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Editorial: Snip, snip here, Snip, snip there …

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For eight years, Mayor Giuliani trimmed the budgets for city agencies and for eight years he called on city government to do more with less. Last week faced with a budget shortfall that could reach as much as $5 billion, Mayor Bloomberg slashed the budget at most city agencies by 20 percent. He, too, asked city government to do more with less. Nice sentiment, but with that much less to spend, expect the city to do less.

For the first time, the NYPD and the Fire Department have been asked to trim their budgets as well — although by a much smaller percentage. This comes as a shock to many New Yorkers, who feel a tremendous indebtedness to both these agencies, not just for the heroism shown on Sept. 11, but also for the progress that has been made over the last eight years. Even so, it should be possible to cut police and fire without endangering the citizens of New York. For example, there are hundreds of uniformed police officers doing desk work that could be done by civilian staff.

Despite the fact that crime is down in every precinct, virtually every precinct community council in Queens at one time or another has asked the mayor to increase the number of officers assigned to their precincts. That was unlikely before, it is even less likely now. Not to fear. Using Compstat to carefully monitor criminal activity, the NYPD will be able to maintain the gains that have already been made. And if there is any indication that crime is on the rise, the mayor has pledged to revisit the police budget.

There will be pain in every corner of New York. For example, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to keep the public libraries open six days a week. We’d like to see the libraries open seven days a week and until late in the evening. That’s not possible. But if libraries must close, we hope that the Queens libraries will be able to work out a system that will stagger the closings so that one of the local branches in each part of Queens will be open as many days as possible.

It remains unclear what effect the cuts will have on the capital budget and the construction of new schools in Queens. Right now it costs three times as much to build a school in New York City as it does in New Jersey. If the construction spending can be brought under control, it ought to be possible to cut the budget and still build the schools that Queens so desperately needs. The city must not back down from the obligation to provide a desk for every child in the public school system.

Mayor Bloomberg deserves credit for taking the position that Queens should get the lion’s share of the construction funds because its needs are greater. It takes political courage to stand up to the political hacks who would divide the school-construction funding based on votes rather than need.

The mayor also deserves credit for resisting the temptation to raise taxes. At a time when many companies are reassessing the need to do business in New York, raising taxes would be financial suicide.

Finally the mayor, at least for the time being, has elected to reduce the city’s payroll through attrition and an early retirement offer rather than layoffs as was done in New Jersey, where thousands of state employees got pink slips. The last thing the city needs now is more people on the unemployment line.

In the wake of Sept. 11, much has been said about the courage of this city. In the months and years that it will take to rebuild, the resolve of this city will be tested. Mayor Bloomberg has taken a good first step and he deserves the public’s trust and support.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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