innovation and manufacturing.

For years, the pieces of the puzzle were all right here in New York, with the exception of two critical components – a competitive economic climate and aggressive state government support.

Together, we've worked to put all the pieces in place. Starting with our Centers of Excellence and complemented by our STAR centers, Advanced Research Centers and CAT centers, we're bringing together world class companies and the best and brightest minds at our top-flight academic institutions to work on a common goal...

...turning New York's brainpower into state-of-the-art products manufactured within the State's borders, creating tens of thousands of new jobs in the process. Every day, that vision is moving closer to reality.

In fact, in the last three years alone we have attracted more than $3.5 billion in high tech investments to our State.

Business Facilities Magazine now ranks New York State 4th in the nation in high tech growth – up from 10th just three years ago.

And Site Selection magazine's most recent ranking had us 3rd in the nation in attracting new and expanded corporate facilities -- our highest ranking ever. And it won't be long before New York is number one.

The arrival of International Sematech to Albany – whose formal signing we announced yesterday – could have the greatest impact on our state's economy since the opening of the Erie Canal.

It's going to ignite a high-tech economic boom throughout our state. It is going to do for New York what it has done for Austin, Texas – create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

The foundation of the Empire State High Tech Corridor is rapidly being built.

When complete, it will stretch from Long Island to Buffalo, and from Plattsburgh to Lower Manhattan, and it will mean a future economy where all students with a degree in science, math or computers will be able to begin a high-tech career right within commuting distance from their hometown.

To achieve that promise we must continue our efforts. The competition for high-tech economic development is intense. We have been aggressive... we must stay aggressive.

My budget will fully fund SEMATECH and our Centers of Excellence.

I will also propose a new high tech investment tax credit to leverage up to $250 million of new capital investments.

Access to capital is critical to high-tech firms – especially in their initial phases of start up.

These venture capital dollars will be targeted to small businesses linked to our on-going high tech efforts.

Already our Centers of Excellence are targeting companies from around the country and the world to come to New York to take advantage of our burgeoning high-tech clusters.

This proposed tax credit will be a powerful additional resource that will further increase our competitive advantage against other states vying for the high tech economy of the future.

As with all budget items, I urge you to move quickly on this important measure. Make no mistake, these are very difficult times, but if we make the right decisions we can turn crisis into opportunity.

It was the smart decisions we made to confront the economic crisis we inherited in 1995 that led to smarter policies which allowed us to make record investments in education.

It was the smart decisions we made in 1995 that allowed us to dramatically expand health care for New York's children.

It was the smart decisions we made in 1995 that allowed us to make historic investments in the environment and so many other crucial areas.

At that time -- when New York State's finances were in crisis -- those decisions seemed tough.

But ultimately, the decisions we made marked a turning point for New York.

The process of confronting the fiscal and economic crisis of 1995 made us stronger, because we made a decisive choice -- and the choice we faced then is the same choice we face today.

It's a choice between taxes or jobs.

None of us want to make cuts to our most precious programs and projects, many of which I have personally championed. After all, we've spent eight years making the right decisions so we could make record investments in these programs.

Making these tough choices will require courage, leadership, and honesty.

If we truly care about the future of New York, each of us must demonstrate all three of those qualities in the days, weeks and months to come....

...Because each of us will be approached by well-intentioned groups -- people we know and respect -- who will want us to devote more funds to programs that are well-intentioned and worthwhile.

Do we have the courage to tell them that, yes, your request for funds has merit, but in this time of crisis, the money simply does not exist?

Are we honest enough to tell them that, yes, your cause is worthy, and I support it, but the state just doesn't have the resources?

Do we have the leadership to say, yes, tough decisions are being made, but those decisions are necessary to lift New York out of its current crisis to a brighter future?

Do we have the courage, the honesty and the leadership to make these decisions?

Each of us will provide the answers to these questions in the weeks to come.

We didn't create this crisis, but if we face it head on, and if we face it together, we can end it.

We've done it before, we must do it again.

The choice I've presented to you today -- the choice between jobs and taxes -- is real. The grave consequences of making the wrong choices are just as real.

A vote to raise job-killing taxes is a vote to prolong the crisis well into the future. A vote to reduce spending instead is a vote to end it quickly by creating jobs and strengthening our economy.

During previous budget years, you and I have had the courage to set aside our differences to find common ground.

In a democracy, that is as it should be. But as we seek common ground, we can not afford to take half measures on a crisis that requires our full commitment.

Nor do we have the luxury of making compromises that ultimately result in a budget that only partly addresses the crisis.

Ultimately, I'm the one who must approve a final budget. But I know that the final product is best when it reflects the collaborative efforts of us all.

If we leave this auditorium divided from the start, we've already failed. Let's not do that. Let's not break faith with one another, because if we do, the repercussions will be laid at the doorstep of the very New Yorkers who elected us.

We know what works and what doesn't.

The course we must pursue is clear, and I'm confident that we will make the right choice quickly and with a united voice ...in times of crisis, New Yorkers have always stood tall, stood firm and stood together.

In this hour of economic adversity, there is, among New Yorkers, a real sense of uncertainty -- about jobs, about the future, about the outcome of this budget.

Nothing would send a stronger and more positive message to the people of New York than our willingness to stand together and say with one voice:

We will meet these challenges. We will make the tough decisions. And together, we will lead New York to its greatest day.

If we have the courage to do that, then -- ironically -- the budget we will ultimately be proudest of will be the one we wish we never had to pass.

 

State Of The City - 2003


In his State of the City address at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg talked about what he accomplished in the last year, mainly that crime is at the lowest point in 40 years. He laid out his future plans: cracking down on sex crimes, developing the west side of Manhattan, marketing the city's image around the world, and improving education. And perhaps inspired by the budding flowers in the arboretum, the mayor even took time to mention the little things that could be seen as positive: the Bronx Zoo buys 400,000 hamburgers and hotdogs a year and there are some 340 songs about New York.

But more than specifics, the mayor tried to present an optimistic view of the future.

"Right now, it's winter in New York," the mayor said. "I'm here to tell you spring - and a time of renewal - is on its way."

After the speech, many public officials in the audience seemed to share the mayor's sunny forecast.

Council Speaker Gifford Miller praised the mayor for calling for a commuter tax. Councilmember David Weprin was happy that new bridge tolls were not mentioned. Even Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who has been engaged in an ongoing battle with the mayor to preserve her job, said Bloomberg's speech was "full of hope."

The mayor's Republican colleagues, who are still fuming over the recent 18.5 percent property tax increase, offered the harshest criticism.

"Pausing for a moment to feel the people's pain over the property tax was nice, but it didn't go far enough," said City Council Minority Leader James Oddo. "If we raise taxes again in June, it won't mean much."

While the details of the mayor's plans will be laid out more soberly in his budget proposal this week, the address offered a broad vision of how the mayor sees the city. (Read the full text of the mayor's speech.)

Bloomberg focused on five major themes

This is what the mayor said, what he sees as his accomplishments, what he plans to do in the future, and what his critics say he hasn't done or shouldn't do.

PUBLIC SAFETY

"The first responsibility of city government is public safety," the mayor said in his speech. "The NYPD is simply the best police force in the nation. Despite a smaller department, the realities of the post-9/11 world, a recession, the NYPD has brought down crime to the lowest levels in 40 years."

Context:

While crime rose nationwide, New York City's crime rate reached its lowest level since 1963, down 5 percent in 2002. According to the police department, most serious crimes � murder, robbery, assault, and car theft � have continued to decline. Rape is the only violent crime in New York that has been on the rise, increasing 5 percent in the last year.

Even though the statistics say New York is safer, many New Yorkers don't feel safer. A November CBS/New York Times poll found that nearly a third of New Yorkers say the city is "less safe" than it was four years ago.

What The Mayor Sees As His Accomplishments:

Last July, the mayor launched Operation Spotlight to target the 10,000 low-level criminals - drug offenders, shoplifters, and prostitutes - who repeatedly commit quality-of-life crimes. The mayor says that the number of offenders who do jail time has increased by 50 percent.

In an effort to fight noise, which is the most common complaint to the police quality-of-life hotline, Bloomberg launched "Silent Night," designed to quiet unruly neighbors, curb drag racing on city streets and silence car alarms in 24 of the city's noisiest neighborhoods. (Read more about the city's crackdown on noise.

Not all areas of the city have experienced the same drop in crime. In January 2003, the police department put 800 officers on patrol in 61 of the city's high-crime areas. Because of this effort, the mayor says, serious crimes in these areas have decreased 45 percent in the first three weeks of the new year.

What The Mayor Hopes To Do:

The mayor said he will respond to the increase in rape with a new program called Project S.T.O.P. (Specially Targeted Offenders Project). The plan calls for a new DNA tracking database in order to help in prosecuting sexual crimes and specially trained prosecutors who will make home and workplace visits to high risk sexual offenders.

The Critics:

The mayor's critics question how much funding he can cut from the police department budget and still keep crime down.

"Telling the police department to do more with less is an invitation to rising crime levels," said Queens Councilmember Hiram Monserrate and former police officer. "It took 15 years for the department to recover from the cuts made in the last fiscal crisis of the 1970's."

Earlier this month, Police Commissioner Ray Kelley said he might have to cut as many as 1,000 officers and forgo hiring another 500 to cut $94 million more from next year's budget. Since then, the mayor and commissioner said they had come up with other ways to reduce costs without layoffs. But given the city's fiscal crisis, the possibility of layoffs will remain an option.

FISCAL CRISIS

"Taxes and frugality are far better than crime, filth and abandonment. And as to the short-term political fallout, I would rather be less popular, knowing that New Yorkers are safe, than promise a rose garden I know we can't deliver."

Context:

The major challenge for the mayor has been the city's $7 billion deficit, what has been called the "worst fiscal crisis in the history of the city." To date, the mayor and City Council have reduced the budget gap by $2.5 billion through borrowing, cuts to city services, increases to fees like parking tickets, and an 18.5 percent property tax hike.

What The Mayor Sees As His Accomplishments:

The mayor says the city is doing more with less.

The mayor has cut funding from every city agency � with the exception of homeless services. Bloomberg instituted a hiring freeze for all city agencies and instructed the fire department not to bring in the next class of recruits. He laid off 103 members of the Sanitation Department and agreed to cut 450 jobs at the School Construction Authority and 150 jobs at the Board of Education facilities division.

