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Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Wednesday | April 09, 2003

The Cost of War

Now 5,401 Jobs on Chopping Block
Big hits in child welfare, sanitation

By Dan Janison and Curtis L. Taylor

April 9, 2003

The city's official layoff count jumped to 5,401 yesterday, with child-welfare, sanitation, jail and school employees taking major hits amid warnings of deeper service cuts.

More than a tenth of the city's 6,500 uniformed sanitation workers are expected to be dismissed - a likely prelude to reduced pickups of recyclables, trash or both in Mayor Michael Bloomberg's bad-news budget.

Hundreds of child-welfare workers, many hired and trained after abuse scandals in the mid-1990s, will be dismissed. "The front lines will be depleted," a union official Faye Moore warned.

As many as 300 correction officers with lesser seniority also face the budget ax in a public setback for union president Norman Seabrook. He was the only city union leader who backed Bloomberg in 2001.

On Monday the mayor's office gave initial word of the 3,443 layoffs to be carried out, mostly in eight agencies. But yesterday, the school system announced its separate plan for 1,958 dismissals.

Administration officials said yesterday that the actual number of people who lose their full-time jobs will prove smaller since those figures don't account for some employees' bumping rights. That is, civil-service employees may take jobs a rung or two lower than the ones they have or transfer to vacancies in other agencies depending on their seniority and other factors.

Bloomberg's Cuts Have Some Fed Up

A total of 3,400 pink slips have been sent to city workers like him and word now comes that nearly 2,000 more are looming over the schools.

On top of that, Bloomberg laid off 600 municipal employees previously, while 14,000 slots were struck through attrition, never to be filled.

These are the first casualties of what looks like will amount to the largest-scale layoffs since the recession in 1991. The warm bodies, usually those of the lower rungs, who actually do the work of the city, will be tossed into the budget chasm to fill it.

Milholi's wife teaches at Jamaica High School. He is, for another month only, an electrical engineer for the School Construction Authority. "I'm hurt and so is my wife, and so are my four children," he said.

One of his kids - Diego, 20 - is in the National Guard at the Armory on Park Avenue, poised to respond if the city is again attacked by terrorists.

"My father is hurting," he said later from his home with his parents in Astoria. "The family sat down over the weekend and talked this out. We kept a good face on everything but you could tell that my Dad was hurt by this."

You can break a man or a women in many ways, you can cheat them, you can abuse them, you ignore them.

But snatching a livelihood is one of the most devastating ways to break them down.

Milholi got his engineering degree at the National University in Rio de Janeiro - "a great university," he says - and moved to this city almost 25 years ago for the reason most immigrants do - for a steady job.

"That's the best reason," he said, "and now, look at what has happened to me. They want me to clear out my desk by tomorrow and in May I will officially be out of a job."

A union job with benefits.

New York City is going through a crisis not seen since 1975. When I went to school one day, I think 5th grade at the time, we fully expected the city to go bankrupt. The Feds weren't interested in helping the city, and the state didn't have the money. It was a last minute deal by the city's unions which prevented it.

While the city doesn't face bankruptcy today, we face massive deficits at both the state and city and our hack of a governor, George "No, really, I DID go to Yale" Pataki, is more interested in cutting taxes than maintaining services. I remember when we cut services in the 1970's. The best movie about New York from that time is Dog Day Afternoon. In it, Al Pacino plays a man who robs a bank in 1973 to pay for a sex change operation. A true story. It also demonstrated exactly how crazy New York was. Between that and Serpico, another true story, you get a picture of a city in free fall. Not Baghdad-like anarchy, but the slow, steady kind which kills cities. Cops were laid off, school buildings sold, all of the brutal choices a city has to make in a time of fiscal crisis.

This comes to mind because of a bitter conversation I heard today. People were asking "where are the jobs, because they must be here if they can spend all that money in Iraq".

At a time of unprecidented fiscal crises in nearly every state and in most major cities in the US, there is a plan to spend billions on Iraq. The problem is that while there was a great deal of interest in spending that money in Iraq, including reforming education and spending money on universal health care, while the President only offers more tax cuts for the wealthy as our solutions. So if you live in Iraq, maybe occasionally shoot at Americans and teach children we are the great Satan returned, we will pay for your health care. Join the US Army, come home to Bay Ridge, you get no free health care and we'll cut your veterans benefits.

Someone else said, when they heard of the plan "maybe we ought to bring Saddam to Brooklyn, because then they can attack Brooklyn and give them healthcare."

The Bush Administration may well run into a nasty roadblock in Congress. Supporting the troops is one thing, supporting the Iraqis is quite another. There may be scant desire to send billions to Iraq when US localities are raising taxes, cutting services and something like national healthcare is a fantasy for most people.

The Turks found out the hard way, what the President proposes, the Congress disposes. We promised a lot of money, but in the middle of a recession, there was scant appetite to pay Turks bribe money when Americans were hurting. Instead, the money was cut and spent elsewhere.

The outrage which followed the universal healthcare proposal is just the start. What Congressman is going to back school aid for Iraq over school aid for his district? How is he going to explain that in the next primary? The Bush Administration foolishly refused to offer aid to states to cover the budget gaps and now expects Congress to spend billions to establish education systems and healthcare in Iraq. It places many Congressmen in an unenviable position. Support the President and give your opponent a tool to hammer you with.

If Iraq gets under control, no one will care. The "freedom of the Iraqi people" is a catchphrase which means nothing when day care programs are threatened with being cut. All people will want to know when our troops are coming home. With a lack of money. our programs will be undefunded. Underfunded programs are going to lead to real suffering as they do here at home.

Americans like to think of themselves as generous foreign aid givers. We are not. The chart at the bottom show we are 22nd in the percentage of GNP. Portugal gives more money.

So for all the talk of rebuilding Iraq, the US may well skip out on much of the bill when it comes due. Because it will be pretty hard to defend universal healthcare in Baghdad and not in Brooklyn.

Steve Gilliard

Posted April 09, 2003 01:21 PM | Comments (162)


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