U.S cities hold the promise of transforming the nation’s economy, while facing the challenge of restraining costs of benefits to their workers, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a gathering of corporate leaders.
Bloomberg, 71, in what his staff billed as his farewell address after 12 years leading the nation’s largest metropolis, told an audience of hundreds assembled by the Economic Club of New York that he envisioned an “urban renaissance” while warning of the risk of pandering to union demands for generous pensions and free lifetime health care.
“It is one of the biggest threats facing cities, because it is forcing government into a fiscal straitjacket that severely limits its ability to provide an effective social service net,” he said. “The costs of today’s benefits cannot be sustained for another generation.”
The mayor, who leaves office Dec. 31, has seen yearly pension costs rise to about $8 billion from $1.5 billion since 2001, the result of what he described as a “labor-electoral complex,” an allusion to President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1960 warning to the American people to beware a military-industrial complex.
His approach to governing for the past 12 years, he told the club’s membership -- including executives, lawyers and bankers -- “can be summed up in six words: Tomorrow is more important than today.”
The pressures of electoral politics run counter to that principle, when “winning election, or re-election, is the goal around which everything else revolves,” Bloomberg said. He said that after leaving office he would continue to support government efforts to reduce workers’ benefits.
Harry Nespoli, chairman of the city’s Municipal Labor Committee, which engages in collective bargaining with the administration, said Bloomberg was using his last days in office to blame the city’s financial problems on the same workers he praises for keeping residents safe, educated, healthy and clean.
“Municipal workers spend their entire professional lives working for the city knowing that they will be able to have a secure retirement; pensions are at the heart of that commitment,” Nespoli said in an e-mail.
Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.