Please note: this text may be incomplete. For more information about this OCR, view About OCR text.
NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 26, 1916
UNIFIED FORM OF GOVERNMENT FAVORED
Home Rule and a Free Han(d For City Officers Will Redeem
Town From Debt Entanglement and Excessive Taxation
By WILLIAM A. PRENDERGAST, Comptroller, City of New York.
T"" HE question is asked with more
■*• or less regularity whether the City
of New York should have greater local
authority over its own affairs, and if
so what steps are necessary to obtain
emancipation from enactments of the
Legislature tending to interfere with the
proper administration of local affairs?
There is no question in my mind but
that the city should have Home Rule.
With this unified form of government
a distinct saving in money will result
because the administration can be run
with a less number of employes. In
some cases legislation will be neces¬
sary to reduce the forces, but still the
remedy lies in that direction.
Since 1899, when the first budget was
made, the city population has increased
39 per cent, but the budget has grown
in the same period about 104 per cent.
Redeem the Town.
Home rule and a free hand for the
administration officers of the city will
redeem the town from its entanglement
of debt and excessive taxation. Under
the present conditions there is no prac¬
tical way of reducing the budget. I
believe that there will be a yearly in¬
crease and that 1919 will see a budget
If the administration and the people
could agree on certain departmental con¬
solidations, I think the Legislature
would grant relief. For the last six
years_ the city officials have tried to find
the right men for the right places, with
salaries in proportion to their work. In
many instances they have succeeded.
I also advocate the abolition of county
lines within the city. There is no pos¬
sible excuse, except piling up political
patronage, for continuing a triple form
of municipal government. On tbe other
hand there is every reason why the busi¬
ness now conducted in five counties,
separately, should be transacted more
efficiently and economically in central¬
ized departments that would do away
with wasteful fee systems and payroll
Line of Demarcation.
There should be no line of demarca¬
tion between the city and county gov¬
ernments, especially as all the expense
must be borne in the city budget. The
city should be given the exclusive juris¬
diction over the expenditures. I have
studied this situation for the last six
years and have failed to find any detri¬
ment to the abolition of countv lines.
I also favor the wiping out oTthe va¬
rious borough governments. One gov¬
ernment in one city is quite sufficient.
It is difficult enough to get that one
right, without trying to find five sep¬
arate sets of officials to do the work.
This is expensive and in the final an¬
alysis the taxpayer looks only to the
New York is so great that most peo¬
ple do not understand her and attempt
to measure her bv standards that apply
to other cities. These fail utterly when
subjected to the gigantic and complex
problems of our city.
New York is an evolution ; not a cre¬
ation._ She has developed faster than
her sister cities or her parent State.
The immense wealth and interests that
HOX. WILLIAM A. PRENDERGAST.
have settled here and her situation as a
seaport and commercial capital of the
country have created an individuality
that is distinct and peculiar to herself.
To meet the problems and obligations
that go with such distinction, she should
be unfettered in the management of
her own affairs.
This general introduction is offered
to explain why an exact enumeration
of all things necessary to accomplish a
complete independence in local affairs
might always be open to criticism, for
a power granted this year, adequate to
meet the problems of the present, may
prove inadequate in a few years through
the development of new activities.
.'\lways with those conditions in mind.
I have endeavored to prepare answers
to the questions submitted.
Question 1.—What legislative enact¬
ments will be necessary to confer this
(full local control of expenditures) upon
the Board of Estimate and .Apportion¬
ment and the Board of Aldermen?
This may be accomplished in one of
two ways. First, by constitutional
amendment giving to cities the organic
right completely to control local affairs.
Second, by legislative enactment, grant¬
ing to the citv a charter broad enough
to place complete authority in the hands
of local officials and then refraining
from amending the charter except upon
the recommendation of the local offi¬
cials in their official capacity.
A very short and simple charter cre¬
ating a body corporate, defining its ter¬
ritorial limits and then conferring on
a local legislative assembly complete
authority to do all things necessary for
the proper administration of local prob¬
lems would, I believe, accomplish the
Question 2.—What is the present pow¬
er of the Board of Aldermen over ex¬
penditures? Should this power be in¬
creased; if so, in what direction?
Expenditures of the city are, broadly
speaking, of three kinds : those author¬
ized by the annual budget, those au¬
thorized by corporate stock or long
term bonds and those authorized by
revenue bonds or short term notes. The
power of the Board of Aldermen over
budget expenditures is limited to the
amount recommended by the Board of
Estimate. The Board of Aldermen may
reduce but may not increase the
amounts recommended in the budget
submitted to them.
Corporate stock authorizations origi¬
nate in the Board of Estimate and on
the recommendation of that Board, the
Board of Aldermen may approve or re¬
ject the proposed appropriation. Rev¬
enue bonds originate in the Board of
Aldermen and are recommended to the
Board of Estimate, which may accept or
reject the recommendations of the
Board of Aldermen.
Form of City Government.
Whether or not this power in the
Board of Aldermen should be increased
raises a question that goes to the form
of government in the city. The founda¬
tion upon which the Board of Aldermen
was created, is the principle of popular
representation. The Board of Alder¬
men is a very ancient institution. In
New York it is as old as the city itself.
The first official title given New York
by the Nicolls Charter was "The Mayor,
Aldermen and Sheriff." .As an institu¬
tion it has been a part of our local gov¬
ernment since the beginning and no in¬
stitution which has received the sanc¬
tion of centuries should be lightly con¬
sidered or whimsically derided because
some of its members have invited crit¬
icism and ridicule. The Board of Alder¬
men is the local legislature and, in the¬
ory at least, is the body through which
the will of the people is most directly
expressed. The basis of aldermanic
power is really the neighborhood sen¬
timent, the varying shades of local de¬
sire being reflected in the election of
representatives familiar with the details
of restricted localities and chosen as
the voice of the locality in the general
affairs of the city.
Personnel of Board.
In the past New York City has been
unfortunate in the selection of repre¬
sentatives in the Board of Aldermen.
That, however, cannot be justly charged
against the system of popular repre¬
sentation as a political principle. If the
principle is accepted as affording the
most complete means of direct repre¬
sentation, and direct representation is
accepted as the best means of conduct¬
ing public affairs, the powers of the
Board of Aldermen should be enlarged
by vesting in it exclusive legislative au¬
thority in local management.
Question 3.—What i.s the present pow¬
er of the Board of Estimate and Appor¬
tionment over expenditures?
The answer to the last question is an
answer to this.
Question 4.—How large a part of the
last budget did the Board authorize?
Strictly speaking, it did not authorize
any part of the budget. As already ex¬
plained, the budget is the result of co¬
ordinate action. For 1916 the Board of
Estimate and Apportionment recom¬
mended $212,956,177.54. The Board of