FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 26, 2006
MAYOR MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG DELIVERS 2006 STATE OF THE CITY ADDRESS "A BLUEPRINT FOR NEW YORK CITY'S FUTURE"
The following is the text of Mayor Bloomberg’s State of the City Address as prepared at Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island:
Thank you, Jeanne.
Borough President Molinaro, thank you for hosting us here in beautiful Staten Island, the place that -- unbeknownst to the press -- has been my real island get-away over the past four years.
Comptroller Thompson, Public Advocate Gotbaum; Borough Presidents; Members of the Council with special congratulations to the new Council Speaker, Christine Quinn; and all the distinguished officials and honored guests with us today: Welcome.
Looking around at all of the elected officials and community leaders in this theater, I see faces with family roots in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean. I see Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, gay and straight, immigrant and native-born. I see New York!
The diversity of our City -- and its leadership -- gives us incredible strength. And over the past four years, as God knows, we have needed every ounce of it. After starting this decade at the peak of an economic boom, we soon tumbled into the darkest of valleys. Since then, against all the odds, our City has climbed back up that mountain - faster than anyone thought possible. We didn't do it by putting political interests ahead of the public's interests. We didn't do it by leaving the most vulnerable behind. And we didn't do it as Republicans or Democrats. We did it together as New Yorkers. And because we did, today, all five boroughs are reaching heights that we've never before known: in safety, education, health care, economic development. In every area, the State of our City today is united and stronger than ever!
As we look ahead to 2006 and beyond, we recognize that this is a special moment for New York. We can sit back and let the power of the moment wane. Or, we can grab hold of it and set New York on the road to long-term strength, stability, and success so that when the tough times return - and they always do - we will be better prepared to meet them than ever before.
Fellow New Yorkers: such a future is now within our reach. I believe that the unity we've achieved, born of tragedy, but nurtured by our common dreams, can lead us to great achievements that no one imagined possible just four years ago. During the last campaign, I proposed more than 100 initiatives that will keep New York moving forward. Have I forgotten those promises? Not one. Will I honor them? You better believe it. But we will do much more than keep our promises. We will keep pursuing new ideas and fresh approaches with more determination than ever, and with the same values and principles that have guided us here. We will use this moment to take on the most difficult long-term challenges for our children, and theirs.
I have pledged that in my second term, we would neither turn back, nor hold back. And today, you'll hear exactly how we're going to do that. I'm going to lay out a blueprint for New York's future in all the key areas of our City's life: jobs and the economy, housing and parks, health and human services, education and public safety, financial security, and government integrity.
Let's start with the challenge of creating the jobs New Yorkers need today, and the jobs our children will need tomorrow. In 2005, New York City's unemployment rate dropped to 5.8 percent, the lowest level since 2000, but we're not stopping there. I've set a goal of creating 250,000 new private sector jobs over the next five years-- and to make sure that all communities have access to them. To do it, we're going to invest in economic development projects, make New York the most business-friendly city in the nation, and encourage growing industries.
This year, an extraordinary range of projects will leap off the drawing boards - creating jobs, revitalizing the waterfront, and bringing new life to communities in every borough. At the Homeport here on Staten Island, we'll break ground on a waterfront esplanade and take the first major steps toward creating a great place to live, work, and play.
In Brooklyn, construction workers will put shovels in the ground at Atlantic Yards, the most exciting housing, commercial, and sports development in Brooklyn's history.
In both the South Bronx and Flushing, the Yankees and Mets will break ground on new stadiums - and then meet in a seven-game Subway Series! (We can dream, can't we?)
But that's just the beginning. Just west of Yankee Stadium, we'll start construction at the long-neglected Bronx Terminal Market. And, just east of the Stadium, we'll begin building at the Hub, finally realizing its extraordinary potential. Together, these projects will become the first major retail and commercial development in the South Bronx in decades.
In Flushing, we'll start construction on a $500 million project to create 2,000 jobs and revitalize the heart of downtown. And just west of there in Willets Point, we'll select a developer to begin turning the Iron Triangle into a community jewel - with parks, jobs, and housing.
