I got the glorious honor of reporting from the 2009 fiscal year budget vote at the New York City council last night. And by last night, I am being sincere in saying city officials were working on a Sunday night. And by night, I actually mean night because the vote didn't go down until after 11 pm.
Of course I was less than enthused about having to be there so late, especially when what was deemed "the most contentious budget negotiations in a while" ended with the city council voting 49-to-1 in favor of the thing. I guess "most contentious" passes for near unanimous these days.
See the problem was, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg released a preliminary executive budget a little over a month ago that included about $700 million dollars in cuts, primarily to things like schools, service to the poor, and the New York City affordable housing authority. It was in response to revenue predictions that were not-so-good because of the rough economy that's currently weighing on the minds of everybody.
The city council felt this was just despicable on the mayor's part because it cut so many worthy programs. Plus, these city council members need something to fight for, or else their entire existence is basically worthless (I'm slowly starting to realize this might be the case anyways). But to their credit, the city council restored over $400 million of these cuts, as part of their amended budget. They had to negotiate the past few weeks with the mayor's office on all this.
What it comes down to, though, is a good old fashioned power struggle between the city council and mayor Bloomberg. The city council is still pretty furious about all these cuts, and many blasted the mayor for running the city like a corporation. They said when the going gets tough (economically), you don't strip the city of the programs that help those in times of need. Bloomberg, rumored to be the richest man in New York City, decided to take the rich man approach and cut programs for the poor so that the corporations and developers that are the backbone of New York City can make due during a recession.
Basically, this was like a shootout at the OK Corral. The city council, led by speaker Christine Quinn (who walks and acts like she owns the world), on one side, and Bloomberg on the other. I'm not sure who to give the victory. The council got the $400+ million back, but Bloomberg also got them to vote 49-to-1 in favor, while also creating his last budget before his term runs out in 2009.
All in all, it was an experience, to say the least. I could feel the grease coming off some of these slimy politicians haircuts. Whoever won, I've realized something about city council members. Most are pretty grimy and out for their own interests (duh they are politicians anyways), but the ones who are older than 45 seem a lot better than the younger ones. The over 45 crowd probably isn't aspiring for something greater considering they are still in the city council and generally appear to have the public's best interests at heart. The younger ones, well, they're easier to get a quote from because they are constantly in search of headlines to propel their careers.