The costly legacy of De Blasio: the city’s greatest work force of all time
As the 109th mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio will be remembered for many things: creating a universal preschool, eating pizza with a fork, setting a record for the tallest mayor at almost 6ft 6 inches and accidentally kill a groundhog.
But a central part of his administration has received less attention: his passion for money.
Under Mr. de Blasio, the city’s budget hit a record $ 102.8 billion and the city’s workforce reached more than 325,000 employees, its highest level on record.
Its final budget, over $ 25 billion higher than its first budget in 2014, had something for everyone: $ 377 million to expand 3-K for preschoolers, $ 234 million to hire workers to clean up the city, $ 200 million for summer programs for children and $ 10 million to enforce its vaccination mandate for restaurants. Federal pandemic relief funds have paid for much of this largesse.
The next mayor, Eric Adams, will face a much less rosy financial picture and tough decisions to balance the budget, as the surge in Omicron’s coronavirus cases raises doubts over the city’s recovery from the pandemic.
The city will have a budget gap of nearly $ 3 billion next year and another $ 2.7 billion gap the following year. Mr. Adams must negotiate new contracts with municipal unions, some of which are demanding increases. Programs like 3-K that are funded with federal funds will need new sources of revenue in the years to come.
Mr de Blasio’s spending spree could create problems for Mr Adams, and some budget experts say Mr de Blasio should have been more prudent financially.
“Bill de Blasio will certainly be remembered as a budget expansionist,” said Andrew Rein, chairman of the Citizens Budget Commission, a non-partisan budget watchdog group.
The city’s workforce plummeted after the 2008 recession under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, but quickly started to increase again after Mr. de Blasio took office, pleasing the city’s municipal unions. , some of whom were major donors to the mayor’s political efforts.
In Mr de Blasio’s third year in power, the city employed 287,002 full-time workers, more than at any time in its modern history, and that number continued to increase until the pandemic. The number of people fell to around 313,000 in September due to the belt tightening, but is expected to increase in the coming year.
The city’s growing workforce will come with long-term costs for the city in health care, pensions and benefits, Rein said.
“We have a recurring bill when we hire people, and it has to be sustainable,” he said. “We don’t need a record workforce, we need an efficient workforce that provides high quality services. “
Mr Adams, a former police captain who broadcast a public safety message, said he intended to be more frugal. He often speaks of finding efficiencies in government and has called for a two-year hiring freeze and spending cuts in each agency by 3-5%.
Mr. Adams recently created a new post called the “Efficiency Czar” and appointed Melanie LaRocca, Commissioner of the Ministry of Buildings, to this post.
“Unfortunately, inefficiency currently plagues our municipal agencies,” Adams said when announcing his appointment. “Making the government more responsive and streamlined will be one of my top priorities as mayor. “
At the same time, Mr. Adams was strongly supported by District Council 37, the city’s largest union of public servants, representing 150,000 members and 50,000 retirees. The union spent about $ 1 million to help Adams during the hotly contested June primary; after his victory, union executive director Henry Garrido called Adams a “champion of essential workers”.
Indeed, municipal collective agreements will be another early challenge for Mr. Adams. The Independent Budget Office estimates that a 1% wage hike could cost the city around $ 600 million in the next fiscal year.
The leader of a major police union, Patrick J. Lynch – whose union supported Adams and two other moderate candidates in the Democratic primary in June – has already called for an increase in the number of police officers.
New York Mayor Eric Adams’ new administration
Mr Lynch pointed to an editorial published in 2019 by Mr Adams in the New York Daily News that officers deserved salary increases comparable to those in other cities and that becoming an officer had provided Mr Adams with “a pathway towards the middle class. “
“We intend to keep his word,” said Lynch.
Under Mayor de Blasio, the education department has grown by around 9,800 employees since 2014, mainly through the expansion of the mayor’s preschool for 3 and 4 year olds.
But other services have also grown: the fire department has 1,500 more employees, which the city says has beefed up ambulance personnel and reduced response times, and the health department has 1,000 more. . Information technology increased by 42% and transport service by 16%, thanks to the mayor’s “Vision Zero” road safety plan.
Mr de Blasio’s final budget also increased police department spending by $ 200 million, including a $ 166 million increase for overtime, bringing police spending to a total of $ 5.6 billion. of dollars. Mr Adams criticized the leftist “defund the police” movement but said he wanted to cut the department’s spending on overtime.
The New York Post editorial board said Mr. de Blasio was leaving Mr. Adams, his political ally, with a “looming tax nightmare.” Joe Borelli, the new Republican minority leader on city council, said de Blasio had treated the city’s budget “the same way rock bands treat hotel rooms.”
Earlier this month, Mr de Blasio, who plans to run for governor in 2022, defended his liberal spending and recruiting, arguing it was part of his efforts to reduce income inequality and more recently to help the city recover from the pandemic. .
“The fact that New York City, before our administration, was not spending resources on early childhood education was absolutely missing the mark,” de Blasio told reporters.
Asked about programs like 3-K that don’t have long-term funding sources, Mr de Blasio said he believed Mr Adams would make those programs a priority.
“What happens in the future is if something is really a priority, then this is where the first resources go, and this is what has to happen,” he said. .
But the city’s tax base is uncertain as another wave of coronavirus cases and views on work and commuting are being re-examined, said George Sweeting, deputy director of the Independent Budget Office. Mr Sweeting said he was concerned about the future costs of retiree health benefits: the city has not put enough money aside to fund them safely, he said.
“These costs increase and may consume more of the budget over time,” he said.