New York Again in the Red

November 09, 1990

How big is the Big Apple? Its budget for fire protection nearly matches the United Nations' budget for an entire year.

New York City, which spends $28 billion annually, is the nation's fourth government, after the federal government, California and New York state. The city's $2 billion deficit is bigger than Baltimore's budget. While Mayor David Dinkins says he'll cut 15,000 city workers to close the gap, that many workers resign or retire each year.

New York City's finances are hurting. The same economic contractions shrinking revenue projections in cities such as Philadelphia and Baltimore, mandating layoffs and cuts in basic services, are bruising the Big Apple.

Federal revenue-sharing and other aid programs have been abandoned. Meanwhile, little help can be expected from the state. Albany is $824 million in the hole just in the current fiscal year. The city must fend for itself.

There has been a continuing erosion of the economies that sustain cities like New York and Baltimore, exacerbated by approaching recession. But there's more. The basic formulas for state and municipal revenue sharing were devised in a time of industrial expansion and the inflow of new wage-earners from farm areas and from overseas. Those formulas never contemplated the modern reality of vanishing factories, aging infrastructure and stagnant underemployment.

Central cities, once beacons of growth, look more like repositories of their regions' underprivileged, with high earnings and glitter reserved for residents of steel-and-glass monoliths downtown.

Theorists once waxed eloquent that big cities could be abandoned. That never happened because cities' basic raisons d'etre remain potent: central location, short cross-town transits for goods and personnel, excellent ports and the critical mass of potential workers and consumers and of the educational and cultural institutions that elevate the spirit and enliven community life.

Cities cannot be abandoned. They are necessary. Looking at the coming job-pool shortage, so are the people who languish in the underclass. New formulas must be drafted, and a new appreciation must prevail, for the preservation and improvement of America's regional focal points.

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