Big Apple Blizzard Woes

The Benefits Storm
by Nicole Gelinas

If money could melt snow, Mayor Bloomberg would be basking in victory over the storm. When he took office in 2002, Gotham spent $1.3 billion annually on the Department of Sanitation. Today, the city spends more than $2.2 billion on “New York’s Strongest.” That increase during Bloomberg’s tenure was almost three and a half times the inflation rate. It follows that we should have a sanitation army well equipped to clean the white stuff up fast. Not quite. Today’s budgeted sanitation force—from supervisors to garbage collectors—is 392 people smaller than it was nine years ago, a 4 percent decline even as population is up. And the department is shrinking further, as Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith knocks 200 people off the rolls to save $21 million by moving supervisors into front-line jobs.

So where has the city’s swelling sanitation budget gone? Not into better services but into workers’ health care and pensions, as well as borrowing to fund infrastructure, which would otherwise be unaffordable because of those sky-high benefits.

Sounds like what happened in NYC over the Christmas weekend was the result of two main things:

  • Uncertainty in the models, which prevented a timely and accurate forecast. (I know this because I watched SABR Matt struggle to figure out what was going on with the European and the GFS.)
  • The budget issues described in the article linked above.

This doesn’t mean the unions should be let off the hook, though. After all, who originally demanded the cushy, expensive benefits packages that are now draining NYC’s coffers dry?

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