In Jamaica, we'll begin one of the largest re-zonings in decades, creating the conditions for a vibrant transportation-oriented business district that capitalizes on the AirTrain and its connection to Kennedy Airport, while at the same time protecting the character of the residential neighborhood.
On Manhattan's East Side, work will begin on the new East River Science Park, which will create 2,500 biotech jobs. On the West Side, we'll start digging a tunnel to extend the Seven Train, spurring development of a thriving new residential and commercial neighborhood. We'll also move ahead on two badly needed projects: the Javits Center expansion, and on the Hudson, a modernized cruise ship terminal.
Nearby, we'll begin work on one of the most innovative park projects in the world: the High Line. And, across the island, we will begin reshaping the East River Waterfront.
Over in Brooklyn, we'll fully open a new cruise ship terminal in Red Hook, which will become home to the Queen Mary II and 600 new jobs. Also, along the Brooklyn waterfront, the Port Authority will turn over Piers 1 through 5 - and the City will contribute Pier 6 - to the Brooklyn Bridge Development Corporation - something the community has been dreaming about for 20 years!
To make sure that all of these projects move forward on schedule and on budget, we have created a new Office of Capital Project Development in City Hall, which will work with all of our public and private partners. And when we say we're going to build something, it's not just a photo-op -- we're really going to build it! And this office will be the central command center to insure that.
Most importantly of all, this year, as we push forward on the redevelopment of the World Trade Center, we need to push aside individual financial interests and focus on what's best for our city. That means it's time to pick up the pace of commercial construction, and to build for uses that reflect the realities of the market and the needs of Lower Manhattan -like the retail development that's so crucial to linking the site back into the life of the city.
We can do this if Silverstein Properties is willing to do the right thing - and hand off responsibility for building Towers 3 and 4, in exchange for a reduction of its rent. And we can do it if the Port Authority commits to occupying one of the towers and working quickly to identify a developer for the other, so that all projects can proceed simultaneously at the same, quick pace. Such re-negotiations between the Port Authority and Silverstein Properties must not wait. The time to reach agreement is now. We can not allow the Trade Center to be a construction site for the next 15 years, which the current plan all but ensures it will be!
If we immediately start building retail stores along with a commercial, residential, and hotel mix - Lower Manhattan will become one of the most energetic and exciting neighborhoods in New York. We need this now, to advance our economy and pay tribute to those who died there -not a decade and a half in the future, when it fits a developer's financial plan!
Three years ago, we presented our vision for revitalizing Lower Manhattan as exactly that kind of vibrant, 24/7 community. Since then, we've advanced every element of that vision - investing in parks, housing, schools, and streetscapes. Now, we're also going to extend it to one of our most valuable assets: Governors Island. We will select a specific plan for the future of Governors Island that makes the most of its spectacular location, beauty, and history. We believe that by taking all of these steps, the next four years will see the rebirth of Lower Manhattan as the world's financial capital and as a thriving residential, retail, and waterfront community.
Lower Manhattan is a cornerstone in our blueprint for the future, but we cannot allow its volatile financial markets to be the sole foundation of our economic health. In 2006, not only will we get major economic development projects off the ground in all five boroughs, we'll take a major step toward our goal of making New York the most business friendly city in the nation. By the end of this year, we're going to launch "Business Express," a web site where small business owners can set up personal accounts and get the help they need to start and grow their businesses.
Creating the conditions for small businesses to thrive also means supporting the growing industries that many of them capitalize on, industries like retail, film & television, and tourism. We've just had our best tourism year on record, with 41 million visitors to our city. This year, NYC & Company expects that number to climb to 43 million. But we must, and we will, do even better.
Over the past four years, we've created new partners for NYC and Company: NYC Marketing, and NYC Big Events. Now they'll work more closely together to create the best marketing and promotion effort serving any city in the world. And to support this, we're going to commit an additional $15 million annually - nearly tripling the City's investment, so that we can compete with cities like Las Vegas that spend far more than we do to attract tourists and the jobs they create. With this bigger and better marketing strategy, we will set a new goal called "50 by 15," 50 million visitors annually by the year 2015.
To help accommodate our growing number of visitors, we'll soon announce a comprehensive plan to protect our city's great hotels and encourage investment in new hotels. The plan will embody the new spirit of labor-management cooperation we helped forge to rescue the Plaza and hundreds of jobs. The biggest draw for tourists, and the greatest competitive advantage that New York has over every other city, can be found right here, at all of our world-class cultural institutions and entertainment venues. That's why we've dramatically increased capital funding for arts organizations in every borough.
This year, the 30th Anniversary of our City's Department of Cultural Affairs, we will help unveil a number of exciting projects, including a new performing arts center at Harlem's Aaron Davis Hall, and a beautiful new wing at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. And - I know this will be a favorite with many here today- the Staten Island Zoo will open its long-awaited Reptile Wing!
To make sure that all communities have access to the jobs we're creating in so many different industries, we've worked hard to level the playing field for women-and minority-owned businesses. In the months ahead, as a result of our close collaboration with the City Council, we'll establish explicit purchasing goals at every City agency for women- and minority-owned businesses.
We'll also begin to see the results from our Commission on Construction Opportunity, and let me tell you - early indications are incredibly promising. For example, next Monday, men and women who have had difficulty finding steady employment will start a six-month job training and union apprentice program to begin preparing them for careers in construction. And our Workforce One job training centers will place a record 15,000 people in jobs over the next 12 months.
Making sure that every community shares in the New York we are building also requires us to look to the future -and plan for the future - in ways we haven't dared in decades.
In April, I will present the results of a sweeping inter-agency, five-borough Strategic Land Use plan that examines all of our City's neighborhoods and their needs for the 21st Century, focusing particularly on housing, transportation, energy, and infrastructure - including parks. This year, here in "the borough of parks," Staten Island, we will begin to turn what was once the world's largest landfill into a beautiful expanse more than twice the size of Central Park. We'll also add substantial acreage to Staten Island's "bluebelt" conservation system.
Historically, there was almost no coordinated planning to protect Staten Island's quality of life. As a result, as everyone here knows, overdevelopment became a major problem, and traffic went from bad to worse. We are going to confront the problem of traffic with the very same vigor we used attacking overdevelopment. Using the work of the Growth Management Task Force as a model, we will take decisive steps to improve the flow of traffic on Staten Island.
I have asked my Transportation and City Planning commissioners to report back to the Growth Management Task Force in 60 days with a package of initiatives designed to address Staten Island's growing congestion. And to improve traffic flow in all five boroughs, we will launch a new program called "Take Back the Streets," to crack down on construction contractors that illegally tear them up. And, to ensure that when public utilities fix the streets, we hold them accountable for making sure they stay fixed!
When we talk about quality of life, we also need to talk about affordability. New York's future depends on our ability to make sure that middle and working class families can afford to live here. That's why we fought for the $400 property tax rebate. That's why we will issue it again this year. It's why I will be asking the State Legislature to extend the rebates for the remainder of my term. And it's why we are creating the most ambitious affordable housing initiative in New York City history!
Over the past four years, we've funded the construction and rehabbing of nearly 50,000 affordable houses in all five boroughs. But that is only the beginning. Next week, when I release our preliminary budget, it will fund our $7.5 billion plan to build and preserve 165,000 units of affordable housing in New York City by the year 2013. Three-fourths of that housing will be started or finished by the end of this term, and many of the units will be for the middle class. Over the next 12 months, we'll put another 15,000 units of affordable housing into production. We'll break ground on the first new mid- and high-rise co-ops and condos to go up in the South Bronx in a generation, and on the next phase of more than 500 Nehemiah homes being developed at Spring Creek in Brooklyn.
To make sure that the benefits of our affordable housing program are shared with city workers, who do so much to keep our city healthy and strong, we've introduced a five percent preference for them in our housing lotteries. This year, we'll also help more of our city's brave veterans achieve the dream of home ownership by giving them a 30 percent preference for homes taken in foreclosure by the federal government and that are now being restored by the City and our partners. These men and women have risked everything to defend us, and I'm honored that several have joined us today. I ask them now to stand so that we can thank them for their service to our nation, and the sacrifices they have made protecting our freedom.
