NEW YORK (WCBS 880) – Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited WCBS Newsradio 880’s new studios at 345 Hudson Street on Thursday morning and participated in an extensive interview with anchors Michael Wallace and Pat Carroll, as well as veteran political reporter Rich Lamb.
LISTEN: Bloomberg On WCBS 880
(Download the entire interview HERE)
Carroll started the interview.
PC: I think we’ll start with a conversation about, the story that affects all New Yorkers and we’ve been talking about, certainly all morning in our newscasts – the State Senate and Assembly last night and early this morning approved that tax code change proposed by the governor – lowering taxes for some, raising it for the wealthy. What do you think?
MB: Well, the governor inherited a very difficult fiscal situation in the state and he’s trying to deal with it and I’m not gonna second guess him. He’s the one that’s got to make these kinds of decisions, along with the legislature, and hopefully, it’ll be the right ones and the state will continue to grow.
MW: I’m not sure, but I think you fall in that tax bracket that gets the tax hike. Are you okay with that?
MB: You know, every year, I look at my tax bill and say ‘Thank G-d I’m making some money that I can pay taxes.’ Although, keep in mind I make a dollar a year for the city.
Carroll asked about rumors that Bloomberg is considering a property tax hike to deal with the city’s budget woes.
MB: We have no intention of raising taxes. Not even being discussed. It will not be.
Carroll asked about yesterday’s federal report card on New York City schools.
MB: Well, it’s better than a lot of the state and there was a piece by a well-known educator in the Daily News, I think it was, today – pointing out that given budget problems, given the economy, it’s amazing that New York has done as well as it has because all of things influence your ability to teach, your ability to provide services, parents’ ability to make sure that they’re children do their homework and that sort of thing. So, it’s not necessarily bad news. It’s nowhere near as good as we’d want it to be. But I think this article concluded, and I agree with him, the things that we’ve been doing are the right things and we’ve just got to keep doing that. We’ve got to close failing schools. We’ve got to keep increasing the compensation for our teachers when we can afford to do so. We’ve got to ask them to do more, and sometimes with less in a particular school. The parents are part of this. The kids are part of this. There’s no simple answers to education. I talked to Arnie Duncan, the President’s Secretary of Education, yesterday. We have a problem around the world and around this country. The skill set you need to have a job keep going up and so we’re always trying to raise the standards in schools and keep improving the students’ ability to take the jobs that are going to be available down the road.
MW: Education is so important in this time where unemployment is so high for so long. As a businessman yourself, obviously, how do we get the jobless rate back down? How do we create those jobs?
MB: What you’re seeing is we always have talked about the value of an education and it’s just become part of everybody’s stock speech. You have to have an education to share in the great American dream or the dream of freedom and being self-sufficient around the world, you’re starting to see the real economic impact of that. Unemployment among college-educated people is about four percent, although in recent graduates, it is a lot higher. But overall, college graduates have four percent unemployment rate and those who dropped out of high school have something north of 25 percent. That is a gap that is going to grow the difference between the haves and the have nots unless we can do something about education. It’s the single biggest [determining factor] of your ability to get and keep a job, and, if you take a look, automation is taking is taking out the repetitive jobs… If we want to have good jobs with real benefits for our people, it’s going to have to be jobs with the value added is great enough to justify more compensation. Those jobs require more skills and you get back to education. But keeping this country friendly for business, I’ve argued the federal government should let the Bush tax cuts expire for everybody and should adopt the Simpson-Bowles cuts that would balance the budget and I think that would create enough confidence that you’d see banks starting to loan and businesses starting to take loans and create jobs. If Washington stays with gridlock, blame everybody and blame you and I because we don’t demand more out of Washington. We’re at fault as well. If allow the paralysis that’s been going on to continue, then we’re really going to have this problem continue and maybe even grow worse.
Rich Lamb joined the interview at this point.
RL: Mr. Mayor, you have been emphasizing the importance of the five borough taxi plan for a while. Why is it so important? Where are we in Albany with that? Is it going to pass?
MB: It’s important for two reasons – from a short-term reason, it would generate $1 billion to help us close out budget gap this coming year and the year after, and without that, we’d have a much bigger problem than we would with that. We’re gonna get more money from the taxi medallion sales that are part of this. The long-term reason this just has to get done is that four and a half boroughs in this city basically don’t have taxi service. You can’t hail a cab in Staten Island, in Brooklyn, in Queens, in the Bronx, and in Manhattan north of 96th Street. When you get into a cab south of 96th Street in Manhattan and you say I want to go to any of those other places, something like a quarter or a third of the drivers say ‘I’m not going.’ Just cannot have that happen and so we’ve worked very hard with the legislature and the governor. I think every issue has been addressed. All of the new medallion cabs would be handicap-accesible. We have a different kind of medallion for the livery cabs, you call the black cabs and opposed to the yellow cabs. It would give the people in these other boroughs real service. Those cabs would have all of the technology that’s needed to make sure they can know that they’re getting charged fairly and that they’re taking the best, most efficient route to get where they’re going to go and this is a bill that should be passed and the governor has assured me a number of times that is going to get passed and he at one point said there were some minor changes he wanted to make.
PC: There was a report yesterday the cost of extending the No. 7 line to the West Side has ballooned and the Hudson Yards development project could leave the city on the hook for more than $500 million.
