Politics or Theater?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Budget season is always a drama. Every January the mayor proposes cuts that are staunchly opposed by various constituent groups. Public hearings are held in the City Council. Then, by the spring, the mayor issues a revised budget restoring some of the cuts and the Council votes. Some call it the annual "budget dance."

But this year's dance is more like a high-stakes version of "Dancing with the Stars." On one side, there's Mayor Bloomberg saying the city's perilous economy could force him to cut  23,000 jobs from city agencies - 15,000 of which would come from the Department of Education.

On the other side, there's the powerful United Federation of Teachers. Union President Randi Weingarten declared that by proposing so many layoffs in education, the mayor was using her members as "pawns" in a political feud with Albany. She said she hadn't seen such a drastic proposal since the layoffs of the 1970s, and she described the chaos the city went through then as a warning.

So what's going on? If there's new federal money on the way, why is Bloomberg proposing layoffs?