All of these cuts are necessary, the mayor said.

The mayor also convinced the City Council to approve an 18.5 percent property tax hike that will generate about $1.7 billion a year for the city budget.

What The Mayor Hopes To Do:

First, the mayor is calling on city workers to increase their productivity in hopes of saving some $600 million. He told unions they should not expect raises. "The stringent budget we're proposing assumes no compensation increases whatsoever," said Bloomberg.

Second, City Hall is also looking to Albany for $1.4 billion in aid in the next year. The mayor called on Governor Pataki and the State Legislature to pass a personal income tax on people who work in the city but live elsewhere � in effect, reinstating a commuter tax. (Read arguments for and against the commuter tax.) Bloomberg is also asking the state to pay a larger share of its share of Medicaid costs.

Finally, the mayor argues that help must come from Washington to pay for counter-terrorism efforts and rebuilding lower Manhattan.

THE CRITICS: The unions argue that the city workforce must not be cut and that their workers need raises to keep pace with the cost of living.

"Our members are not sacrificial lambs to be offered up on the altar of productivity," said Lillian Roberts of District Council 37. "We will fight any efforts to balance this budget on the backs of our members."

Social service providers say the most vulnerable New Yorkers � the poor, elderly, and children � are being asked to shoulder too much of the burden.

Others � particularly the mayor's Republican colleagues � argue that more tax increases will be worse than cuts.

"This is not a revenue problem, this is an expenditure problem," said Council Minority Leader James Oddo. "We have to cut spending."

Others argue the mayor is too optimistic about aide from Albany and Washington and needs to lobby harder. Governor George Pataki said he will not approve a commuter tax or any other tax increase. And President George W. Bush's recent economic plan did not include the aid to state and local governments that many hoped.

"He's still being awfully charitable to the president and the governor," said Brooklyn Councilmember Bill deBlasio.

"The signs from Washington have not been good," said Rep. Jarrold Nadler.

MORE EFFICIENT GOVERNMENT

"The voters have a right to know what their elected officials said they'd do -- and they have a right to know what they've actually done. The public should hold their elected officials accountable for results. And they can start with me."

Context:

Bloomberg believes he was elected on his business background and his promise to bring an "outsider's" perspective to government.

What The Mayor Sees As His Accomplishments:

Bloomberg made his billions off of a computer system and media company that provide financial news and information, and he has used technology as a tool to reform government. New Yorkers can now pay parking tickets, view property statements, obtain birth and death certificates, or report housing code violations online.

The mayor also streamlined the annual management report from a multi-volume document into a 186-page report and launched an interactive online feature called "My Neighborhood Statistics," which allows New Yorkers to type in their address and generate a web page with maps and statistics about where they live.

What The Mayor Hopes To Do:

The city's new 311 non-emergency phone number, set to launch sometime in February, will centralize the 8 million complaints that currently come in to 41 different hotlines. The new call center will also be equipped with technology to make agencies more accountable. Each of the requests will be documented so that there is a record of how well and how quickly city agencies respond. Satellite technology will give the operators information about the location that each person is calling from, so that the 311 center can create a map of New Yorkers' complaints.

With the city struggling to close its budget gap, the mayor is calling on the City Council and State Legislature to pass tort reform that would limit the city's liability in lawsuits. Last year, New York City paid out almost $600 million in claims and judgments as a result of lawsuits, up from $21 million in 1978.

The mayor also says the city's contracting procedures are too costly and too antiquated. And he hopes to merge different city agencies, like the Department of Correction and Department of Probation.

In the next few weeks, Bloomberg has promised to release a list of every promise he made during his campaign so voters know what has or has not been accomplished.

Many expect the mayor to revisit the idea of non-partisan elections, an idea he pursued this year but was that rejected by his own Charter Commission. For the Democrat-turned-Republican mayor, not having a political party next to his name on the ballot would constitute a major government reform.

The Critics:

While most agree the city's 311-call center is a good idea, implementing it will be a major undertaking.

Based on the experience of other cities, the number of complaints is expected to double. And while it will be easier to complain, that may not mean things like potholes, burned out streetlights, or run-down buildings will be fixed any more quickly.

"In the end, people are still looking for a human to help them, not just a computer," said Queens Councilmember Leroy Comrie, who likes the call center, but doubts it will decrease the number of complaints he receives from constituents.

On the issue of tort reform, citizen advocates like the national public interest group Public Citizen argue that it serves as a check on municipal recklessness. The State Legislature and City Council have been reluctant to pass measures that would be seen as protecting government, not citizens.

On non-partisan elections, critics argue that the issue has not been studied enough, it may decrease voter participation, and will only benefit only minor political parties.

ECONOMIC GROWTH

"We'll continue to transform New York physically -- giving it room to grow for the next century -- to make it even more attractive to the world's most talented people. We'll invest in neighborhood livability, cultural organizations, education, research and medicine."

Context:

The city's jobless rate has risen to 8.5 percent, the highest point since 1998. The New York economy � dependent in large part on Wall Street and still trying to recover from the terrorist attacks of September 11 � is losing businesses and jobs.

What The Mayor Sees As His Accomplishments:

New York City will play host to the 2004 Republican National Convention. And with the mayors' support, the city won the U.S. bid for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.

WHAT THE MAYOR HOPES TO DO: Bloomberg hopes to convince the state and the Port Authority to adopt his vision for lower Manhattan including parks, residential areas, and improved transportation. (Read the details of the mayor's plan for downtown.)

The mayor also used his State of the City speech to reiterate his ideas for developing the west side of Manhattan, including expanding the convention center and building sports facilities. Part of this effort involves the extension of the 7 subway line, which Bloomberg says will create 15,000 construction jobs.

The city also has an ambitious $3 billion plan to create and preserve more than 65,000 homes and apartments in neighborhoods over the next five years. Approximately 25,000 new housing units would be built and an additional 38,000 would be preserved in existing buildings.

In the future, the mayor hopes to do a better job of marketing New York City around the world. He will soon appoint a Chief Marketing Officer who will organize a "road-show" to sell the city's image. The first stop will be in London in March.

The Critics:

Critics worry that preparing for the Olympics could take resources away from other vital development projects, including rebuilding downtown. Some economists question the plans to cover the city's costs through a controversial financing scheme. Residents of the far West Side, which would be home to the new Olympic Stadium, say it could destroy their neighborhood.

And not everyone is convinced that extending the 7 train is a good idea.

"There has been absolutely no study . . . about the benefits of extending the No. 7 line for transit riders," said Joe Rappaport, policy advisor for the Transport Workers Union Local 100. "If you wanted to improve service to the West Side you could do that much more quickly through bus rapid transit which would cost in the hundreds of thousands to implement, or a light rail system which would cost in the tens of millions, as opposed to extending the No. 7 train, which would cost in the hundreds of millions."

Overall, many public officials said the State of the City speech did not provide enough new ideas for economic development, especially for the outer boroughs.

"I didn't hear anything new or fresh for the Bronx," said Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr.

IMPROVING EDUCATION

"The best advertisement for our city will be when we're able to say that all 1200 of our public schools are success stories�. We focused on creating a new and accountable administrative structure, instituting a standardized curriculum for more than 80 percent of our schools, and making the school system parent-friendly."

Context:

Most New Yorkers agree that something must be done about the city's public schools. Three out of four city schools do not perform adequately. Seven out of ten eighth graders failed this year's state required reading exam. And only half of New York City high school students graduate in four years.

What The Mayor Sees As His Accomplishments:

Mayor Bloomberg proposed the most sweeping changes in education in 30 years. He gained control of the city schools in January and recently released his plans to set up a standardized curriculum for the vast majority of schools, eliminate community school district offices, establish a parental liaison person in every school, and replace community school boards. (Read more about the mayor's education plan)

What The Mayor Hopes To Do:

The mayor said in his speech that gaining control of the city's schools was the "easy part." Now he must win state and federal approval for the parental involvement and curriculum. The true test, the mayor said, will be "giving all our students the education they need and deserve."

Critics:

While the United Federation of Teachers has endorsed the mayor's education plan, many education advocates and parents say it is too heavy handed.

Carolyn Prager of the Advocates for Public Representation in Public Education called the plan "management by intimidation" and feared it would drive teachers, principals, and educators from the system.

Just how parents will be involved in the process is still unclear. Former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer said, "No mere change in structure will repair the problem that parents feel that schools are not open to them." (Read Ferrer's ideas about parental involvement in schools). The City Council has also proposed its own plan for involving parents in the process.

G. Reid Lyon, an advisor to President Bush, told the New York Times that the chancellor's phonics-based reading curriculum had no track record and may not get approval from the federal government. "We can find no published research indicating that this program has been tested with well-defined groups of kids and shown to be effective," Lyon said.

Read the full text of the mayor's speech.

A Pro Choice Agenda for New York City


On the 30th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision giving women throughout the nation the right to abortion, the right to choose is threatened on the federal front, with George W. Bush in the White House and anti-choice Republicans having taken control of the U.S. Senate. But New York City still has pro-choice officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller and members of the City Council, who continue to press policies that will expand reproductive rights in the city and beyond.

There is much to be done. More medical residents need to be trained in providing abortions, some contraceptive services are not widely available in New York, and poor women in the state do not have access to the array of services that women with private health insurance take for granted.

A mere seven days after being inaugurated last January, Mayor Bloomberg took steps to address some of these problems. He advanced a plan advocated by the National Abortion & Reproductive Rights Action League of New York State (NARAL/NY), where I work, to make abortion training a requirement for all obstetrics/gynecology residents rotating through New York City public hospitals.

Since 1988, there has been a 22 percent decline in the number of abortion providers in the United States. In New York State, 42 percent of all counties have no abortion provider, and there has been a 12 percent drop in the number of doctors performing abortions since 1996 alone. As current providers retire, fewer young doctors offer abortion services to their patients. The number of residency programs offering routine training to do abortions has been declining, and many doctors who do not do abortions cite a "lack of proper training" as one of the major reasons they do not offer patients this care. Others cite a moral objection to performing abortions, and the plan allows those residents to opt out of the training. In July, the Health and Hospitals Corporation began implementing the program to provide comprehensive abortion training to obstetrics/gynecology residents in New York City's public hospitals. Since one out of seven doctors in the nation is educated in New York, this could have a dramatic effect on the entire country. The mayor's initiative will serve as a national model for other municipalities to follow.

But other challenges remain for women in New York seeking reproductive health services. A coalition of pro-choice organizations is working with the City Council and Speaker Gifford Miller to institute several important changes in city law.

In fall 2002, the council's Investigations Unit, led by Councilmember Eric Gioia, released a report on the distribution of emergency contraception in pharmacies throughout New York City. Also known as the "morning after pill," this reduces a woman's chance of becoming pregnant by up to 89 percent when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. This drug is often called "the nation's best kept secret" because so few women know about it.

The findings in the City Council report were staggering. Only 55 percent of pharmacies surveyed throughout all five boroughs stock the pill, meaning that women, at a moment of great need, lose critical time searching for a pharmacy that provides the drug. Many pharmacists had incorrect information about the drug, including the misperception that it has a short shelf life.

To address the barriers to emergency contraception, in December 2002, Christine Quinn, chair of the council's Health Committee, introduced a package of legislation that will require that all pharmacies that fail to stock emergency contraception post signs stating that they do not carry it. This would embarrass pharmacies into stocking the drug and help women find the medication. Another bill would also require the Department of Health to make the morning after pill available at all its health stations, health clinics and other health facilities.

Legislation sponsored by Councilmember Eva Moskowitz would require all hospital and medical facilities that New York City contracts with or funds to inform rape survivors of the availability of emergency contraception and, upon request, provide the medication as a basic standard of care. Currently, some hospitals do not provide it, due to either a lack of understanding of the drug's importance or religious objections.

In late December, the City Council held hearings on these three bills. It is anticipated that the council will vote on them in the near future. These measures will improve awareness of emergency contraception and its availability and will create models for other municipalities around the country.

While working women with private health insurance in New York have access to a broad array of reproductive health services, many poor women do not. Several years ago, New York State began transferring Medicaid recipients to managed health care programs. While individuals can research and select a managed care plan for themselves, a large percentage of Medicaid recipients do not choose a plan and are instead automatically enrolled into one. They may later learn that their plan does not provide a service they need.

This is particularly true of reproductive health services. Under state law, Medicaid recipients are entitled to receive contraception, abortion and reproductive health services. But not all of the managed care plans provide this kind of help. In that case, a woman seeking an abortion, say, or birth control may have to go outside her plan to another Medicaid provider. Although the service will still be free, some recipients find the burden of maneuvering the health care system to be an insurmountable barrier to getting the care they need. With the enactment of the historic state Women's Health and Wellness Act last year, commercial plans for workers and their families must cover contraception. So there now exists a dramatic inequity between those who receive health coverage from their employers and those who depend upon Medicaid for their health care.

The City Council, along with pro-choice advocates, is examining possible legislation to address this inequity in the provision of health care. New York City must mandate that managed care plans provide comprehensive care for all of our residents, especially those who are the most vulnerable because of poverty. Today, New York is one of only two states in the country -- the other being South Carolina -- where religious plans fail to contract with other plans to provide seamless care for Medicaid beneficiaries.

While harassment of women at reproductive health clinics has faded from the headlines, courageous volunteers who escort women to their appointments at these facilities continue to tell terrifying stories of women and clinic staff being verbally assaulted, threatened and physically blocked from entering the clinics. Current city law prohibits the use of blockades as well as other types of force at reproductive health clinics. But these laws do not always effectively protect patients, providers and others against noisy, disruptive and often menacing protests. Reproductive rights organizations across the city are working closely with the City Council to get strong legislation passed to ensure the doors of all reproductive health providers stay open and accessible.

In about a year and a half, New Yorkers will have a crucial opportunity to demonstrate to the nation that our city is indeed a pro-choice leader. In the summer of 2004, the Republican Party will bring its convention -- and likely anti-choice platform -- to New York City. On this, the 30th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we must commit ourselves to working together to ensure that New Yorkers deliver a passionate and united pro-choice message to the Republican Party. The entire country will be watching.

Andrew Stern is political director of National Abortion & Reproductive Rights Action League of New York State.

Read The Pro-Life Agenda by Lori Hougens.

The Pro-Life Agenda


 

There is very good news and very bad news for the pro-life movement and the people for whom we speak. The great news is that the number of abortions has dropped again, and of course, any time a child is saved that is reason for rejoicing. In addition, the number of people who identify themselves as pro life has gone up, including college students and high school students. People are waking up to the cause of the unborn child and rejecting outright the notion that we must choose between mother and child. And, in New York and elsewhere in the country, many people favor limits on abortion.

On the other hand, there is a new assault: the big push to create new members of the human family through cloning - to experiment on them and then destroy them. The big debate nationally is whether there will be a true ban on human cloning. Or will we instead have legislation that pretends to be a ban but does not actually stop cloning?

Some proposed legislation allows the implantation of cloned embryos so that they can be grown for parts. Most of the suggested legislation would not allow the embryo to be implanted in the uterus for eventual birth. Not only is that morally reprehensible, but it is also practically untenable. We already have thousands of human embryos in suspended frozen animation. How will the government know whether the embryo in question is one of them or a cloned human that has been implanted? And what does the government do if it discovers that a cloned person has indeed been implanted? Does it forcefully abort the woman?

We have reached the point where we have become blind to any understanding of the value of a human life. We need to go back to recognizing that there is something precious, different and valuable about being a member of the human family, whatever that looks like. You cannot say, for example, that an embryo doesn´t look like a person because that is exactly what a person looks like at that stage. Human beings from the moment of fertilization until the moment of natural death are indeed members of our family. We need to respect that or we are not going to recognize the world that we are building.

In New York, many politicians and citizens identify themselves as pro choice, but most believe that we have gone too far. The majority of people here think that abortion should be legal in cases of rape or incest. A lot of people are back and forth about first trimester abortion. But for the vast majority of people, being pro choice does not mean the same thing that it means to State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver or Senator Hillary Clinton. Most people, even in New York, think that it´s crazy to have an abortion in the second or third trimester and certainly to use abortion as a method of birth control.

We know New Yorkers support a ban on partial birth abortions and are in favor of parental involvement legislation, which would make sure parents know that their underage daughters are having an abortion. These are basic sanities that everybody, pro life or not, can agree on. But in the Assembly, Speaker Silver will not allow a vote on the floor for legislation banning partial birth abortions or requiring parental notification. All New Yorkers, regardless of how they feel about abortion, should be concerned about the way that our State Assembly is run.

Though abortion is legal until the moment of birth in our country and in New York by edict from the U.S. Supreme Court, we have a program for New York that we hope to see approved. One is fetal pain prevention legislation that would allow a woman who is having an abortion in the second or third trimester of pregnancy to choose anesthesia for her unborn child before she has the abortion. This is not going to ban any abortions but it would make them more humane.

The other is the ban on partial birth abortion. Here too, we would not be banning third-term abortions, as the Supreme Court forbids such protections for unborn children, but they would have to be done a different way.

Partial birth abortions are repulsive. They stab kids who are four-fifths of the way born in the head and suck out their brains. Some people bought the lie that partial birth abortions are done because the mother needs it either for her life or for her health. But partial birth abortion is horrendous for the woman´s health and potentially life endangering. Even the pro abortion American Medical Association has said that partial birth abortion is not good medicine.

We also support legislation that would require that parents be notified if their daughter is about to have an abortion, unless a judge agreed that informing the parent would put the girl at risk. This is such a no-brainer. If you ask parents, even parents who describe themselves as pro choice will say, "Of course, I don´t want my daughter having surgery without my knowledge." The pro-abortion movement says that good girls from good families will tell their parents anyway. What a bunch of bologna. Good girls want to make their parents proud. And the idea that girls from bad families should be able to have an abortion in secret is almost worse.

We believe that there should be "informed consent," that women should have all the information before having an abortion including information about the development of their babies and the health risks they face themselves.

Beyond legislation, we do political work and education. We are doing a major outreach effort to the African-American community to educate African-Americans on the reality of abortion and the not so subtle targeting of their people by the abortion movement. The rate of abortion in the black community is much higher than in the general population. Traditionally, the black community has been very God fearing and family oriented. Of course, many remain so and we hope to work with that community to save children.

Generally people are empathetic toward other people. When people know what abortion is, what abortion does to a child, and what abortion does to a woman, they become pro life. So, we have a big job ahead of us educating people in New York. This year, we will work harder than ever to do that.

Lori Hougens is spokesperson for the New York State Right to Life Committee.

Read A Pro Choice Agenda for New York City by Andrew Stern.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 2003 State Of The City Address


Mr. Speaker; Members of the Council; Distinguished guests; fellow New Yorkers.

Everything has its season-including great cities. Right now, it's winter in New York. But today, standing in this beautiful Botanic Garden, I'm here to tell you spring-and a time of renewal-is on its way. There was a time when the very spot where we're gathered was an ash heap. But because the people of Brooklyn imagined something better, it's now a beautiful urban oasis.

There's something else important about the history of this area. We are near the site of one of the worst defeats ever suffered by America's armed forces. In 1776, the brand new Continental Army took 2,700 casualties in the Battle of Brooklyn -- much of it fought in nearby Prospect Park. They barely escaped annihilation. But they not only survived. They ultimately prevailed. And so will we!

Remember how New York felt when we gathered to consider the state of our city one year ago -- The loss... the uncertainty...the lingering anxiety. Look at how far we've come in the last year. New York City has not only recovered -- in spite of a painful current economic slowdown, in terms of long-term trends, we are flourishing.

The diverse communities that make this the world's second home ­ have demonstrated once again that New Yorkers always come together in times of crisis. They've shown the world the true fighting spirit of a united people.

It's because of them that I can report -- with pride ­ that our city is strong, confident, and undefeated. If we keep looking forward and doing the right things, our future is unlimited.

As the elected representatives of eight million New Yorkers, we have the responsibility, and the opportunity, to not only meet the tests of the moment, but also to look further and deeper, imagining and shaping New York's tomorrow. That's what addressing the State of the City obliges us to do.

It requires us to identify and acknowledge the short-term problems still in front of us, and the current choices still to be made. It means we have to be in front of our constituents -even when political expediency says "Don't do it!"