MB: I don’t know where those numbers come from… Fundamentally, the subway line, which is being built by the MTA, but being built with city money, is basically on schedule, on budget… and the West Side is about to really happen. This is something that has been a dream of city planners for decades, generations here in New York City and with Coach agreeing to move to a related building over on the West Side, you’re going to see the whole West Side just balloon with new buildings and jobs and housing and hotels, and part of it is because once you have a subway going there, people can get back and forth. If they can’t, you just can’t build because people can’t get there. You have to have transportation and the taxpayers of New York City reached into their pockets when the state did not come up with any money to build a subway. They haven’t built a subway in a long time, other than the 2nd Avenue and, in all fairness, to East Side Access – those projects have some big problems. But this one, all the boring has been done and we’re working on it and the MTA deserves a lot of credit for the job that they’ve done in the building. As do the New York City taxpayers for coming up with the cash.
RL: We understand that Bloomberg, at least when you ran Bloomberg, there were free snacks up there for everybody in the radio station. Is that correct?
The mayor replied jokingly.
MB: It’s been a long time. I can’t really remember.
Then he continued.
MB: Yes, we do have an extensive snack bar in all of our offices around the world. It’s one of things that’s one of our signature things. I’ve always believed that it’s a small expense for a lot of satisfaction among the employees and letting them stick with their jobs, working and being proud and happy where they work.
RL: All healthful stuff, undoubtedly?
MB: Well, as long as you county Cheez-Its, which is one of my addictions.
PC: They probably make salt-reduced Cheez-Its that would help.
MB: Actually, when we talk about salt, the salt on potato chips, for example, is not the issue. The salt in a muffin is the issue. It’s really amazing. The salt you think that’s a problem is not. The salt you don’t see is the problem. But keep in mind, life expectancy is nineteen months greater than it was ten years ago. Just think about that. On average, everybody in the city is living a year and seven months longer and it’s because of some of the public health things – smoking in particular. But we have the fewest transportation accidents – pedestrian and cars – the fewest deaths that we’ve had in history – going back to the horse and buggy days. Fewest deaths by fire since you go back to when fire engines were being pulled by people and horses. We’re going to have the second lowest murder rate this year we’ve ever had. Not quite going to get number one, but we’re going to be very close to it. And we have the fewest number of people smoking on record.
PC: We kid about this whole snack thing… but do you consider that to be one of the main legacies that you’ll be leaving as you move on?
MB: Public health stuff? Yeah, I hope so. If government’s job isn’t to allow people to live longer, healthier lives, I don’t know what it is.
Michael Wallace then brought up the collapse of MF Global, the financial firm that had been headed by former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine.
MW: We just got a peek at Gov. Corzine’s statement that he’s going to make to that Congressional hearing today. He apologizes. He doesn’t know where the money went. You’re a Wall Street guy… Give me your take on what may have happened there and, as a chief, if a risk officer comes to you and says you’ve got to stop investing in those European bonds, or if a risk officer comes to you with a concern like that, how do you weigh that concern against your own intuition?
MB: You have to come to a balance because a risk officer’s job is to point out every single risk and in fact growth in business is taking risks. It’s taking intelligent risks and sometimes you only know retrospectively whether they were intelligent risks. I do not know what happened with this. I suspect that there was an awful lot of sloppy bookkeeping as opposed to malfeasance, but I really don’t know. And particularly near the end when it’s a crisis and everybody’s trying to save things and people maybe sometimes do things that in retrospect they shouldn’t have done. But maybe it’s more than that. I just don’t know. It’s a long time before the investigation comes out and my sympathies are certainly with the customers of the firms who have their funds frozen, and with the employees of the firm. You know, we’ll see what happens. I don’t know Gov. Corzine is going to say when he’s before the Senate and House committees. He has a problem because of the legal risks of whether he should say anything. News stories that I had read this morning, he had gotten a lot of unsolicited advice to not say anything, but he’ll have to make that decision.
PC: We’re coming up, almost, on the year anniversary of the Christmas blizzard and, of course, the cold weather has just returned to our area. So now, we’re all starting to think a little more about winter. You feel ready this time?
MB: I think if you were to have a holiday weekend with a bigger than forecast blizzard and lots of cars and buses and trucks stuck, you’re gonna have a problem, but the men and women of the sanitation department work very hard. I think there were some allegations last time that they didn’t, and those allegations proved to be unfounded. I think there’s virtually no evidence that they did anything other than try their very best. Nature is difficult. We have more equipment today than we had a year ago. We’ve planned more than we did a year ago. I would have told you the same thing last year versus the previous year. We’re just going to be out ther. I am confident that we’ll be able to handle it and that you’re going to see the same great performance from all the different city agencies – the MTA is a state agency, but working well with them. Joseph Lhota is the new head of the MTA and he’s a very smart guy and we certainly have lots and lots of conversations with him and how mass transit fits into snow removal and dealing with snow issue. Office of Emergency Management, police, fire, ambulance, and particularly the key agency is the sanitation department, and, you know, they’re as ready as they can possibly be and they’re gun ho and they take great pride in the job they do and I think you can ask them only to work 24/7 and they do that. These are people who look at the job they have a ways to not only make a living, but to make a difference in the city and they do.
MW: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, thanks for stopping by our new home here at Hudson Square. Don’t be a stranger.
MB: Well, it depends how well Rich Lamb treats me when he interviews me… The question that he keeps asking me is why do people confuse me with Brad Pitt and as long as he does that, he’ll be first on my list of people to call on.
PC: Thanks so much for helping us inaugurate our new space.
MB: Thanks for having me.
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