We've got obligations to other New Yorkers, too, particularly our children, and especially those who are at-risk of abuse. Our Administration for Children's Services has come so far over the past ten years, but we know we have not come far enough. We must respond to every child's case with an unflinching sense of urgency. Two days ago, I announced $16 million in new initiatives that will improve oversight, ease caseloads, and ensure coordination among all City agencies. We are taking every possible step to seal up the cracks so that no child can slip through them. The death of Nixzmary Brown will long be remembered in New York as a terrible tragedy, but I am determined to see that her death will not be in vain.
I promise you we will do everything we can to protect innocent children from suffering at the hands of abusers. As we focus on protecting our children, we will also do more to tackle the myriad of issues that prevent too many in our city from fully enjoying its opportunities. In a few weeks, we'll break ground on a new citywide intake center for homeless families that will replace the old Emergency Assistance Unit and the failure it represents.
This year, we'll also launch our Integrated Human Services System, a secure, online information and application system for all those who receive Food Stamps, public health insurance, and other benefits. Today, the number of New Yorkers on welfare is at a 40-year-low, but this year, we're going to do more than ever to give people the opportunity to live lives of independence and dignity.
To make sure that welfare recipients receive the training and education they need to hold jobs, we're launching a new "Back-to-Work" initiative that connects case-load contractors and the training and education services they provide to every job center in the city. If contractors don't help their clients find and hold jobs, it's simple: They won't be paid. Because beginning this year, all contracts will be performance-based.
Even though we have become a national leader in promoting welfare-to-work, our great City remains home to the nation's poorest congressional district - the 16th in the South Bronx. And that has been true for too long. Men and women struggling to get out of poverty deserve our help - and so do their children. Our nation has learned by experience that we cannot eliminate poverty by throwing money at the problem. But our City has shown that problems once thought to be beyond hope: dangerous streets, failing schools, chronic homelessness -can be turned around, if we target our resources where they are needed most, if we set measurable goals, and if we hold ourselves accountable.
Today I am committing to a major reduction in the number of children, women and men who live in poverty in this City over the next four years. To that end, this year, we'll launch a public-private task force - modeled on our task force to end chronic homelessness - that will attack chronic unemployment and poverty in the homes and neighborhoods where the need is greatest. We'll launch our first pilot programs in three communities where the problems have long been entrenched - Bushwick, Melrose, and Bedford-Stuyvesant. I have asked Richard Parsons, CEO of Time Warner, and Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO of The Harlem Children's Zone, to serve as co-chairs of our new task force. They have agreed to work with me to develop and implement our strategy, identify the most important measurements, and make sure that we refuse to accept failure.
Geoffrey is here with us today, and I want to thank him and Richard for joining me in taking on such an important challenge.
Attacking poverty also means making sure all people receive the quality health care they deserve. And I am pleased to be working with a City Council Speaker who is as passionate about improving public health as I am. Over the past four years, we've created the nation's finest public hospital system. This year, we're going to launch a revolution in our community health clinics. We'll ask Albany, Washington, and the private sector to join us in investing $100 million to create secure electronic health records in our community clinics, and in the offices of doctors who practice in our poorest neighborhoods. This will reduce preventable illnesses. It will save millions of dollars a year now wasted on needless procedures. And it will make us the national leader in providing high-quality health care to those most in need.
Compared to four years ago, there are 1 million more New Yorkers currently enrolled in public health insurance programs, many of them children. Now, we're going to begin an unprecedented campaign to improve the health of our children by working to ensure that virtually every school student has health insurance - a mark that no other city has ever achieved. We'll work with the City's primary and secondary schools to integrate public health insurance into their enrollment process, and with community health centers and all hospitals to make health insurance enrollment a key part of the discharge process.
We will also remain at the forefront of the war against AIDS. Over the next three years, our goal is to cut the number of HIV-related deaths by more than 40%. We believe we can achieve it by intensifying prevention, improving access to treatment, focusing on programs that actually deliver results, and by urging the State to pass legislation that makes it easier to find out your HIV status and enables us to reach out and offer to help patients get better care.
