An editorial in today’s New York Daily News shows that what used to be considered a morally heartless and politically unworkable idea — cutting public-sector salaries and benefits to a manageable level — is now becoming mainstream thinking.
The News, citing last week’s Citizens Budget Commission data showing that the salary and benefits cost of a New York City worker is $107,000 annually, says that “at a time when the city is going broke, Mayor Bloomberg is contemplating deep service cuts, and taxpayers face big hikes, the figures are indefensible. … Sacrifice – reasonable sacrifice – is in order. … Public wages have outpaced private ones – and public benefits have become gold-plated.”
The paper even touched the third rail of the municipal workforce, in nothing that “the average firefighter tops out at an astronomical $186,464” in salary and benefits costs.
The News, often considered the friendlier of the two tabloids to the public-sector workforce, suggests measures that just a few years ago would have been dismissed as ideological, including asking workers to pay a hefty part of their own healthcare premiums.
This political shift points up the fact that Mayor Bloomberg missed a huge opportunity just months ago, when he awarded huge raises to the municipal workforce without asking anything in return.
Yes, Bloomberg has been talking in recent weeks of the high costs of pensions, but these costs are not a surprise. The future numbers were there when Bloomberg took office, giving him ample opportunity to do something about these costs, including using the promise of raises as leverage over unions to work with Albany to make changes to benefits.
But Bloomberg is not the only game in town. Each of his potential rivals for the mayoralty should consider making a speech about how the union-dominated special interests have crowded out things like reasonable infrastructure investment in New York, and then propose to do something about it.
He who is smart enough to see that the political climate may have shifted and courageous enough to take advantage of the shift early may find a receptive audience in New York City taxpayers and voters.