However, it also lets us start the grand projects that are our future.

As to the current challenges: we were elected to lead this city at this time. We must lead by action, and by example. When I said City government had to cut staff and expenses, the Office of the Mayor led the way.

I ran for office promising to bring an outsider's perspective to government. Over the last year, I've gotten to know our government inside out -- and today, I'll describe ways we can do our job better. Many things in our metropolis work well, some require minor improvement, and in some matters, radical change is required.

I also said -- that if there's one thing I would bring to government, it's accountability.

The voters have a right to know what their elected officials said they'd do -- and they have a right to know what they've actually done. The public should hold their elected officials accountable for results. And they can start with me. In the coming weeks, I'm going to release a list of everything I proposed in my campaign, and the status of each proposal: good and bad, big and small, those we've done, and those that are still works in progress. But, in each case, we'll let you know where we stand and what we're doing because that's what accountability is all about.

We are building on a year of remarkable progress.

Today, the employment picture has stabilized in crucial sectors of our economy. The selection of our city to host next year's Republican National Convention reaffirms our status as the premier location for world-class events. And our nomination to carry America's bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics represented an enormous vote of confidence in New York.

So is the fact that more than 3500 additional hotel rooms are under construction or planned here-and that that no major company has headed out of town. In fact, many are coming in the other direction. Even as the crime rate climbed nationally, the NYPD continued to drive crime down. We ended 2002 holding the undisputed title as the safest big city in the nation. We have the lowest crime rate since the early 1960's.

The number of New Yorkers receiving public assistance also continued to decline. It now stands at some 420,000 people, down from 1.1 million in 1996. That's a tribute to our city's commitment to replacing the dependency of welfare with the dignity of work.

Infant mortality -- a bellwether of public health and our success in ending the worst effects of poverty -- fell to its lowest recorded rate in history.

We achieved mayoral accountability for running our public schools ­ the crucial first step in giving all our 1.1 million school children the education they need and deserve.

And during 2002, we reclaimed Lower Manhattan -- the scene of the worst violence in our nation since the Civil War. Far faster than anyone thought possible, we brought the hum of commerce back to our historic birthplace -- and Lower Manhattan has become one of the hottest residential neighborhoods in the city.

We all want to believe there's hope for the future. Let me tell you ­ believe it! It's true.

Short-term budget problems-sure. Potholes along the way-of course, this is the real world. Argument, discussion, controversy-naturally, this is New York! But who among us would want to live elsewhere!

In recognizing our accomplishments, I don't mean to ignore our remaining challenges. They are formidable -- and they will require duty, discipline and sacrifice. But let's keep in mind that New York is far from alone in dealing with such difficulties.

Cities and states across the nation face budget dilemmas that are, in some cases better, and in many cases worse, than our own. But let me tell you something, I wouldn't trade our hand for the cards that any other major city holds.

Because while we have short-term problems in common with other cities, New York has competitive advantages that make our long-term future far brighter than theirs.

Our responsibility now, is to play the cards that history has dealt us boldly when we can, cautiously when we must, wisely at every turn.

Let me suggest four ideas that must guide our actions in the years ahead.

First, in order to continue our recovery, we'll need allies -- in our neighboring counties...in Albany... in Washington...and in all 50 states. Our alternatives, resources and liabilities are not wholly independent of theirs.

While sometimes we compete with one another, we'll seek to build such partnerships on the most logical grounds possible: Shared self-interest, where it applies. Help can go both ways. If they need it, we owe them help as fellow Americans. When we need help, they must be there for us as well. The bottom line is that for our region, state and nation to thrive, New York City must thrive.

Second, let's also expand on what we've proven so dramatically this past year. Just because we're spending less, it doesn't mean that we're doing less. Government should be judged on results, not on the dollars it spends. To date, we've reduced the cost to the public of city services by over two and a half billion dollars. But by most measures, now we're providing better, not worse, services to our citizens.

Some say we haven't done enough. Let's set the record straight. Since last January, we've cut or found alternative non-tax revenue sources for roughly 18 percent of the spending that we have discretion over. We're repeating this pruning process daily --and in a way that lets us continue to provide needed city services --responsibly, judiciously, thoughtfully.

During the fiscal crisis of the 1970s, services were cut so much that crime gripped whole neighborhoods... fires gutted whole blocks... and garbage littered the streets. We haven't permitted... and I won't permit... that history to repeat itself. We'll spend less and simultaneously keep the streets safe and clean...educate our kids...house our citizens...and help those who need our assistance to participate in the American dream. If we don't-we have no city worth living in.

Doing more with less isn't just a slogan; it's our marching orders for today's tough times.

Third, let's remember that even when times are hard -- especially when times are hard -- we must dream and build for the future. Our ancestors left us the greatest city in the world. We owe our children an even better one.

New York remains a worldwide market for the best and brightest. They'll build the prosperity of the next New York; our job is to make a city worthy of their ambitions.

Fourth and finally, let's keep the good of our whole city ahead of any narrow ideological or political interests. Who our parents were... what party we are registered in... or which pew we sit in... are not the test.

When future generations look back on us, we'll be judged by our integrity, our compassion, and our courage. Let's carry ourselves in such a way that history will say, they passed the test.

Guided by that spirit, we can, in the year ahead, continue to reduce crime in our neighborhoods... put our city's fiscal house in order... streamline and modernize city services... spur our economic recovery... and continue the historic transformation of our public schools.

Let's take these in turn. The first responsibility of city government is public safety. The NYPD is simply the best police force in the nation.

Despite a smaller department, the realities of the post-9/11 world, a recession, the NYPD has brought down crime to the lowest levels in 40 years. The NYPD has defied conventional wisdom and everyone's predictions and has done far better with much less.

But let me tell you about an achievement of the police department that hasn't received much attention-but should. Over the past year, the Vera Institute of Justice has asked New Yorkers to rate their level of satisfaction with the police. The results? With no significant racial or gender differences in these ratings, New Yorkers who call the police for help give the NYPD a resounding 8 on a scale of one to 10.

Bottom line: All New Yorkers appreciate what the police do for us every single day.

In 2003, the police and other criminal justice agencies will work to reduce crime even further. They'll use new, innovative strategies that focus on problem people and problem places. This relentless focus is the cornerstone of our administration's crime-fighting strategies. And it's working.

Case in point: Operation Impact. The police department is strategically deploying some 800 police officers in impact zones with high levels of crime. Police are focusing on preventing crime before it happens and on arresting criminals who have outstanding warrants for past crimes. And Operation Impact is already having an impact.

Citywide, crime is down 8 percent this year. In just three weeks, serious crimes have fallen more than 45 percent in the impact zones. Last year, reported rapes and other sex crimes increased slightly.

During this year, we're going to combat sex crimes every way we can. A Specially -- Targeted -- Offenders -- Project ­S.T.O.P.- will concentrate on sex offenders most likely to strike again.

The state registry required by Megan's Law tells us which sex offenders are high-risk-- the worst of the worst. Probation and parole officers will target them for intensive supervision, including home and workplace visits. If these offenders violate Megan's Law, they'll be prosecuted by specially trained Assistant D.A.'s in designated court parts in every borough.

Detectives working on sex crimes will receive new and better training. And a new DNA-case-tracking database will be employed in investigating and prosecuting sex crimes. And we are not stopping there.

Another group where we're having a dramatic impact: criminals who commit misdemeanors over and over again.

During 2002, Operation Spotlight focused on identifying and prosecuting these criminals. The result: More repeat misdemeanants like drug offenders, shoplifters and prostitutes have been detained on bail before trial... and the number of chronic offenders serving jail time -- has increased by nearly 50 percent. The message: If you do the crime, you'll do the time!

In the coming year, we'll continue to focus on known offenders and work with the courts and the D.A.s and the city's criminal justice agencies to introduce new, specialized courts exclusively for repeat probation violators. And rest assured, the NYPD will continue to prevent the quality of life offenses that undermine our neighborhoods and create an environment in which serious crime thrives.

Our successful Silent Night anti-noise enforcement effort will be extended to new neighborhoods. Technology will also be essential to our crime-fighting efforts this year. We'll install 2,200 laptops in patrol cars - giving our frontline officers immediate access to critical law enforcement databases.

Last year, we modernized our 911 operations by installing a state-of-the-art digital recording system. Now, by instantly providing recordings of a battered woman's pleas for help, we've given prosecutors a powerful new tool in domestic violence cases. This year, prosecutors will be able to retrieve all 911 calls in all types of cases in this way. Our city hospitals that treat large numbers of domestic violence victims, will receive high-quality digital cameras to photograph the terrible injuries inflicted by batterers -- making it easier to provide evidence of injuries and win convictions. Rest assured, even though crime today is at record lows, we're not satisfied. Just as we've been doing for the last 12 and a half months, we will continue to use every means at our disposal to drive crime down.

As it has during 2002, the problem of balancing the City's budget will remain our toughest immediate challenge, and is likely to dominate the news. Unlike some states and other municipalities, we must, by law, balance our budget. And we must do it, while not only serving our citizens -- but while continuing to invest in our future.

Some think we can fudge the numbers. But the law is explicit. We can't extricate ourselves with accounting gimmickry. Some think we can use one shots to muddle through until better economic times. But the magnitude of our problem is too great to gamble on a Hail Mary pass to the end zone. No. This time, the reality is our expenses vastly exceed our revenues -- and we must by statute even them out! Over the last year, we've made choices that weren't easy ones. But they were the right ones. First and most importantly, to solve our problems, we have shunned the irresponsible course of making our children pay the price for our mistakes.

We've been down that path before. Every year, the first $500 million of city sales tax revenue still goes to retiring Big MAC bonds issued to bail the city out from the fiscal crisis of the 1970s. And that dead weight of debt will burden the city budget through fiscal 2008.

No, we're not going to repeat that mistake. I have read that history, and it's not pleasant. Like all parents, I love my children dearly. I want to leave them: hope and opportunity, not our problems. We will not borrow our way out this time. I was elected to stand up and face the music now ­and rest assured, I'll do exactly that.