This year, we'll also mount an aggressive campaign against the only major health problem in our city that is getting worse-diabetes. It's a vicious silent killer, and we're going to start tracking it down and doing everything we can to control it. This year, when people take blood sugar tests, that information will go to the Health Department. And starting in the South Bronx, we'll work with patients at high-risk and their doctors to improve the care they receive. Our goal is to reduce the number of New Yorkers at the highest risk for diabetes complications by 20% by the end of 2008. Public health is a fundamental responsibility of government, and we are going to do everything we can to help New Yorkers continue living longer lives.
If we want New York to be the healthiest big city in America, we cannot succeed without continuing to restore the long-lost vitality of our schools. Over the past four years, we've taken major strides in providing our children with the education they will need to lead New York forward. Today, students are making record gains on their test scores, schools are safer, and the intolerable achievement gap that exists among different ethnic groups has begun to close. But we all know we have a long way to go.
In the fall, I proposed several major initiatives to take our reforms to the next level. We are charging ahead on each of them, and at the same time putting in place even more bold programs. First, this year we will begin creating more new schools, and new programs, that offer high school students additional routes to graduation, employment, and post-secondary education. Second, this September, we will open Brooklyn Latin, the first of seven new, top-flight, academically selective schools (This is just the type of school I could not have gotten into.)
Third, we will be a leading voice in the effort to lift the state's cap on charter schools in New York City - so that we can create more options for communities that need them the most.
But we will do even more. This year, we will increase by 150 the number of schools in the "Autonomy Zone". These schools will be empowered with greater freedom and flexibility and be held accountable for their results. We will begin directing at least $200 million more away from the bureaucracy and into the classrooms.
And today I am happy to announce that the Department of Education, together with NYU and CUNY and supported by $15 million from the Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation, is launching the New York City Partnership for Teacher Excellence. The Partnership takes a new approach to teacher education. Aspiring teachers will spend a great deal of their time inside our public schools because there is no substitute for real world experience. We are confident that the Partnership will help us attract and retain more high quality teachers and prepare them for the hardest-to-staff subject areas, grade levels, and communities. CUNY Chancellor Matt Goldstein and NYU President John Sexton have joined us today, and I want to thank them for lining up their great universities behind this innovative program.
We're also making sure our teachers spend more quality time with students. Starting in less than two weeks teachers will spend an additional 150 minutes a week in small group instruction with struggling students and they will return to assignments in lunchrooms, school yards, and hallways - something that hasn't been done in years.
But we also need our State officials to step to the front of the class and deliver the money we are owed as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. We need that money to build and maintain new facilities to provide more training for teachers and principals and to create more Pre-K programs throughout the city - ensuring that thousands more of our city's kids arrive at kindergarten ready to learn. We need the money now and together we must continue fighting for it. Because it's not just our school children who are being shortchanged, but the very future of our City.
Putting New York on the road to long-term success in all of the areas I've spoken about today rests on our ability to continue making the safest big city in America even safer. Public safety is the foundation of our City's prosperity. Over the last four years, the NYPD has cut crime by more than 20%. Today, our City is safer than it has been in more than four decades.
Now, people ask: How low can crime go? No one knows the answer, but we're going to continue doing everything we can to find out.
This year, we're going to expand "Operation Trident" - which splits precincts to attack stubborn crime problems. Last year, in the 75th Precinct in East New York, Brooklyn. Operation Trident reduced crime by more than twice the citywide average. Now, we're going to take it to the 44th and 46th Precincts in the South Bronx. We're going to identify new locations to target as part of Operation Clean Sweep so that we continue gaining ground in our campaign to improve New York's quality of life. We will also expand our cutting-edge Real Time Crime Center so its data can be used to solve not only murder cases, but other serious crimes. And we will complete construction of the most sophisticated forensic DNA laboratory in the nation, which will have the capacity to test evidence not only from sex crimes and homicides, but from any crime.
