Bloomberg's Budget and Beyond

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, WNYC reporter Bob Hennelly looks at Mayor Bloomberg's proposed city budget, and talks about the history and future of New York City budget negotiations.

For the first time in years, New York City's financial situation seems to be on the upswing. The mayor laid out a budget plan on Thursday that's about the same size as last year — $65.6 billion for the next fiscal year — but this time, $9.9 billion of it will come from New York City, an increase of twelve percent from last year. While the city is closer to standing on its own, the news is not all good. The mayor outlined several tough cuts to education and other areas. 

WNYC's Bob Hennelly said of the list of winners and losers in the budget, “it’s a longer list of losers.”

Budgeting is — an old sage once told me a question of managing expectations. And in a household, it’s the same way, where, if you tell people, ‘you know, things are going to be really tight,' you get people in a certain mindset where they accept collective sacrifice. If you say ‘gosh, I‘ve got a big check coming, honey, let’s hit the town!’ and then you say ‘hey you know what, I came up short’, there’s sadness. So what the mayor has done, masterfully — and he’s had practice at it now in his third term — is manage expectations appropriately.

In reality, he says, people in the most fragile situations will have it tough as a result of these cuts, especially working parents who rely on subsidized child care. 

Working parents, who have a job and need that subsidized daycare in order to be able to go to work, they might as well hand in their pink slips now.

Senior center closings will also impact working people who depend on the service to care for their elderly parents during daytime hours, Hennelly said.

When you eliminate one-third of those senior centers, you’re basically saying, 'you know what?  You’re going to stay home with your mother and get to know her better and play mah-jongg.'

No cavalry will be coming from Washington to the rescue, Hennelly said, and the state, embroiled in their own fiscal mess, is unlikely to be able to help. In addition, the current political situation in Washington with Republicans in charge of the House means no stimulus will likely be forthcoming to ameliorate the cuts.

Hennelly said the city’s current budget situation dates back to the seventies, when the city's fiscal crisis led it to give up sovereignty over things like mass transit and City University. The city also lost the ability to negotiate contracts. Hennelly said that renewed control over contracts may be part of what Bloomberg plans to leave as his legacy as mayor.

Mayor Bloomberg’s point.. was that we have evolved, this culture has changed… in terms of accountability. So [New York City]'s managed well, in terms of its finances… in terms of its accountability and its ability to balance it’s books. It’s doing better than the state is, so is it not time to renegotiate that social contract between Albany and the city? That’s why [the mayor]’s talking about self-determination for the city… because contracts that the city is going to pay for with its workers are resolved up in Albany. That doesn’t make sense.

But the mayor's approach certainly has its detractors. Brooklyn City Councilmember Brad Lander (D-39) had this to say:

I was surprised to hear the mayor call it ‘good news.’ I agree with the mayor that the city... has acted prudently in the past, that decisions made in the better times to put money away have cushioned the recession and that we’ve made a lot of tough decisions…. But how you can call it good news to propose to lay off 4,500 teachers, eliminate over 16,000 child care slots for low-income working families who need those slots to go to work, to close 100 senior centers — more than a third of them in total, to continue major cuts to libraries and parks, to discontinue vouchers that help people get out of homeless shelters? That’s not good news.

Specifically Lander wants to see the renewal of the personal income tax surcharge, which hits the wealthiest households in New York State and brings in between $4 and $5 billion annually. The surcharge is due to expire at the end of the year, but Lander thinks a continuation would be preferable to laying off teachers. 

Lander agreed that the recovery of Wall Street has been good for New York City from a revenue point of view, but he pointed out that the financial collapse was also largely generated there. He would like the city to diversify its economy more, with greater investment in blue-collar and green jobs, though he is pleased that tourism and even real estate are now doing relatively well. 

Those are the assets New York has. That’s also why we have to invest in keeping them in place, that’s why investing in the future — investing in education and child care and in our capital needs. That’s what got New York City through this recession, is by being a place people wanted to be, businesses wanted to be, and I think it’s a mistake to under-invest in them for the future.


Listen to Bob Hennelly on The Brian Lehrer Show:


Listen to City Councilmember Brad Lander on The Brian Lehrer Show: