Wall Street Journal: Mayor Warns of Major Cuts to Senior Centers
By Michael Howard Saul
February 8, 2011
Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday raised the specter of shuttering more than a third of the city's senior centers, warning during testimony before the state Legislature that the governor's budget proposal would force the city to slash its budget by an estimated $2.1 billion, "virtually all in personnel."
At a joint Assembly-Senate hearing, Mr. Bloomberg urged state lawmakers to approve his proposal to create a new pension tier for new city workers, an initiative he said would save the city taxpayers $1 billion during the next eight years. He also renewed his push to change the law that requires the city to lay off teachers based on seniority rather than merit.
Mr. Bloomberg's testimony prompted a testy exchange of public statements between the mayor's and the governor's budget directors. The state and city disagree on how the governor's budget would impact the city's Department of Education; the state insists there's a reduction of about $580 million, while the city pegs the loss at $1.4 billion.
"The mayor's budget assumed a double-digit percentage increase in education aid even though the city received a year-to-year cut in last year's budget," said Robert Megna, budget director for Gov. Andrew Cuomo. "Given the fiscal situation facing the city, state, and nation, it was obviously not realistic to assume an increase in funding."
The mayor defended the city's numbers, saying they're based on what the state had promised.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who met with the mayor Monday, said it was premature to discuss budget specifics. Still, he offered some hope for the mayor's proposal to change seniority rules for teachers.
"My personal feelings are if there is an objective criteria, that's something we can look at," he said.
In his testimony, the mayor offered a preview of how his administration will propose dealing with the loss in state aid, most notably in outlining the impact on social services. He is slated to unveil on Feb. 17 his preliminary budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Mr. Cuomo's state budget proposal would cut $27 million for city senior centers, $192 million in rental subsidies for homeless families and more than $9 million for summer jobs for young people, Mr. Bloomberg testified. That would result in 110 senior centers closing and the elimination of 5,500 summer jobs for the city's youth, he said.
If the Legislature approves the cuts to senior centers, Mr. Bloomberg said his administration would have no choice but to shutter more than one-third of the 256 existing senior centers. The city closed 29 last year.
"Make no mistake about it, those will close," Mr. Bloomberg said. "We don't have the money."
A new round of cuts "would be out of the heavily used senior centers because those are the only ones left," the mayor said.
Bobbie Sackman, director of public policy at the Council of Senior Centers and Services, an advocacy group, said these centers serve more than 7,000 seniors a day. The average age of attendees is 77 and more than half live in poverty, she said.
Council Member Jessica Lappin, chairwoman of the Aging Committee, said the impact on seniors would be "devastating."
During his trip to Albany, the mayor largely lauded Mr. Cuomo, whom he endorsed last year, for his budget proposal. But he also was highly critical of Mr. Cuomo for proposing the city absorb 94% of the cuts statewide to so-called revenue-sharing funds. The cut would cost the city more than $300 million.
"It was a disgraceful gimmick last year when we were cut 100%, and our citizens are not going to let it become the 'new norm' in the state's relationship with New York City," Mr. Bloomberg said.
The mayor complained that state mandates will increase the city's cost for special education by 13% from the current school year to the following one. State law requires the city to send some special-education students to private schools, at a cost to the taxpayers, even if their parents refuse to consider city schools that provide special-education services, he said.
Unless the state changes that mandate, the mayor warned that the city would "be laying off teachers in our public schools so that we can pay $100 million to private schools."
The mayor also warned that cuts from Albany would force the city "to substantially scale back" construction and renovation of schools in the city.