Last month, we took the difficult but necessary step of raising the property tax rate. And let me not just gloss over that. I truly understand that this required New Yorkers to make sacrifices. In an already-difficult economic environment, it has forced hard-working people to dig even deeper into their pockets. I want to assure you I would not have asked the City Council to take these steps if they weren't necessary or if we had any practical alternatives. No one likes the imposition of taxes or budget cuts -- the only choices the law allows. But devastating the very services that make this the world's second home -- is far worse than paying more and doing with less.

Taxes and frugality are far better than crime, filth and abandonment.

And as to the short-term political fallout, I would rather be less popular, knowing that New Yorkers are safe, than promise a rose garden I know we can't deliver. The law that requires us to balance our budget is harsh. The Council has done its part to date. Now we need others to step up to the plate. Failing that, the Council will be forced to cut services and raise taxes some more. But I don't think that will happen.

Albany, Washington and the municipal workforce have been there for us in the past-and will be there again in this, our hour of need. President Bush, Governor Pataki, Speaker Silver, Majority Leader Bruno, our municipal labor leaders -- have been there when we've needed them in the past-and they will be there again.

First, we'll ask the State Legislature to conform the city's personal income tax to the way taxes are imposed by the state itself. And that is -- to tax all who work in our city at the same rate. To those who say taxing people who work here but live elsewhere is unfair, remember their livelihoods, property values, and standard of living are to a large extent a function of their proximity to New York City. And when our police officers and firefighters respond to calls, residency doesn't matter -- and it shouldn't.

Everyone should pay equally for the police, fire, sanitation and other services they benefit from. It's really just that simple.

We also need relief from Medicaid costs that are growing at a rate of 10 percent each fiscal year -- and that in fiscal 2004 are projected to grow to $4 billion. We're not alone. While not as large in numerical terms, the Medicaid problem for suburban and upstate counties is just as vexing to them in percentage terms as it is to us. So we'll join all county executives and legislators in calling for State action. Medicaid relief is an issue where we and our colleagues throughout the Empire State are on common ground -- and where we can realize common benefits.

We'll also ask Federal and State leaders to loosen categorical restrictions on funds we now receive. Without any additional cost to them, this will significantly help us in balancing our budget. We need State and city tort reform to stop the waste of tax dollars in exorbitant and often absurd civil judgments. We spend $500 million annually -- much of it unjustified, and all of it, monies we don't have.

I call upon the City Council to take the lead and pass the tort reform bill now-and show Albany the way!

And the aid we seek from Washington includes monies to improve our counter-terrorism capabilities -- something we just have to do. Providing such help is reasonable, fair and in everyone's interest because ensuring the security of our city -- the financial capital of the nation -- benefits everyone in our state, region and country.

We also need partnerships with our municipal unions to make the city workforce more productive and flexible. I was elected largely on the basis of my business background.

I think New Yorkers expect me to run City government in much the same way I ran my company. I am doing exactly that. I built a successful, worldwide media company by making employees part of the team -- with the incentives and desire to do more, do it better, and do it with less.

The same holds true for our municipal workers. They have a right to share in the good times - and have been. And, like the rest of our eight million citizens, they must shoulder part of the burden when things are tough. In order to balance next year's budget, we need to negotiate hundreds of millions of dollars in productivity gains in all municipal labor contracts.

This is not a bargaining ploy; it's a fact.

We'll go into more detail about these productivity measures later this month, when we present the preliminary budget for fiscal 2004. But let me be clear: I know we have the greatest workforce in the nation. They're hard-working men and women -- trying to give their families better lives.

Still, everyone in this chamber and this city should also understand. Without productivity improvements, we will simply not be able to support the current labor force -- and will have no choice but to reduce our workforce faster than attrition and early retirement programs will accomplish.

Further, no matter how much we'd like to pay our workforce more, the stringent budget we're proposing assumes no compensation increases whatsoever. Those will only come after the budget is balanced --and only from efficiencies over and above those we currently need for budget-balancing.

Government improves not just from workforce productivity, but also from cross-pollination of ideas and practices from the business world including innovation, better management, and citizen service.

By implementing such ideas, city agencies are not only doing more with less, they're already doing better with less.

Exhibit A: Our public hospitals.

They're not only competitive with our voluntary hospitals, including the city's great teaching hospitals -- but, as a recent survey showed, they outperform them in many cases. And in this time of austerity, I take great pride in telling you that the Health and Hospitals Corporation hopes to break even on a cash basis this fiscal year.

Exhibit B: 311.

In a matter of a few weeks, we'll launch the first phase of the 311 system. Simply put, this is going to revolutionize the way that New Yorkers interact with city government. The people of New York are the customers of city services; we work for them. That means that when you need help or have a question, your requests should be treated promptly and with respect.

That's why we're instituting 311. It will be a one-stop center for questions about any city service or program, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. More than that, it'll be a 21st century management tool that lets us track and quantify just how well we're serving the people of New York.

We're also going to streamline government. Last month, I proposed merging the Departments of Correction and Probation -- and I hope the Council and the State Legislature will approve that idea. In the months ahead, I'll recommend more such mergers, because services to citizens have to reflect their needs -- as opposed to political and funding constraints and divisions of the past.

Structuring ourselves to solve problems -- as opposed to maintaining the bureaucracy -- is a necessity with today's limited resources and complex inter-agency services.

Despite recent improvements, the city's $7.5 billion contracting and procurement system is still too constricted, expensive and antiquated.

Within a few weeks, I'll name a commission that will review the City Charter to study and pursue efficiencies that will modernize and streamline city government.

Then, there's our long-term needs. Important as they are, these efficiencies and programs I've mentioned won't end the city's budget problems.

The solution there can be summed up in two words: economic growth.

New York is in a fierce, worldwide competition; our strategy must be to hone our competitive advantages. We must offer the best product -- and sell it, forcefully. When funds are scarce, investing in our future becomes a tough challenge-but one that we can and must meet, by stretching every dollar -- and by finding innovative ways to fund our investments. During 2002, we've proved we can do this-and do it well.

We've begun a five-year, $3 billion housing initiative that leverages the assets of the Housing Development Corporation to build 65,000 units of new and renovated housing. This will address one of the city's biggest problems: lack of affordable housing. And it will create nearly 67,000 full-time construction and construction-related jobs.

Our unique value added is our diverse eight million citizens and workforce. It's what makes us the best city to live in and do business. To capitalize on that strength, we'll continue to transform New York physically -- giving it room to grow for the next century--to make it even more attractive to the world's most talented people.

We'll invest in neighborhood livability, cultural organizations, education, research and medicine. And we'll market our advantages aggressively and globally. We'll find the money to advertise our strengths-and tell people around the world, NYC is the place to be! Right now.

Acting now will ensure that when the economy rebounds, we're ready to welcome it -- with office space for jobs... housing for residents... and revenues for critical services. And that means starting today to expand and develop business districts in all five boroughs.

During 2002, we made enormous progress in reviving Lower Manhattan. Over the next year, we'll work with the State, the Port Authority, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and others to begin implementing the vision for a 21st Century Lower Manhattan that we presented last month. This week, I asked the head of the real estate division of the Economic Development Corporation, Bob Balder -- one of the best in the business-to lead our efforts in creating parks, public places and new residential neighborhoods downtown.

Now we can, and must, focus our efforts more broadly. And our first priority will be to build momentum for redeveloping the Hudson Yards area on Manhattan's Far West Side. This is a tremendous opportunity to take the public actions that will spur private investment and help secure the city's future. Even in the midst of an economic downturn, New York's commercial vacancy rate is half that of other major cities such as San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas and Atlanta.

The Far West Side is the only large, underutilized area where Midtown can expand without encroaching on densely built-up residential communities. It's an area occupied by parking lots, storage facilities and only 150 housing units. During the 1990s, when the city's economy and population soared, employment and tax assessments in the Hudson Yards area actually declined.

Why? It lacks access by public transportation, and it's zoned mostly for low- and medium-density manufacturing. By extending the #7 subway line... by modernizing the area's zoning to allow for 21st century residential and commercial development... and by making a public investment in open spaces... we will give Manhattan a vital midtown, river to river. And in doing so, we can create a new area focused on tourism, sports, and entertainment.

In addition to more offices, housing, and open space, New York City urgently needs an expanded convention center complex --one meeting modern exhibition requirements, and one that has a multi-use sports facility that can support our bid for major world-class events.

New York's $25 billion tourism industry plays a pivotal role in our economy. There are more than 250,000 jobs directly and indirectly supported by tourist dollars. They provide hard-working New Yorkers, from all five boroughs, with the kind of opportunity to climb the ladder into the middle class that manufacturing jobs once did. But currently, New York doesn't even rank among the nation's top ten cities in convention business. And unless we act, we'll fall even further behind. Chicago is already building an addition to its McCormick Place facility -- that is nearly as large as the Javits Center itself. The city's role here is critical.

When we lead with public infrastructure... the private market will follow. The investment will be substantial -- but the value created will be far greater. Here, as in few other places, the public sector can pay for improvements -- with revenues generated by future economic activity. In other words, this is a project that pays for itself without detracting from our other priorities. And it will produce jobs. The task of extending the #7 alone will create 15,000 construction jobs, and that many more jobs for vendors and suppliers. It will generate an estimated two and a-half billion dollars in economic activity. In the next two months, we'll release a detailed design plan for the Far West Side. It will include an innovative system of new parks and a nucleus of major public buildings. It will be guided by environmentally sustainable design principles. It will identify the route that the #7 extension will take. And it will provide both for a healthy residential area, and commercial and retail space. With a plan and the funding in place, over the next year we'll move to lay the groundwork for an incredible new addition to the heart of the greatest city in the world.

Together with the City Council, our Administration will develop business districts in all five boroughs. For example... in 2003, with Borough President Helen Marshall's and Queens Community Boards continued help, we'll move forward with the traffic and other improvements that have attracted Met Life, the Museum of Modern Art and other businesses and cultural institutions to Long Island City and Queens Plaza.

And with the help of Borough President Marty Markowitz, we'll launch the Downtown Brooklyn Development Plan - a comprehensive rezoning of the city's third-largest business district. When completed, it will make Brooklyn a rival of Los Angeles for office space. Take that for stealing our Dodgers!

New York is the city where the world's best and brightest want to live and work. That gives us an unmatched competitive edge -- one we'll sharpen with investments in neighborhoods, parks and housing. For too long, too much of our 578 miles of riverbank and coastline has been inaccessible and neglected. We're changing that.

