May 10, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter

The national unemployment rate recently dipped to 8.1 percent, but the City’s unemployment rate is unacceptably high. The City’s Comptroller, John Liu, said that although the City weathered the recession better than the rest of the country, the City’s unemployment rate has climbed to 9.8 percent and is even higher among minority groups.

Unemployment among Hispanics is 13.5 percent, 17.5 percent among Blacks and 18.7 percent among 16 to 24 year olds, Liu noted.

“It’s hard to stand by when so many are suffering,” said Liu.

To try to bring unemployment down and put people back to work immediately, Liu announced a capital acceleration plan on Wednesday, May 9 that will purportedly create 15,000 jobs, so long as the City Council and City Hall give their nod of approval.

According to Liu, the plan will not cost taxpayers an additional cent, but rather save them money, because the city’s already committed to spending about $29 billion via its Capital Budget on infrastructure between 2014 through 2021.

“If we’re already planning to borrow and spend that money on our infrastructure, why not take advantage of low interest rates, why not start constructing now when construction costs are low,” Liu said.

He added, “We’re challenging the City to evaluate its long-term pipeline of projects and identify projects that can start in the upcoming fiscal year.” Liu stressed, “This is not new spending, just frontloading of capital budget commitments.”

In addition, the plan will help to address some of the city’s greatest infrastructure challenges such as school overcrowding, according to Liu.

Although highlighting the low costs associated with the projects, Liu didn’t comment directly when LaborPress asked him what will the labor costs be for the projects.  

Although Gary LaBarbera, President of the NY Building and Construction Trades, was not present at the presser, he said in a statement that, “To the extent there are public works projects that can be accelerated to put people to work……., we ought to be fully exploring doing so.”

Mike Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers, stood by Liu’s side and said, “As a teacher, this would be easy to teach my class. We’re going to save taxpayers money, accelerate projects to create jobs and deal with the overcrowding of our schools.”

Mulgrew told LaborPress that Liu’s proposal is a smart proposal because “it’s hard to lower class sizes when schools are overcrowded. We’re at a crisis point. Enrollment keeps going upward, while the Department of Education’s plan doesn’t even address half the need we’ll have over the next 10 years. The acceleration of new school construction will really help children and education.”

Richard Anderson, President of the New York Building Congress, also stood by Liu’s side and said, “This proposal has considerable merit. It addresses right now the need to speed up capital construction in the City.”

He added, “The City’s construction market is about $28 billion; as much as 16 percent of that was for public work, but that work is slowing down. If current trends occur, our Capital Budget could fall to levels we haven’t seen since 2002.”

When Liu was asked to respond to critics’ complaints that the Capital Budget is actually contributing to the City’s debt service, Anderson asked Liu if he could respond.

“The debt service is actually decreasing. There’s a misconception that the debt service is increasing, but it’s not,” said Anderson.

In the same breadth, however, Anderson was quick to say that “there are other things crowding out debt service.” Those other things turn out to be public pensions.

“The Mayor is pushing hard on pension reform because pension obligations were $1 billion when the Mayor took office, but are now $8 billion,” Anderson said.

“Liu’s proposal would not increase the debt service,” he noted.

LaborPress also asked Liu what other projects beside school construction would be built.

“In the Comptroller’s office we’re not in a position to say which projects get built. But what we are saying is that city agencies should identify projects that are already in the pipeline being moved up to shovel ready in Fiscal Year 2013. There are projects other than schools, but we’re not saying which projects….that’s up to the city agencies and the Office of Management and Budget.”


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