For the first time, New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch is pitching "hardball" criticism at President Carter. Even as top US officials continue to praise his new package of proposed city job cuts and tax increases, Mayor Koch in recent weeks has stepped up his criticism of the Carter administration's urban policy.
When news of the proposed fiscal 1981 federal budget was released last month, the mayor's first reaction to how it would affect cities -- and New York, in particular -- was one of comparatively mild criticism. In a Monitor interview, Mr. Koch stopped short of a personal attack on the President, whom he maintains he still supports politically.
But the mayor has said, in essence, that the President has failed to recognize the national unemployment problem, especially in New York City.
"When you have unemployment as you have in this country, that is not a local problem but . . . a national problem,"
Mr. Koch said. "You have to provide jobs for people. The City of New York cannot do that with its own tax resources.
More federal dollars to help cities like New York with chronic unemployment problems is "no more special than providing price supports for farmers," Mr. Koch said emphatically. "We don't grow corn, wheat, and so forth in the city. We don't get a sugar subsidy. But i am not opposed to providing the other elements that make up our economy with help when they need it, and therefore there should not be opposition to helping the cities of this nation when they need it."
Mr. Koch put these words in the overall context of "being very grateful" that both the President and the US Congress have seen fit to approve special "loan guarantees" for the City of New York. But the remarks also showed a new frankness on Mr. Koch's part about Mr. Carter's policies, a frankness when some political analysts say could hurt the President in the coming primary and general elections here.
The mayor himself, meanwhile, has proposed a plan to cut some 13,000 jobs by the fiscal year ending June 30, 1982 mostly through attrition. He has won the praise of US Sen. William Proxmire (D) of Wisconsin, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, for this and other efforts to balance the New York City budget. At the same time, the mayor has been roundly criticized by municipal employee unions and others affected by the cuts.
But Mr. Koch maintains that the job cuts and tax increases -- on real estate, liquor, unleaded gasoline, and other items -- are necessary to bring the budget into balance a year earlier than previously projected -- by June 30, 1981.
In addition, the mayor announced last month he would limit any municipal union wage hikes this year to no more than 4 percent. Union contracts expire June 30, 1980. Employee unions are critical of the 4 percent limit.
"I understand the union members' problems," he said, "but they have to understand the city problem . . . . Obviously they will get some increase, but that increase is going to be commensurate with our ability to pay. We can't pay what we don't have."