During 2003, we'll begin construction on the north end of Brooklyn Bridge Park, creating a continuous stretch of parkland between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. We'll release a plan for new open space and thousands of new waterfront housing units along the East River in Greenpoint/Williamsburg, just as we're rezoning areas across the city to make more land available to drive the cost of housing down.

With the help of community leaders and Brooklyn's residents, we're creating the Coney Island Local Development Corporation. It'll strengthen the local economy, develop the waterfront, and attract new affordable and market-rate housing.

By the end of the year, there'll be an interim continuous 32-mile pathway all the way around Manhattan, a project Borough President Virginia Fields has helped realize. Soon cyclists and walkers will be able to enjoy that island's entire waterfront.

In Staten Island, we'll form a task force with Borough President James Molinaro and local citizens -- to work on reusing one of the city's most impressive assets -- the Homeport complex. And soon we'll break ground on badly needed new recreation space for the fastest-growing neighborhood in the fastest-growing part of New York: Bloomingdale Park on Staten Island's South Shore.

In Hunts Point -- where the future home of the Fulton Fish Market will bring some 600 permanent jobs to the South Bronx -- we'll work with Borough President Adolfo Carrion and the community -- on plans to create waterfront access and green spaces. We also plan to break ground for two commercial development sites in the Hub, creating new office space and catalyzing business growth. And let's agree that this year we'll break the 30-year impasse over the Bronx Terminal Market and open up the waterfront near Yankee Stadium to shoppers and visitors.

I'm pleased to announce that Randall's Island, which is easily accessible from Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan, will host 90 performances of a brand new show by Cirque Du Soliel this spring. To support it, we'll launch our first-ever ferry service to Randall's Island.

The ongoing WinterFest showcases cultural attractions in parks throughout the city. We'll work to create other major cultural events next year and in the years ahead. That's for reasons that are both economic and aesthetic.

Parks and cultural institutions create jobs and economic opportunity throughout the city. For example... the Bronx Zoo purchases more than 400,000 hamburgers and hotdogs a year from suppliers in the Bronx. The jobs and dollars generated by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Queens Hall of Science, and Staten Island's Snug Harbor, are vital to the economies of their home boroughs.

Yesterday's announcement of the Gates in Central Park by the artists Jean-Claude and Christo, will bring tourists from around the world to visit and spend here. And that's also because in an era of retrenchment, creating new parks and open space and supporting our cultural institutions sends an important message: That the city not only asks for sacrifices, but also provides unequaled amenities. We're also going to imaginatively, aggressively and relentlessly market our cultural attractions and all our competitive advantages. To oversee our promotion and marketing efforts, we'll establish a Chief Marketing Officer for the city. A road show organized by our Economic Development Corporation will promote our city worldwide. Their sales pitch in cities around the globe will be that New York is the world's second home -- a place where people from literally anywhere, if they have a dream, and are willing to work - can succeed. That's the message that won us the right to represent the United States in the international competition for the 2012 Olympics. We're confident it will win us attention from businesses around the world that are looking for new markets and opportunities for growth. And we'll take advantage of our brand.

New York is the best-known city on the planet. Our skyline is recognized worldwide. News from our streets reaches homes around the globe. At last count, more than 340 songs have been written about New York. Yet, as a city, we've never taken direct, coordinated custody of our image. By changing that, we can realize additional city revenues immediately. Many companies are interested in sponsorship agreements, similar to their sponsorship of major sporting and charitable events. We'll do this in a way that protects the integrity of our services and that creates financial returns benefiting all New Yorkers.

As we end today, however, let me focus on one government function. The best advertisement for our city will be when we're able to say that all 1200 of our public schools are success stories. Last week, we outlined the next steps that Schools Chancellor Klein and his team at the Department of Education will take to make that happen. We focused on creating a new and accountable administrative structure... instituting a standardized curriculum for more than 80 percent of our schools... and making the school system parent-friendly.

I spoke to thousands of New Yorkers face-to-face last weekend and during the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior's birthday. And believe me, they're eager to see this plan move forward. We're not going to let them down. We've already created an office to improve student health and discipline. This week, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein announced the new citywide student curriculum.

For twenty years, efforts to reform the schools were stymied by politics as usual -- by the narrow but powerful interests with stakes in maintaining a failed status quo. Last year, though, our Legislature and Governor ended that status quo. Many people thought that was tantamount to achieving the impossible. In fact, it was the easy part. Now comes our real test: giving all our students the education they need and deserve. And I believe we're ready to pass that test.

We'll meet all of the challenges ahead of us... because New Yorkers can. We will never accept defeat. Never have. Never will. And the events of 9/11 proved that. The attack buckled New York's knees-but it stiffened our resolve.

We've begun the task of preparing a fitting memorial on the site of the attack. In firehouses and police precincts throughout the city, a new cadre of gallant men and women have filled the ranks of our Bravest and Finest.

We've laid the foundation for New York's recovery. The task hasn't been painless. Nor will the course ahead be easy. But the sacrifices we've made-the determination, discipline and resilience we've shown-have already taken us far.

The story of New York has been a story of ceaseless change --from colonial outpost to mercantile center... from industrial metropolis to capital of the world. Over the centuries, New York's story has been punctuated by pain -- as well as crowned with triumph. Seven years of British occupation during the Revolutionary War left New York a crumbing and impoverished shambles... Periodic panics and depressions in the 19th century produced widespread destitution and unrest... During the Great Depression of the 1930s, breadlines snaked along our splendid avenues, and shantytowns sprang up in Central Park.

New Yorkers overcame each of these setbacks, and in the wake of each -- created a more prosperous, more just, and more humane city. From each tragedy emerged the next New York. Our sense of shared purpose and mission... our willingness to do whatever it takes... our resourcefulness and our refusal to give up... pulled us through the darkest days in the nation's history.

Animated by that spirit... guided by our love for this city and what it means to us, to the world, and our posterity...let's continue to build the next New York.

Nonpartisan Elections And Charter Revision


A recent article in the New York Post quoted a mayoral aide as saying that Michael Bloomberg is planning to appoint a charter revision commission to study the issue of non-partisan elections -- elections in which candidates run on their own, without being identified as Democrats or Republicans. This would not be the first such commission, nor the second, nor the fourth. It would in fact be the fifth one in five years. The previous four shelved the proposal; the last one to do so was just a few months ago.

Charter Commissions

The recent history of charter commissions shows two very different approaches, one by Mayor Ed Koch, the other by Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Koch, responding to the Supreme Court's decision declaring the Board of Estimate unconstitutional, created a commission in the late 1980s led by highly regarded, independent chairs Richard Ravitch and Frederick Schwarz and commissioners of high quality, to come up with a new structure for city government. The commission had an experienced, knowledgeable professional staff which produced comprehensive studies of electoral systems and institutional structures and processes. It consulted widely, with government officials, civic leaders, advocates, and community members, holding dozens of public hearings throughout the five boroughs. The commission proved itself a valuable instrument of government, successful in adapting to changing times and itself a medium of positive, meaningful change.

Giuliani on the other hand named three charter commissions, each chaired by close associates who had served the mayor as deputy mayors, with long-time friends or political associates as commissioners, with little staff, and perfunctory consultation and public hearings. The commissions were, Giuliani frankly stated, political tools. In 1998, the mayor used charter revision as a political maneuver to block putting on the ballot a referendum on whether the city should build a West Side stadium to replace Yankee Stadium. A year later, he created a commission to stop Public Advocate Mark Green from becoming mayor if Giuliani left his job for the U.S. Senate. A 2001 commission dealt with minor administrative changes that could have been dealt with by local law rather than constitutional change. In each case, the mayor got what he wanted from the commission, though the voters largely rejected the recommendations.

The commission that Bloomberg appointed in 2002 represented Koch's approach in the selection of commissioners and the chair, Robert McGuire. As the mayor said, they were "dedicated, capable, and knowledgeable." Also, the issues addressed, the nature of the city's voting system and succession to the mayor, were significant ones.

However, the press and civic groups such as Citizens Union and the Women's City Club roundly criticized Bloomberg for the short timetable -- far shorter than any charter commission in at least the last 70 years. The mayor announced the appointment of the 13-member commission on July 10, 2002. The commission's proposals had to be filed with the city clerk by September 6 in order to be placed on the November 5 ballot. Mayor Bloomberg dismissed this criticism, saying the nonpartisan elections are "an idea that's been around for a long time….It's not that complex."

The charter commission disagreed, deciding on Sept. 3, 2002 not to place nonpartisan balloting before the voters. The commission chair cited the need for "more study and public comment and consideration." Thus, the 2002 charter commission followed its predecessors in 2001, 1999, and 1998 in passing nonpartisan elections on to a future commission.

Nonpartisan Elections: Venerable Idea; Too Little Study

Nonpartisan elections are a venerable idea and practice, part of a package of reforms (including at-large elections, off-year elections, council-manager and commission forms of government) of municipal governance advocated by the Progressives in the early twentieth century. [Read "The Party's Not Over," a feature in Gotham Gazette written during the 2001 campaign] In 1909, Boston became the first large city to adopt nonpartisanship. In 1913, the California legislature made nonpartisan election of almost all local officials mandatory. Today, three-quarters of municipalities in the United States have a nonpartisan ballot, including major cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, and Boston.

Michael Bloomberg was committed to nonpartisan elections while still a candidate: "When you have partisan elections, a very small group of people determine who gets elected because it's such a small group that votes in the primary, and they pick a candidate and when you have one party that is dominant, another candidate from another party really doesn't have much of a chance." A Bloomberg adviser suggested that nonpartisan elections in New York City would be more competitive: "Nonpartisan elections end up opening up opportunities for citizens to get into elective office. Without regard to parties, you might be able to attract more people to the political process."

