Soundings

William J. Stern
Give ‘Em the Ax
Spring 1997

Ever wonder just exactly what some of New York's public officials do—and why we pay for it? Take the lieutenant governor, for example. Alfred Del Bello held the job in Mario Cuomo's first administration and—like the current incumbent, Betsy McCaughey Ross—didn't get along with the boss. So he quit: and no one noticed. The position carries virtually no official responsibilities and exists just in case the governor can't perform his duties. The annual price tag for this insurance policy: a $350,000 office budget and a salary of $110,000.

Consider, too, some of New York City's public offices. Do we really need a special elected official called the public advocate? Isn't the mayor a public advocate? Aren't the members of the City Council? Mark Green, the current public advocate, just published a report detailing the state's outrageously high expenditures for transporting Medicaid patients. It's a good report, but couldn't the city comptroller have produced it? Green's office comes at an annual cost to taxpayers of $2.35 million, and he takes home $105,000 a year.

And then there are the borough presidents. When the city still had the Board of Estimate, the borough chiefs had real power over contracts and land use. But the mayor and City Council took over these responsibilities in 1989 under the new city charter. Now the borough presidencies are just empty shells, playing no meaningful part in city government. Each of these offices—remember, multiply by five—costs some $5 million a year, with a salary of $114,000 for each executive.

Admittedly, getting rid of these offices wouldn't make much of a dent in the state and city budgets. But the symbolism is important. These jobs exist just to provide a public platform for politicians looking for higher office—borough presidents Ruth Messinger and Fernando Ferrer are running for mayor, Green for senator, and Ross for who knows what. Do New York's overburdened taxpayers really need to finance their ambition?

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