President's perspective

Mayor’s budget credibility problem

mulgrew.jpgMichael Mulgrew, UFT President As he does every year at budget time, Mayor Bloomberg is crying poverty. He claims the city is broke — despite 32 consecutive years of budget surpluses. It’s his excuse for refusing to negotiate fair contracts with our union or any of the other unions that make this city run.

For the first time ever, not a single New York City municipal labor union has a contract — a crowning achievement for Bloomberg’s disastrous time in office.

We have worked very hard on educational issues with all of the candidates running for mayor, and we have clearly set the agenda to move education in our city toward a system that will be better for all of us and for the children that we serve. Now, we need to stand together and set an agenda for economic fairness and workers’ rights.

UFT members have worked for over four years without a contract. More than four years without a contract is more than four years without a raise, even as prices for food and other commodities have risen dramatically. Just look at transportation costs in the city. In 2009, a monthly Metrocard cost $81. Today it costs $112. That’s an increase of more than 38 percent for a basic expense we all must pay.

Other unions have also waited for years for a new contract and a raise. How does the mayor expect us to provide for our families without a pay increase? How does he expect to attract talented young people to teaching and to civil service without paying competitive wages?

But the mayor says there is no money to pay for retroactive raises. (Of course, if he’d settled contracts on time as he should have, there would be no need for retroactive pay.)

There’s a pernicious pattern here. Every year the Bloomberg administration intentionally underestimates revenue and overestimates expenditures in order to create the appearance of a fiscal crisis. Using this shady math, the mayor can project multibillion dollar deficits into future years, which he uses to justify harsh austerity measures like slashing the budget and freezing city workers’ wages. Of course, at the end of each fiscal year, the mayor’s projected deficits are revealed to actually be multibillion dollar surpluses.

The mayor has a budget credibility problem.

Just look at the last few years. In June 2010, he said there was no money for the next fiscal year and eliminated the money reserved for municipal workers’ raises, but the city in fact had a $3.75 billion surplus. In 2012, the mayor’s $3.16 billion deficit magically turned out to be a $2.47 billion surplus. And this year, the mayor said we’d be short $4.85 billion, but we’re actually on track to have a surplus of $2.2 billion. Even nonpartisan fiscal monitors like the Independent Budget Office, known for its conservative budget estimates, say there is money. Either Mayor Bloomberg needs remediation in math, or he needs to stop misleading the public to force through his anti-worker, pro-privatization austerity measures.

This city’s 350,000 unionized city employees deserve contracts and we deserve raises. That’s why we’re all coming together — members of all the unions in the Municipal Labor Committee — for a rally on Wednesday, June 12 outside City Hall to tell the mayor that enough is enough. His record with New York City’s municipal workers is clear: no respect and no contracts. But we’re not going to take it anymore.

We are at a pivotal moment in this election year. In November, we will elect a new mayor. We cannot afford to sit back and hope that the next administration will do the right thing. Good jobs and fair wages remain under siege. Income inequality across this city has never been so stark, leaving many families struggling to make ends meet.

We need the mayoral candidates to see the power that union members, united with our community allies, hold — and that’s the message we’ll be sending to them when we rally outside City Hall at 4 p.m. on June 12.

So please join your fellow UFT members and other municipal union members for the rally, and bring your friends, your neighbors, your families and your colleagues. Together we can win this fight.

It’s time for economic justice. It’s time for fair contracts. And it’s time to save the American dream and the middle class.

See you on June 12!

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