However, despite its relatively long history and widespread use, nonpartisan elections have been inadequately studied and their effects not definitively known -- a point made by several of the academic experts who testified before the charter commission in summer 2002. Moreover, little research has been conducted specifically regarding how voters choose between candidates when party labels are removed from the ballot - which is the essential issue that confronts any commission and, ultimately, the public. Finally, there has been no study of the possible impacts of nonpartisan elections in the unique political environment of New York City, including synergistic effects with term limits and public campaign finance. Nonetheless, findings of social science and voting rights studies suggest probable consequences of a change to nonpartisan balloting which are troubling:

  • voter turnout overall tends to be lower in nonpartisan elections;
  • voter participation is skewed against residents of lower socioeconomic status (while candidates tend to have higher socioeconomic status);
  • ethnicity/race and incumbency replace party cues in nonpartisan systems for less engaged/aware/informed voters;
  • nonpartisan elections have a Republican (or at least minor party) bias.

Impacts Open to Question

Whether these findings apply to New York remains an open question, for as troubling as these possible outcomes, is that the 2002 commission staff -- at least in its August 6 report to the commission and in its public presentations-- never explored or even addressed the political and social science findings. Particularly disturbing were the unresolved questions about the Voting Rights Act implications of a change from partisan to nonpartisan elections. The voting rights analysis provided to the commission failed to demonstrate that a switch to a nonpartisan ballot in New York City would not dilute the voting power of the "protected classes" under the act.

Ultimately, the 2002 commission, just like the three previous commissions, decided to defer the issue for further consideration in the future, citing the need for "more study and public comment and consideration." Four times, then, there has been the same result and the same explanations. What else was the same? The staff. They were lawyers. Where are the social scientists and historians? Moreover, several members of the 2002 staff have served on at least one of the three previous commissions. And the 2002, 1999, and 1998 New York City charter revision commissions retained the services of the same voting rights expert (and the 2001 commission endorsed his findings). DĂ©jĂ  vu all over again.

Four years is long enough to have analyzed, understood, and communicated the consequences of nonpartisan elections in New York. The players and the game plan ought to change. Changes in the city's basic electoral system must be rigorously and broadly discussed, for the city's electoral system provides the structure through which ethnic, racial, religious, geographic, economic and ideological divisions are played out. The commission's rejection of Mayor Bloomberg's proposal for nonpartisan elections may have been an illustration of what we can call the Rolling Stones Law - you can't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need. The city is better off. There are too many unanswered questions -- indeed unaddressed questions -- about the consequences of switching to nonpartisan elections. Yogi's advice should be heeded: "Before you build a better mousetrap, it helps to know if there are mice out there."

Doug Muzzio is a professor in the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College and a political analyst for WABC.

Putting City Documents Online


The Giuliani administration was criticized for its poor relations with the media -- until September 11 -- and for failing to make key government documents public. In particular, last February, the former mayor was embroiled in a conflict over whether his records would be considered public or private.

The current administration could not be more opposite in its approach towards public information. In fact, this February Mayor Bloomberg is expected to sign legislation that requires all city agencies to post their official reports and publications on the Internet within 10 business days with help from the Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS).

Along these same lines, last month the mayor announced that all mayoral Blue Room events and City Council stated meetings will be webcast over the Internet with the help of Crosswalks NYC, the city's cable television station, and NYC.gov. In addition, the webcast is taking advantage of new technology to make NYC government more accessible without additional costs to taxpayers.

The proposed law, number 119-A, is expected to be approved later this month by the City Council. It was introduced by City Councilmember Gale Brewer, chair of the Select Committee on Technology in Government among other sponsors.

The legislation is significant in that it is the first time a large state or municipality is requiring that its agencies post official reports online. According to a City Council briefing paper, "the implication of the bill on access to public information is clear: rather than waiting weeks or months to receive a report, citizens can now access reports in a relatively time-efficient and cost-free manner." This also means that the public can be more effective in its role to keep up with and comment on government initiatives.

In order to limit the resources required by city agencies to comply with the new law during the tight budget crunch, the records department will function as the management hub for the posting and dissemination of all reports and publications. Thus, DORIS will become the city's electronic gatekeeper in addition to its current role as the gatekeeper of hard copies of public documents. Once the agency receives the reports and publications, it must make them available online almost immediately.

The initiative will also require the cooperation of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) which will take advantage of increased processing power, memory and online disk storage to accomplish the project. In addition, in the future, key personnel at city agencies will be able to use a Web management software to upload documents directly to the city's Web site.

Clearly, this legislation depends on the resources and cooperation of DoITT to succeed. However, one wonders why the agency's own Web site is not more user-friendly, regularly-updated and chock full of useful reports. Maybe this new law will lend a hand at making the tech agency's reports available too?

In the past, journalists seeking access to public information often complained about the lengthy process necessary to obtain it. The lack of government staff available to track down the require documents as well as an environment that was not conducive to transparency and openness were mainly to blame.

Thus, journalists, citizens and government staff were often denied access to information that was legally public according to the 1974 Freedom of Information Act at the federal level and its state counterpart the Freedom of Information law (FOIL)

The Freedom of Information law is enforced by the NYS Committee on Open Government. Over the past year, the committee has responded to 7,000 inquiries and written 800 legal opinions regarding freedom of information, open meetings and privacy. Their 2002 report "Safety, Security and Accountability: Striking the Right Balance" provides a good overview of the issues involved.

On the flip side of freedom of information, concerns over personal privacy may increasingly limit the availability of information. According to a City Council report, "as the Internet expands, and as the city's own Intranet grows, the possibility of disseminating a wealth of cross-referenced data for public use and manipulation also increases."

For example, a New York State Supreme Court decision in NYPIRG v. New York City Department of Health, raised issues about the New York Public Interest Research Group's (NYPIRG) right to obtain electronic health department records that included confidential information about children. In the end, the judge ruled in favor of open government but required the health department to electronically remove the sensitive information because it would be more efficient to use software rather than remove the information manually. The case illustrates the potential conflict between privacy interests and freedom of information as a result of new technology.

In a break with the previous administration's attitude towards freedom of information, Mayor Bloomberg has remained committed to transparency and openness in government while using technology to improve access, and for that, he should be commended. Let's hope he does the same with his mayoral records when the time comes.

Laura Forlano is a doctoral student studying communication technology policy at Columbia University.

The Council's Plan


(The City Council Education Committee has drawn up its own proposal for what should replace community school boards. Although committee chair Eva Moskowitz and committee member Bill de Blasio presented the proposal to the Task Force on School Governance Reform on January 16, the plane had been devised earlier, before Mayor Bloomberg announced his plan to eliminate district superintendents. The following is an excerpt of the council proposal.)

Parent and community involvement in New York City's public schools is essential to their well being. When Mayor Bloomberg assumed control of the public schools in 2002, it was mandated that community school boards be disbanded by June 2003. Essentially, this new system of school governance poses a serious threat to the participation levels parents and community members will be afforded. There is a legitimate and widespread concern among parents and community members that they will have no voice in shaping local education policy and no means of channeling complaints and suggestions about the schools in their district.

The Education Committee of the City Council convened hearings to help determine what mechanism should replace community school boards. Based on the testimony, the committee has created a proposal for Parent and Community School Councils to replace Community School Boards.

The committee believes that the proposal creates a mechanism that is accessible, local, accountable, transparent and consistent with the democratic process. The plan also prevents the political infighting that distracts attention and energy from the work of providing a quality education. (This proposal sets aside the important discussion of parental involvement on the school level and focuses on district-wide mechanisms.)

SCOPE AND COMPOSITION

  • A council would be created in each of New York City's school districts.
  • Each council would consist of nine appointed members. City Council members would appoint five and borough presidents four. When more than one City Council member represented families in a community school district, each would appoint members in proportion to the percentage of the population he or she represents.
  • Members of the Parent and Community School Councils would have term limits of four years.
  • The majority of the members would be parents of current New York school students but other community members may also be appointed.

RESPONSIBILITIES

The primary function of the new Parent and Community School Councils is to enable parents and other stake holders to hold school officials accountable for school performance. To that end, the boards will:

  • Propose broad policy priorities on the district level.
  • Complete formal evaluations of the district superintendents at least once a year;
  • Provide advice on superintendent selection and termination to the chancellor;
  • Review school performance on a regular basis and hold superintendents accountable for performance improvements;
  • Review district budgets on a regular basis;
  • Advise the chancellor on city-wide policy issues;
  • Raise parent concerns to the superintendents and chancellor and hold them accountable to respond.

SUPPORT

Parent and Community School Councils cannot be expected to play a vital role in school governance without sufficient resources and support. We must be careful, however, to build a lean structure that gives school council members the support they need to participate effectively with the least cost possible to the system.

Parent and Community School Councils should be allotted a modest annual budget. This budget should be sufficient to ensure consistent meeting space and support for council activities. Equip the borough presidents' offices to provide administrative support to the boards by handling mailings and phone calls to notify parents of meetings. This will avoid rebuilding district-based staffs. School district offices can provide local support, such as photocopying and phones. The City Council Education Committee and all other City Council members will be available to assist the Parent and Community School Councils in obtaining any relevant information needed to carry out their duties.

By reinventing Parent and Community School Councils in this way, we can create meaningful mechanisms for accountability and participation, without risking a return to many of the problems that limited their effectiveness in the past.

See also:

Parent Engagement Boards: Five Principles


(Excerpted from Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott's testimony to the Task Force on School Governance Reform on January 16.)

To build community and parental involvement, the Department of Education has embarked on a comprehensive effort to listen to the ideas of parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, community-based and civic organizations. More than 50,000 parents and community members have been engaged in the process. This outreach has enabled parents and communities to have a voice and be a crucial part of this ground-breaking school reform effort.

After listening to the many people who have attended these meetings and receiving information from parents, school board members and academics, we have established several key principles that guide our thinking on the replacement of community school boards.

Most importantly the replacement body should make the school system more accessible to parents and guarantee that parents' views on their children's education are heard. Thus our first and most crucial recommendation is that we replace community school boards as they exist today with what we are calling new "parent engagement boards," consisting entirely of parents and chosen by parents of those school children.

Community school boards that were conceived with the intent to give a voice to the underrepresented have failed to give the voice to those with the most at stake. In the last election of community school board members, approximately 3 percent of those eligible voted. This paltry turnout demonstrates the lack of connection that most people in the community feel with their local community school boards.

The members of the parent engagement boards must be true representatives of the schools in the district. And they must be those with the most at stake -- parents of public school children elected by parents.

While our focus is on the parents, we recognize the critical role that community groups play in the school system. Community organizations can provide us with a critical range of services both during and after the school day. To that end, we will announce a comprehensive strategy to partner with community organizations that will focus on youth development, family, health and after-school programs.