But even as our City leads the nation in analyzing DNA from crime scenes, our State is way behind the nation in collecting DNA from convicted offenders. Forty-three other states require DNA samples from all convicted felons. We are not one of them and make no mistake: People are dying because of it. This year, we will urge the State Legislature to pass a law mandating the collection of DNA samples for all criminal convictions. This is the single best way to catch offenders before they become serial offenders, as well as to exonerate the innocent. Let's hold the State Legislature accountable for doing it, and let's also challenge them to abolish the statute of limitations for rape and sexual assault cases where there is DNA evidence, so that these vile criminals are punished whenever they are caught.
By now, you know that I never mince words about the urgent threat that illegal guns pose to our everyday lives. Let me describe exactly how we will turn up the heat against all those who menace our streets by carrying or selling illegal guns. This year we will marshal all of our resources and work with all of our partners in public service -whether they are across the rotunda in City Hall up in Albany or in big cities across the nation- both to root out and punish these criminals and to stop the flow of illegal guns into our city
First, every felony gun defendant will be thoroughly de-briefed either by the Police Department's elite Gun Suppression Squad that we are now forming or by district attorneys, or in many cases, by both. This will allow us to learn much more about where and how illegal guns are sold and by whom. Second, we will pilot new technology that uses microphones to instantly direct video cameras to the source of gun shots, ensuring that shooters are seen as well as heard. Third, we will continue using gun crimes to identify Impact Zones to crack down on shootings. Fourth, when gun offenders get re-arrested for any other crime - theft or assault, for instance - their cases will be red-flagged for prosecutors, judges, and probation and parole officers so that all law enforcement officials will know the threat these offenders pose.
As we marshal our resources to stiffen enforcement of existing laws, we will also ask our legislative partners to strengthen our laws. We will work with the City Council to enact a one-gun-every-three-months limit on purchases in New York City, and we will urge Albany to pass two pieces of critical legislation:
First, a Gun Offenders Registration Act - which would be a Megan's Law for gun criminals. Like sex offenders, gun offenders present terrible risks for communities, and they should be required to regularly verify their addresses with the police. And second, a law to make criminal possession of a loaded gun a Class C felony with a 3 ½ year minimum jail sentence. There is simply no reason why judges should have the discretion to let criminals who carry loaded illegal guns get off the hook with probation. Illegal guns have one purpose: to kill. Period. End of story!
We will do more than ever to detect and punish gun offenders, but when more than eight of every ten guns used in crimes come from other states, we must reach across state lines. And we will. Right now, about 1 percent of gun dealers account for almost 60 percent of guns used in crimes nationally. This year, we are going to launch lawsuits against these irresponsible dealers, and we are going to hold them accountable for the terrible damage their guns cause.
We will also reach out to elected officials in other states to discuss potential policy and legislative changes, and new ways of sharing information. In our conversations with our sister cities and states we will not seek solutions that infringe on the rights of gun owners but we will seek to move beyond the knee-jerk opposition that special interests invariably pose against even the most basic and common sense efforts to clamp down on illegal guns.
Getting tough on illegal guns is not a conservative or liberal issue. It's an issue of law and order and an issue of life and death. Only a few miles from here Detectives Rodney Andrews and James Nemorin were viciously murdered nearly three years ago. They were conducting one of the buy-and-bust operations that police officers do every day to keep illegal guns out of the hands of criminals. In the past four years, Detectives Patrick Rafferty, Robert Parker, Dillon Stewart, and Daniel Enchautegui all were gunned down in the line of duty. Today, I'm honored to say, we are joined by members of their families, and I'd ask them to stand.
To all the family members here with us today: We will never forget the debt we owe to your loved ones and to all the men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice protecting us. But we will also never forget your sacrifice. And I make you this promise: I will never give in to those who accept the spread of illegal guns and their deadly consequences. Never. I will do whatever it takes - in the memory of your sons, your husbands, your brothers, your fathers, and our brave heroes.
Taking on the toughest public safety challenges means we must also confront any obstacle that stands in the way of our counter-terrorism efforts. Even though the NYPD is the most sophisticated counter-terrorism police force in the world, much of our transportation infrastructure - which we know has been targeted by terrorists in the past - is policed by the MTA and the Port Authority.
