Is Mayor Bill de Blasio a progressive? Revealing his budget last Thursday, the mayor said he equates “fiscal responsibility” with “progressive values.”
But it's not progressive or responsible to put poor New Yorkers at risk of severe and sudden cutbacks in a couple of years' time so that our fresh-faced mayor can pretend that everything is wonderful now.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer — our elected fiscal watchdog — should say so.
What's progressive about the mayor's budget?
It may (or may not) be progressive to pay veteran teachers $119,565 after their 18 percent raises kick in — and keep giving them free health care and risk-free pensions, plus a $54,000 retroactive paycheck in a few years' time, to boot.
But what's not in dispute is whether it's fiscally irresponsible.
That's because we can't afford it.
That is not a matter of opinion.
No matter how enthusiastically de Blasio tortures the numbers, he can't hide the fact that his blowout on raises for city workers has doubled next year's budget deficit, from $1.1 billion to $2.2 billion.
The shortfall two years from now has quadrupled, from $530 million to $2 billion. And the one three years out has gone up eightfold, from $370 million to $3.2 billion.
That's after the health-care-efficiency savings that de Blasio has promised. (Even with those savings, health-benefit spending on public workers is still shooting up, from $6.9 billion this year to $9 billion in 2018.)
The mayor pointed out Thursday that, well, his new deficits aren't so bad, compared to those we saw in the past.
Well, sure. Over the past 15 years, we had the tech bubble burst, we had 9/11 and we had the collapse of the housing and bank bubbles. What's de Blasio's crisis?
Right now, we have a local economy going along swimmingly (for the moment) and a surprise $1.2 billion surplus. That's thanks to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's cautious budgeting.
De Blasio, on the other hand, has increased estimates for future tax revenues — making it more likely that any future surprise will be a bad one.
Plus … the inconvenient fact is that de Blasio's maiden budget — for the year that starts July 1 — isn't really balanced.
The mayor's strange solution to giving unaffordable teachers' raises is to pay teachers tomorrow for work they did yesterday.
We knew that before the Thursday budget.
But de Blasio isn't just backloading these costs over five years, which would be bad enough. He's really backloading them. As became clear Thursday, a full 75 percent of these payments for past work — or $1.8 billion — won't be paid until starting in 2019, in the next mayoral term.
And if de Blasio had to pay for these past teacher raises now — as he should — it would blow a $4.3 billion hole in his “balanced” budget, since he couldn't offset future health-care savings against the cost.
Making whoever wins the next mayoral race pay for this mayor's raises for teaching done during the last mayor's term — if that makes any sense at all — violates a key accounting principle: Pay for a good or a service when you receive it.
Stringer, whom New Yorkers elected to keep watch over the city's finances, should say so.
The comptroller shouldn't worry about looking anti-labor, either. If we can afford to pay the teachers these raises, then we should pay them — so it's back to the budget drawing board to find the cash. (Good luck.)
But if we can't afford them now, what's to make us think we can afford them later — without putting poor children at risk for budget cuts a few years in the future?
It's quite obvious that even the mayor's staff is a little nervous about this budget trick.
Last Thursday — after I had already publicly questioned whether state law permits this accounting trick — the mayor's handlers told me I couldn't go to the technical part of the budget briefing, and relented only after I agreed not to ask any questions.
Why? Because I am “not a member of the media.”
I'll live — although I've asked questions of de Blasio and his staff at past press conferences.
Then-Mayor Bloomberg — as well as a parade of other elected and appointed officials — never told specific people they weren't allowed to ask questions at press conferences.
De Blasio said Thursday that before he became mayor, he “emphatically tried to stay away from accounting.”
Yet his people, at least, may know enough about accounting to know: The fewer questions asked about his accounting methods, the better.
Original Source: http://nypost.com/2014/05/11/bills-cooked-books/