If you like bilingualism, you will love septalingualism.
Big Apple Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s latest brainstorm outstrips his notorious war on trans-fats, both for its audacity and sheer senselessness. America’s largest municipality soon will conduct official business not only in English and Spanish — which is bad enough — but also five more foreign languages: Russian, Chinese, Korean, French Creole, and Italian.
“This Executive Order will make our city more accessible, while helping us become the most inclusive municipal government in the nation,” Bloomberg crowed as he signed this measure on July 22 (a PDF version of which is available here).
Bloomberg’s linguistic smorgasbord opens during a financial tempest. Thanks to Wall Street’s woes, tax revenues have tanked. As the New York Post has noted, 16 of the state’s largest commercial banks sent Albany $173 million in Bank Franchise Tax payments in June 2007. These same institutions remitted just $5 million this past June — a 97-percent contraction.
Meanwhile, Manhattan Institute senior fellow Nicole Gelinas calculates, Bloomberg’s inflation-adjusted, per-capita spending has averaged 4.5 percent annual growth — quadruple the analogous figure for former mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. Red ink flows where Bloomberg’s rising government-spending curve intersects with Wall Street’s plunging tax-revenue curve.
Into this intensifying fiscal turbulence, Bloomberg has steered his stunningly extravagant new multilingual initiative. At least 77 city agencies now must assign or hire Language Access Coordinators to determine which municipal services will be delivered in which of these idioms. Some city forms will be translated into all seven languages; elsewhere, city personnel will perform their duties daily in these languages. Perhaps interpreters will rush in if, say, Haitian immigrants want to discuss the City Charter in French Creole. As the police and fire departments struggle to fight criminals and blazes, how exactly will Bloomberg finance all this? Are tax hikes just around the corner?
Bloomberg ordered this indulgence without forecasting how hard it may slam New York’s beleaguered taxpayers.
“We don’t have cost estimates,” admits Evelyn Erskine, Bloomberg’s deputy press secretary. “We’re in the first stages of planning. Some agencies will have to translate documents online. Some with branch offices may have to hire people.” By January 1, Language Access Coordinators must recommend how their agencies will satisfy Bloomberg, and at what price.
Taxpayer dollars aside, Bloomberg’s septalingualism is a cultural migraine in the making and an insult to its supposed beneficiaries. Are today’s immigrants too feeble to learn English, as did the 12 million immigrants who filed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954? Since when have Italians, of all people, become too wretched to fathom English? Is it too much to ask today’s Italian arrivals to speak America’s common tongue, as did the forbears of such distinguished New Yorkers as Giuliani, former governor Mario Cuomo, Home Depot co-founder Kenneth Langone, and Academy Award–winning director Martin Scorsese?