NEW YORK CITY'S financial condition is still precarious.ITs budget is not yet balanced. It cannot borrow money in the marketplace. The law permitting it to borrow from the federal treasury expires next summer. Its contracts with its employees expire this spring. Yet the New York City Council had the moxie last week to pass a bill raising the salaries of the city's top 51 elected officials.
You could, we suppose, call that an act of political courage. The increases are probably justified; they are not out of line with those recommended by citizen advisory groups. Under New York law, if the salaries of these officials are not changed by the end of this month, they cannot be changed until 1982. And the total amount of money involved - $500,000 - is hardly to argue that the council now faces the wrath of the taxpayers for doing what was right, just as Congress did in the last round of the federal pay increases.
But you could just as well call the council's action an act of political stupidity. The city's negotiators already had their hands full. They need to persuade Congress to renew the expiring loan act. They need to persuade the labor unions to accept minimal wage increase this spring. If they fail in either set of negotiations, the city's financial condition will slide from precarious to whatever the next state is before disaster strikes.Yet succeding in either will become enormously more difficult if the salary-increase bill becomes law.
Forced to choose between these two perceptions of what has occurred, we would choose the latter. The council's action is the kind of thing that makes the city so suspect in the rest of the country. We can't imagine the city fathers of say, Waterloo, Iowa, voting themselves substantial pay raises immediately before coming to Washington, hats in hand, in a desperate effort to avoid bankruptcy. But the normal rules of political behavior never seem to govern what happens in the New York City, where the tendency seems irresistible to act first, and then overwhelm or ignor such criticism as may arise.
That way of doing things has worked pretty well for New York down through the years. It did produce the current financial crisis. But it also produced the federal help the city needed three years ago to escape defaulting on all its debts; Congress had practically no choice. Whether it will work again this time we don't know. The mood in Washington is no more receptive now to extending the bailout than it was to creating it. The salary-increase bill, if it becomes law with the mayor's signature or over his veto, could be straw. We think New York City is pushing its luck.