One of the most important lessons of 9/11 was the need for greater communication and integration among government agencies. This year, our Administration will work with the governors of New York and New Jersey - and the leaders of the Port Authority and MTA - to establish a security protocol for our City's vital transportation infrastructure that is more integrated, accountable, and effective. And today, I am announcing that we will propose legislation, in New York and New Jersey, giving the City's Police Commissioner a permanent seat on the MTA and PA boards to ensure that the NYPD has a voice in both agencies' security planning, capital project planning, and incident command.
Building a more secure future requires us to take on the toughest long-term challenges wherever we find them - and we find several of them in the city's budget. Over the past four years we have cut the city's discretionary spending by almost $4 billion. But spending has continued to grow because our non-discretionary costs increased by $7 billion in the same period. These costs are continuing to soar and will result in ballooning deficits in the years ahead. And when bad economic times return - and they always do - those deficits will explode and New Yorkers will pay a heavy price, both in increased taxes and reduced services.
The only chance to avoid this is to correct the budget's structural imbalances, and that means we must rein in health care and pension costs that have spiraled out of control. Today, nearly all private sector employees contribute to their health care and the few companies that continue to offer "defined benefit" pension plans are moving to "defined contribution" plans.
Our Administration has worked closely with labor leaders in the past, to create fair, long-term contracts. Moving forward we will work with them to reach agreements that include a provision that is familiar to most people: employee contributions for health care. At the same time, we will work with labor and legislative leaders on innovative pension modifications for future workers. Only by making the tough decisions today will we be able to finance the wage increases that our outstanding workforce will deserve tomorrow.
Improving the long-term health of government also means strengthening its integrity. We need only look to the scandals in Washington to see what happens when lobbyists and campaign contributors create a culture of "pay-to-play." Last week, many members of Congress proposed a ban on all gifts from lobbyists. We should do that here. And they proposed requiring lobbyists to file disclosure reports electronically. We should do that here, too. But most of all, let's finally honor the "pay-to-play" referendum that voters overwhelmingly passed more than seven years ago!
This year, we will work together with the Campaign Finance Board to create an online database that will allow us to implement the referendum and strengthen the integrity of City government. When voters go to the polls, they should have no doubt that all the decisions they make will be respected.
And when they appear before a judge, they deserve to know that justice - not politics - will be served. This year, we will take an important step to improve our administrative tribunals - the places New Yorkers go when they contest a fine, a parking ticket, or a building code violation. We'll bind all of the City's administrative judges to a code of ethics, just as the voters directed us to do in a public referendum in November. And I will also sign an executive order creating an Administrative Justice Coordinator to improve the workings of the tribunals so that all New Yorkers are treated justly.
Of course, reforming the election of judges is a more formidable task, but two weeks ago, we received an important sign that our reform efforts are paying off. I'm very pleased that Assemblyman Denny Farrell, Chairman of the State Democratic Party, has announced that he will urge all county organizations to adopt independent judicial screening panels that will select only the most qualified candidates so that we can end an election process that is too easily - and too often - corrupted. I wish Denny all the best, but reform should not be an issue for debate among the County chairs. It should be a matter of state law! It's time to put an end to the backroom deals that should have died with Tammany Hall!
I think that's a good point to end on today, because no matter what the issue - from judicial reform to education to poverty - we have the ability to make this City better for all who live here, but only if we put partisanship aside. This year and in the years ahead in every single area of this city, working together, we can lock in and extend our gains. We can take on the toughest issues and get results. And we can make sure that our success touches every block of every neighborhood so that our unity remains the rule not the exception.
This does not mean there will be no obstacles on the road ahead. There will be. But if we stay united, we've shown there is no obstacle large enough to stop us.
Jeanne Raleigh and Speaker Quinn, if you both will indulge me, I would like to conclude by saying to everyone here: "May that road rise up to meet us." All of us. And let's walk it together -with hope, kindness and courage. Thank you, and God bless.
Stu Loeser/ Jordan Barowitz (212) 788-2958
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