Budgets Over Broadway: Drama

Heightens in N.Y. Fiscal Crisis

It's looking more and more like the Poached Apple.

As New York moves into the third year of job retrenchment, Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) is preparing a budget that would slash $1 billion from city services and result in 10,000 layoffs. New York has lost 230,000 jobs since the downturn began. City wages declined by 8.9 percent in the first half of 2002.

The mayor has spoken of closing fire stations and laying off police officers. The Police Department has lost 3,500 police officers through attrition this year, although it remains one of the nation's largest departments. "My plan includes everything in this city, unfortunately," Bloomberg said. "It would be a very damaging thing."

There's a dose of political theater here. Bloomberg wants to persuade public unions to ante up $600 million in savings and he needs state approval for a $1 billion commuter tax. But with a $3.5 billion deficit, few doubt the severity of the city's problem.

"We aren't faced with a train wreck," noted Harvey Robins, a top aide to two mayors. "We've already got one."

-- Michael Powell

In Mississippi, Roles Reversed

In a Parent-Child Abortion Battle

The young woman sparsely identified by the federal courts in Mississippi as A.S. is no pushover. Even her parents can't tell her what to do.

All this became starkly clear recently when A.S., who is 16 and lives in the tiny south Mississippi town of Meridian, came home and announced that she was pregnant. Now, if A.S.'s life had followed the stock pattern, she might have argued for an abortion, while her parents might have argued that she should have the baby.

Instead, the roles were reversed. Her parents went so far as to schedule an appointment for the abortion, according to court documents.

But A.S. wasn't about to give up. She found her way to the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy in Tupelo, Miss., a nondenominational religious advocacy group. The center helped A.S. file a federal lawsuit against her parents.

"She was not bashful," said Steve Crampton, a lawyer at the American Family Association who is representing A.S.

Crampton said that A.S. did not plan to get pregnant, but that her boyfriend and his parents support her decision to have the baby.

The case is a rarity, according to Crampton. The closest that he could think of was a case in Delaware in which his group negotiated an out-of-court settlement that blocked the state's child welfare agency from ordering an abortion for a teen in its custody.

In the Mississippi case, A.S. has already gained the upper hand. A federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order blocking a forced abortion, and is expected to make a final decision as early as Monday.

-- Manuel Roig-Franzia

Wisconsin Takes a Hard Look

At Bias in Welfare Program

Wisconsin's welfare reform program -- with its theme that everyone can, and should, work -- has long been considered a national model of how to fix welfare.

But the program has been dogged for years by allegations that it is racially biased, which prompted a federal civil rights investigation that began last year and is continuing. The state's top welfare official, weighing in on the matter for the first time, recently acknowledged that the allegations may be true.

Roberta Gassman, secretary of Department of Workforce Development, said she was troubled by findings of a new study showing that black and Hispanic recipients were penalized more frequently than whites by private companies that administer the program for the state. The companies have denied any wrongdoing.

In Milwaukee County, the study found that nearly 55 percent of blacks and Hispanics had their cash grants reduced when penalized for missing job training or work sessions. Forty-five percent of whites were similarly sanctioned.

The disparity was wider in other counties in which more than 70 percent of blacks and Hispanics received sanctions, compared with 55.7 percent of whites. In a statement, Gassman called the findings "troubling."

"This administration will not tolerate inappropriate sanctions for any reason," said Gassman, who was appointed by the state's new governor, Jim Doyle (D).

The study covers 2001 and 2002, years in which Republican Scott McCallum was governor.

Kathleen Mulligan-Hansel of the Institute for Wisconsin's Future, which advocates on behalf of low-income people, said more analysis is needed to determine the cause of the disparity. "Is this just a few case managers, or is this a systematic problem?" she asked.

-- Robert E. Pierre