Follow the money is the general rule when you think a crime has been committed, and because at 80% of the children in ACS programs are African-American or Hispanic, we questioned if the businesses receiving city payments for children supplies reflected that diversity, it had been suggested that it did not, and that is why we were carrying my granddaughter’s tablet and a connection to the Checkbook 2.0 Web site when we met with New York City Comptroller John Liu at the always elegant Sugar Hill Supper Club and Restaurant last week and asked him to walk us through it.
Liu: This is a searchable database to compare across years and search by contract.
OTP: You can see patterns of spending, it allows you to research and see where an agency is directing its money.
Liu: Yes it can.
OTP: This is an important tool that should be taught in schools.
Liu: Yes, and I think the uses are pretty much limitless. Users will come up with their own way of using it. It allows the public to follow the money, and more importantly, officials responsible for spending the public’s money, know that all of their transactions can be seen and tracked easily by anybody in the public. It makes all of us, myself included, much more careful and wise in how we decide to spend the public’s money.
OTP: Iit’s a lot of information, but there is always somebody who wants to follow that one thing of interest.
Liu: That’s right, you have to be a lot more careful, and if this means that city agencies curtail even one-tenth of one percent of their spending, that’s a savings of $70 million for the city taxpayers.
Let’s see, what’s the other one?
Liu: (Entering the name) That’s going to bring up a lot of, is that Cookies on Fulton?
OTP: Yes, their store is on Fulton.
Liu: So these are all the payments. It seems there was a refund of $14.00.
OTP: That’s amazing.
Liu: I see there was a payment of $330.60 on May 14, 2012. And another $56.93.
OTP: And these are individual checks written out?
Liu: Or electronic transfer.
OTP: This is very interesting.
Liu: I see there were a lot of payments. Here’s a big one, $6,290.00. And here’s one for $5,000.00, and another $95.68.
OTP: But it doesn’t say what it’s for?
Liu: Supplies, materials in general. It doesn’t say exactly what.
OTP: But you can look at it and see patterns and maybe it could be spread around and uplift all boats. So now let me ask you about the city. Over the years the city is a reflection of the mayor, very corporate. How would a Mayor Liu Administration differ? What’s your vision of the city?
Liu: We need a lot of changes in the city. The city has become far too corporate. Almost a playground for the rich and powerful. The fiscal and tax policies of the city have to be fixed. To level the playing field, to ensure that when there is an economic recovery, which there will be, everybody benefits, not just the top 1%.
In the last economic recovery, we saw almost all of the economic benefits going to the top 1%. This time it has to be different. But it can only be different if we change the tax policies to make the taxes much more progressive, if we can change our fiscal policies instead of favoring tax subsidies for corporate giants, funding our after-school programs, for example. Creating jobs by giving subsidies, not to the big developers but to small business owners.
There are a lot of changes in the business tax code that are called for. Getting rid of loopholes that exempt big insurance companies from the general corporation tax. And instead, maybe using that money to exempt small businesses that have tax liabilities of less than $5,000 from any net tax. I have no doubt that these are the small businesses that will go out and hire more people.
OTP: Did you say big insurance companies don’t have to pay a general corporation tax?
Liu: I don’t think there is any good reason. It’s been like that for more than 30 years.
OTP: So a company like AIG would not have to pay?
Liu: That’s right.
OTP: Who would pay?
Liu: This place would. Private equity funds don’t have to pay unincorporated business income tax, I’ve called for them to pay their fair share of taxes. And exempt any small business with less than $250,000 in net revenue from that tax. It will allow them to grow their business and hire more people. We all understand that the majority of New Yorkers work for small businesses, not big corporations. Even the mayor says this: small businesses are the creators of new jobs. And if that’s the case, let’s put the subsidies where the jobs are actually being created.
I envision a New York City that really focuses on people development. Land development is important, corporate development is important, I’m not saying they’re not. But people development should be the most important. Because without the people of the city, we would not be the greatest city in the world. But we have a shortage of opportunities, or opportunities that are too exclusive too often. And that has to change. And the way to change that is by fixing some of our policies as I just talked about.
OTP: Large corporations get special loopholes.
Liu: It’s inexplicable. Those tax breaks were enacted 30 years ago at a time when the city was not doing well economically, and there was some fear that the insurance companies would leave.
OTP: That was the rationale.
Liu: That was the rationale. But decades later, we have seen, and there have been studies that have shown that these local initiatives and subsidies, that are meant to either lure companies to a city or state, or prevent them from leaving, we wind up having cities and states cannibalize each other, no net job growth is actually being seen. So we have to rethink these kinds of policies.
I don’t believe Mayor Bloomberg’s overriding rationale. You can’t enact this policy because the wealthiest New Yorkers will leave the city. You can’t do that because that company’s going to leave the city. Listen. If people or companies are going to leave the city, they’re going to do so anyway. Let’s not hold ourselves hostage with that. Because the more we do that, the more we decimate the middle class here in the city. We have to stop coddling the big. And pay more attention to growing the middle class. And the first thing we can do to grow the middle class, is uplift the working poor. With a minimum wage that actually makes sense. $7.25 is silly. Nobody can support themselves and kids on $7.25/hour. We have to recognize that it’s not teenagers working part-time who make minimum wage. It’s by and large breadwinners who have kids to support. So let’s uplift the working poor by giving them a reasonable pay. And I propose that should be $11.50/hour.
OTP: So when you say expand the middle class, you mean from the bottom-up. Bring more people into it.
Liu: Yes I do.
OTP: A lot of people don’t make that connection.
Part Two, next week the case of the Central Park Five, teacher evaluations and how a Liu Administration would use the new technology to reshape the city. On Parity: “There are rules that need to be changed but first and foremost there has to be a change in attitude”. On Technology: “I’d like to make broadband universally available to everybody, and the economy will be stronger for it.”