Few national politicos are interested in fiscal responsibility, which should be a relief to Mayor Bill de Blasio. His budget numbers are in, and Hizzoner’s what-me-worry profligacy stands out even by the standards of Washington.
He’d better hope that the debt-fueled national economic boom holds — because it’s the only thing keeping his city together in his absence.
For the fiscal year that starts on July 1, Gotham is on track to spend close to $95.6 billion. Of that, $73 billion is local-taxpayer money; the rest is federal and state grants. That’s a big jump from the $69.7 billion in local money in the fiscal year that’s just ending — 4.8%, when inflation is running about 1.8%.
The city budget is yet another way that de Blasio is losing his rivalry with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. State grants to the city are down by more than $100 million for the upcoming year. But rather than direct key voting blocs’ ire toward Albany over cuts, de Blasio just makes up for the spending at the local level, then complains about it.
“On the budget level, we have taken hits year after year,” he sighed recently, hardly a call to a Democratic Legislature to change the situation.
De Blasio has now finished six of his eight budgets as mayor — and the bigger picture is even more alarming. In 2014, the mayor inherited the final Bloomberg spending plan, $56.3 billion in local taxpayer spending. Over six years, then, local spending has soared 30%. Even in rich New York, an abrupt $20 billion in new annual spending is a lot of money.
How do de Blasio’s first six years stack up against Bloomberg’s final six years? Between 2008 and 2014, local spending increased 25 percent, hardly austerity. But back then, pension costs for retirees — something that is hard to fix in the short term, because it’s partly dependent on Albany — were soaring, going from $5.7 billion to $8.3 billion a year.
De Blasio has no such external excuse. Pension spending has all but leveled off. It’s striking that de Blasio’s higher spending comes with no real theme: Even pre-K, his signature first-term initiative, isn’t all that expensive ($1 billion) in the context of the city budget.
The theme, really, is more city employees and higher city salaries and wages. In 2014, the city had fewer than 302,000 workers. Today, it has 332,000. De Blasio has hired cops, taking the total for uniformed workers up by about 4,000 people. And he’s hired teachers, about 10,000.
But mostly, he’s hired administrators and civilian workers. Did we really need 2,000 new non-teacher workers at the Department of Education? Overall, the city has 15,000 new civilian — non-teacher, non-uniformed — workers compared to 2014, bringing the total to 139,115 people. The city’s civilian workforce is up nearly 12%, outpacing the teacher and uniformed workforce.
As the workforce has grown, salaries and wages have grown, too, from $24.5 billion in 2014 to $30 billion for the upcoming year — up by 22% over six years.
New York can afford all this spending because it’s lived in a sense of unreality for the past six years. Indeed, the city continually has to adjust its projected tax revenues up; it expects to take in an extra $800 million in taxes over the next year than it projected just in April.
In a sense, then, de Blasio is an apt presidential candidate for our times. This unreality is largely fueled by debt; with global interest rates remaining at record lows, corporations, people and governments alike have borrowed record amounts, and much of this debt-creating flows through Wall Street, juicing up financials’ profits.
De Blasio has taken advantage of his city as the epicenter of the good times — and is now trying to get to Washington before it becomes the epicenter of the bad times.
In the past six years, total American debt has increased by $9.1 trillion, or nearly 21%. That’s what has fueled much of our supposed “recovery.” De Blasio can tell national voters he’s increased his city’s spending even faster than that.
This piece originally appeared at the New York Post
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images