Bloomberg: The city is shaken, not broken

January 15, 2009 4:45:51 PM PST
Mayor Michael Bloomberg sketched a road map Thursday for the city's recovery, saying it has been shaken but not broken by the worsening economy. "We don't know how bad the recession will be, but we do know it will be bad enough - plenty bad," Bloomberg said in his annual State of the City address. "There's no question that the temporary state of our city is shaken. But I'm here to tell you today it's not broken."

Bloomberg, who is preparing to run for a third term, struck a cautious tone in his eighth State of the City speech but largely avoided mentioning the unpleasant budget cuts and tax hikes that are certain to come when he presents his next budget plan at the end of the month.

He acknowledged that the city faces "a fiscal reckoning that will involve some very painful choices" and that his plans involve redeploying existing resources, rather than spending on new programs. Analysts project a deficit of more than $4 billion next fiscal year, and job losses in the thousands.

Bloomberg said his goals for 2009, as he runs for re-election, are to spur job growth, stretch city funds and strengthen quality of life so that the recession does not cause residents and businesses to flee a deteriorating city.

The billionaire businessman won a change in city law last year to allow him to run for a third term, and has staked his campaign on his ability, as the former CEO of a financial information company, to protect the city from fiscal ruin.

He said he wants to help New Yorkers and tourists stretch their own budgets - by changing city regulations to allow more than one customer to take taxi rides from airports, train stations and other locations.

"Riders will save money, drivers will make money - it's a win-win situation," he said.

He also wants more people to have access to free computers at libraries, senior centers and public housing community centers.

Bloomberg also vowed that the quality of life in New York City will not slip during this economic downturn, as it has in the past. He promised to crack down on quality-of-life crimes, proposing a state law that would make it a felony to commit six or more such crimes within two years.

"We won't cede an inch to the squeegee men, turnstile jumpers, and graffiti vandals who breed a sense of disorder and lawlessness," he warned.

The mayor also suggested creating a public-private program to fund cameras on street corners and in problem areas in the three police precincts with the highest murder rates. He also proposed using GPS technology to enforce court orders prohibiting gang members from entering public housing property.

As part of his economic recovery package, Bloomberg outlined a plan that he said would create 400,000 jobs over six years, although his office did not provide details about how he reached the 400,000 figure. Most of the job plan elements have been previously announced or are already in place, like promises to continue investments in capital infrastructure and look for ways to diversify the economy.

He noted the administration is on track to invest $900 million over the next nine years to retrofit schools, hospitals and other public buildings with more environmentally friendly energy systems. That work will support 1,000 construction jobs, he said.

Among his new ideas is a proposal to pass a law, which he said would be the first of its kind in the nation, to require existing private buildings to improve their energy efficiency, creating more "green" jobs.

Bloomberg announced a proposal to reduce or eliminate the unincorporated business tax, which would help ease the burden for 17,000 small business owners citywide, by saving each of them up to $3,400. He also wants to make it easier to do business with the city by making more than 30 different permits available online.

The mayor, whose multibillion-dollar company started out as a small business in the early 1980s, proposed partnering with private foundations to form "entrepreneur boot camps" for New Yorkers interested in starting their own businesses.

Bloomberg, a longtime supporter of the arts, said his administration would also help a small business industry that is special to New York City - artists. He wants to work with nonprofit groups to create new artist studio spaces throughout the city.

In a move certain to delight community groups, Bloomberg said the city plans to put development plans online to make it easier for residents to review projects in their neighborhoods.

Inspired by President-elect Barack Obama, Bloomberg also announced a goal to engage more New Yorkers in public service, and said he is ordering one of his deputy mayors to come up with a plan within two months on how to do that.


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