The second principle is honoring not only the requirement of the [federal] Voting Rights Act, but also its spirit. We are confident that our proposals will enhance the level of involvement in meeting these goals.

The third principle is taking the politics out of the process. Changing these structures to parent-only entities is critical. We cannot risk a return to the highly politicized situation that existed in many districts for the last 30 years. I envision these new boards, because of their parent-only design, will stay above the political fray and focus on the challenge of educating our children.

The fourth principle concerns the role of Parent Engagement boards. These boards should have real influence. This means serving as a forum to hear the concerns of parents, providing clear input into the plans, and as a resource to the superintendents and chancellor.

The fifth principle is a coherence between the schools and the district-level boards. We should create a bottom-up parent structure by aligning the activities of the Parent Engagement Boards with the current school leadership teams. As part of the Department of Education's efforts to increase parent participation in school boards we will provide effective training with parent members on school leadership teams to ensure that all aspects are effective. In sum, these principles will allow parents to have a more meaningful role in their children's education.

See also:

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The author Calvin Trillin has said that while Eskimos have 58 words for snow, New Yorkers have just two ways to express approval -- "not so bad" and "it could be worse" -- and about 70 words for complaint.

Until very recently, many of those words were aimed at one man, a once-obscure bureaucrat with a name that is easy to complain about - Fletcher Vredenburgh. Vredenburgh was the director of the Mayor's Action Center, which for many years has been the first place that New Yorkers were told to call when they had complaints about noisy neighbors, perilous potholes, under-heated apartments, leaky fire hydrants, and burnt-out traffic lights. Perhaps burnt-out a bit himself, Fletcher Vredenburgh apparently had built up a great store of his own complaints, about his job. In a recent rant on an Internet message board, he labeled his callers "dumb" and "whining," and said their complaints were driving him to suicide. After the papers reported his comments, Fletcher Vrendenburgh was forced to resign.

There are eight million people in the naked city, and eight million complaints. That is how many come into the city's 40 different hotlines every year. But this soon will change. The number is expected to double. That is because it will soon become much easier for New Yorkers to complain, with just one phone number to dial for every non-emergency -- 311.

The mayor's rule for remembering which three-digit number to call is "911 for emergencies, 311 for everything else." But what is an emergency exactly?

Call 911 if:
• There is a fire.

• You feel your life is threatened.

• You witness a break-in, shooting or other crime in progress.

• You see a car accident.

• Someone is having a heart attack or other health emergency.

Call 311 if:
• Your power goes out.

• You see a leaky fire hydrant.

• You want to report lost or stolen property.

• You want to complain about construction noise.

• It is winter and your landlord has not turned on the heat.

• You are worried your apartment has lead paint.

"911 for emergencies, 311 for everything else," Mayor Michael Bloomberg is fond of repeating. He has said he hopes that this is his legacy to the city.

The new non-emergency number will certainly give New Yorkers a faster and easier way to report complaints. But some say that all the complaining is happening not because New Yorkers love to complain, but because nothing ever gets fixed. They wonder whether 311 will actually solve people's problems any more quickly when it is put into operation sometime within the next few weeks (The mayor is being coy about exactly when it will be ready.)

"It's going to get people faster to city agencies," said Stuart Desmond, from the office of the Public Advocate. "The challenge will be to have the agencies respond."

The 411 On 311:

311 will combine the now director-less Mayor's Action Center with the city's 40 other non-emergency hotlines, which currently fill the phone book's 11 pages of city government listings.

Bloomberg reportedly will launch the new 311 call center, located on the upper floors of a Maiden Lane office building, when he gives his state-of-the-city address. From then on, a live person will answer each call, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At first, the only thing the operators will be able to do is transfer the call to the city agency in charge of fixing the particular problem. But once the program is fully up and running, operators will also be able to answer questions and offer help for such complaint-inducing tasks as filling out tax forms.

The 311 center will also coordinate the complaints and requests that come in through the city's web site, email and fax machines. Officials have said operators will give assistance in dozens of languages.

The new call center will also be equipped with technology to make agencies more accountable. Each of the requests will be documented so that there is a record of how well and how quickly city agencies respond. Satellite technology will give the operators information about the location that each person is calling from, so that the 311 center could create a map of New Yorkers' complaints.

The Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications and ten other city agencies have been working to prepare to bring 311 live. Staff from city agencies, including police, buildings, transportation and sanitation, are moving into the 311 center.

Getting A Response:

311 will definitely make it easier to complain. But will agencies actually respond better? New York City bicycle advocate John Kaehny doesn't think that 311 will necessarily make a difference in how well city roads are maintained. His organization, Transportation Alternatives, reports about 500 potholes and other biking hazards each year to the Department of Transportation. It may take reporting a single problem seven times before it is fixed, said Kaehny: "Each pothole is kind of like its own problem child."

Part of the problem, Kaehny said, is that the transportation department "simply does not have the manpower to do their job." And no matter how easy 311 makes it for people to report problems, city agencies facing yet another round of budget cuts will need to stretch their resources even thinner.

Multiple visits by city inspectors are often needed in order to get businesses or landlords to fix problems. "The way New York works," said Kaehny, "is that businesses just ignore summonses, and so agencies need to have the staff to enforce quality of life violations. New York City has notoriously few inspectors."

The Metropolitan Council on Housing has long complained that the too few inspectors at the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development are not able to force landlords to make needed repairs in apartments with problems like no heat or a broken elevator.

One of the city's broken elevators was fixed only after enlisting local politicians and the media. The residents of a building in Washington Heights became frustrated last summer when their elevator kept breaking down. They would complain to their landlord, and he would call in someone to fix the elevator. But he didn't order the major repairs the elevator needed, and within hours it would be out of service once again. A disabled tenant who lived on the top floor wasn't able to leave her apartment for days at a time. The residents eventually called the public advocate's ombudsman's unit, and the elevator was overhauled only after Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum made a televised visit to the building.

While the response to the elevator problem may not be typical, many people who have not been able to get a response from city agencies often do turn to the public advocate and other local politicians. Councilmember Leroy Comrie, who represents St. Albans, Queens estimates that his office receives some 400 complaints a week - gripes about everything from trash removal to late buses to unfair parking tickets. "In the end, people are still looking for a human to help them, not just a computer," said Comrie. "My job is to take their complaint and put some forceful, passionate advocacy behind it to ensure that the complaint is addressed."

Coordinating The Bigger Problems

City Councilmember Gail Brewer said that when she noticed a burnt-out "Don't Walk " sign while crossing the street recently, she thought to herself, "Hmmm, soon I will be able to just call 311 to report this." But while Brewer looks forward to being able to dial 311 for common problems, she wonders about how well the new program will be able to help people with more complicated concerns.

"Will the people answering the phones be well enough trained to figure out how to solve people's problems?" Brewer asked. She and others are also worried that information about different calls made to 311 will not be shared with the community boards. Community board chairs and district managers often have the sort of neighborhood know-how that can be vital in solving a trickier city issue, Brewer said. "I am sure they are keeping records internally," said Brewer. "If it is public information to the agencies it should be public information to the community boards too."

The mayor has not said whether this information will be shared, and spokesperson Jonathan Werbell said that this and other details of the 311 program will not be made public until after the new number is launched. "Nobody has talked to us about it," said Madeline Wils, chair of Community Board 1 in Lower Manhattan.

But some say that not being in the 311 loop may not be so bad. "We're inundated with complaints anyway, any help we get is fine," said George Delis, district manager of Community Board 1 in Astoria, Queens. He added that the community board office gets about 100 calls a day, often because residents are not able to get through to the local police precinct.

Costs And Benefits

The mayor carefully and quietly shepherded the $13.1 million 311 center through last summer's series of budget cuts. Some city council members complained that the program's cost is nearly half the amount of money that the city is saving by suspending plastic and glass recycling. But the mayor has said that in the end, costs will be absorbed because the new number will help the city reduce operating costs and be more efficient.

Other cities have launched 311 in part to take away some of the burden from flooded 911 call centers. While this is an advantage for New York City, where over 10 million 911 calls are made each year, Bloomberg has said that relieving 911 isn't the main reason for setting up 311.

911, 411, 311

Uniform phone numbers like 911 for emergencies, 411 for information and now 311 all came about during the past three decades. 911 was developed in 1967, when President Lyndon B. Johnson's law enforcement commission recommended that the country set aside a single number for people to call in an emergency. The first 911 system was implemented in rural Haleyville, Alabama, in 1968, the same year it was installed in New York City. Soon 911 numbers were installed in cities and counties across the United States. In the 1980s, 911 technology improved so that operators automatically learned the location where a call was made.

In 1996, the number of 911 calls across the country had climbed to reach an average of 268,000 per day. Unfortunately, many of the calls -- as much as 90 percent in some places -- were from people who were not in an emergency at all. They just didn't know what number to call, and dialed one they did remember, 911. To fix this problem, the federal Department of Justice seven years ago set aside a new number for non-emergency calls: 311.

Baltimore was the first to implement 311, in October 1996. Forty-two percent of 911 calls went to 311 instead. At least 11 other cities have followed, including Chicago and Washington, DC. An Austin, Texas police department spokesperson called 311 a "miracle".

But after Baltimore's 311 had been in full operation for nearly a year, residents told the Baltimore Sun that despite the new phone number, it took eight months of repeated calls before the city removed a derelict minivan, and weeks before a burst pipe that was flooding nearby basements was fixed.

Los Angeles, the biggest city so far to implement 311, made the new number live on November 7 of last year with a rather quiet launch. L.A. is waiting a few more months -- until the bugs are sure to be worked out -- before beginning a massive advertising campaign telling residents about the new "one call to city hall" number. Even so, the city has already received 20 percent more calls to 311 than were coming in to the city hotline, said Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Doane Liu. At the same time, there has been a five percent decrease in 911 calls. "We are still hiring and training call center operators," said Liu, "gearing up for doubling the amount of calls to 311."

But Liu's major concern is making sure people's requests get answered. "The biggest challenge, and especially in today's tough budgets, is allocating enough resources to the city agencies so that they can respond to the service requests," said Liu. "We are making it easier for people to talk to us, so we'd better be ready to listen."



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