Wednesday, December 29, 2010

An Abject Lesson

There's a follow up to the Northeastern Blizzard of 2010: cuts in services followed by deep unhappiness over, um, services:

With no snowplows in sight, stranded passengers vented their rage at Mayor Bloomberg.

"He should have gotten those plows out here," said Cynthia Jones, 43, a nurse unable to get to work. "The mayor may not need his paycheck, but we need ours. I lost two days' pay."

Sharon Tahir, 40, shivered at Archer Ave. and Sutphin Blvd. in Jamaica, Queens, because her Q60 bus route was shortened before her normal stop. The home health aide was waiting for her son to pick her up.

"It's too cold to walk the rest of the way," she said. "Many sidewalks aren't shoveled. My feet are cold."

Transit executives also expressed frustration with the city's street-clearing efforts.

"I've never seen it this bad," one executive said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "They left us in the lurch."

MTA Chairman Jay Walder said the agency would do a full review of how it handled the blizzard. Officials want to probe why heavier hybrid buses struggled in the snow, whether buses had appropriate tires and whether more tires should have been covered in chains.

Now, before I get to the meat of my point, let me dispense with a few conditional factors involved. The storm hit the Sunday after what was pretty much a universal three day holiday weekend with many drivers on the road to visit family or celebrate Christmas. Many people who were coming home were racing to beat the storm, assuming that there would be a work day, albeit a difficult one, the next morning. In addition, many of those people were the very people who would be manning the snow removal efforts, the emergency services, and other vital functions required to get a city the size of New York up on its feet.

Too, I noted an unusual number of cars abandoned in the middle of the street. It's hard to get a plow down a street with a ton of metal between the plow and the other end. We citizens only have our fellow citizens to blame for those.

As I pointed out the other day, the timing of this storm could not have been much worse. Had it happened on Christmas day, a Saturday and a day typical for heavy snowfalls in the city for some odd reason (I blame HAARP, myself), there would have been another 24 hours prep time for the opening curtain to the work week.


Well, to sum up my point in a nutshell, we asked for lower taxes, we got lower taxes, and here's the price we pay. Mayor Bloomberg has been at the forefront of cutting property taxes, business income taxes, lowering city revenues as far as he possibly can, and cutting services to compensate. 300 Department of Sanitation drivers were "retired" during this recent budget slashing to help cover the shortfall. That's 150 snowplows that could have been on the street.

Ironically, the people who benefited the least from the tax cuts are the ones who suffered the most from the budget cuts: the poor and working classes. Just as with the inevitable health complications of this storm...imagine triaging in a major city? It happened!...the people who will suffer the most are the most disenfranchised.

In fairness to Mayor Mike, NYC is under a constitutional requirement for a balanced budget, a leftover from the dark days of the 1970s, when NYC teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. Instead of restoring some of the tax cuts, since NYC was not as hard hit by the real estate meltdown as other areas of the country, Bloomberg opted for the coward's way out, trying to right-wing the budget into balance.

There's plenty of blame to go around, of course. The MTA, the folks running the trains and buses, probably could have been more proactive in clearing the tracks, although the blizzard conditions during and after the snowfall made any effort troublesome. People who live here could have take that tax cut and bought a snowblower or invested in a private plowing service for their sidewalks and curbs, and maybe thrown a little extra in the kitty for the street to be cleared.

After all, the function of a government is, according to the Teabaggers, as minimalist as possible, meaning protection of its citizenry and that's it. You may recall the uproar over the fire department that refused to put out a blaze for a house where the residents hadn't paid a stinking $50 annual bill. This is that story, writ large, except we're talking streets plowed, not buildings burned.

The next, obvious step up the ladder will be a statewide crisis. Maybe the levees in California, after all the storming and stuff there, will fill with salt water, depriving 25 million people of drinking water. And after that, we face a national crisis that could have been prevented if taxes weren't so goddamn low...