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LifestyleColumnistsDan Janison

De Blasio budget relies less on smoke and mirrors

Mayor Bill de Blasio waves after delivering his

Mayor Bill de Blasio waves after delivering his first State of the City address on Feb. 10, 2014, at LaGuardia Community College in Queens. Photo Credit: Getty Images / John Moore

In unveiling his first fiscal plan as New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio did what's expected from a freshly elected executive.

He played up challenges he inherited.

He cautiously played down cash surpluses.

He gave new numbers to buttress his agenda.

He dodged specifics in areas yet to be bargained, most obviously labor contracts.

And he announced some shifts in the way his annual spending plan of nearly $74 billion would be crafted.

The political strategy behind the documents distributed seemed clear enough.

For example, de Blasio announced that he'd cut out the annual "Kabuki theater" of cuts and restorations. In it, past mayors would slash funding for 20 or so firehouses and other spending items fully expecting that the City Council would "restore" them in the final deal in June.

That makes sense, since de Blasio is the first mayor to take office under the current charter in clear alliance with the council's leadership.

In addition, he moved to scrap ex-Mayor Michael Bloomberg's practice of charging the Housing Authority $52 million for police coverage, and to restore "homelessness prevention" programs Bloomberg rejected.

While Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo reinforced his objection to funding pre-K by taxing the rich, de Blasio projected charts on a screen intended to rebut objections from the Democratic governor and others in Albany.

Once again, de Blasio pushed the point that he's in this drive for the long haul.

For those who could be convinced, one graph showed that 95 percent of the estimated $530 million in added annual revenue would come from those with incomes above $1 million. Another illustrated that an increase from 3.9 to 4.4 percent for top earners was in range with levels paid some years ago.

Flanked at the rostrum by his budget director, Dean Fuleihan, de Blasio declared: "We are going to be upfront about the structural deficit in this budget."

That is, he's saying, the plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 relies on a $1.8 billion cash surplus from the prior budget. Without it, projected revenues and spending would not balance on their own.

Had he played up the surplus, others would have been invited to seek more spending, or demand funding pre-K without a tax hike, or call for bigger employee pay hikes.

Mayors, governors and county executives often spin and finesse the true level of resources available going into their negotiations with their legislatures.

And a de Blasio event this early in his tenure would have been incomplete without pokes at Bloomberg.

He cited "an artificially high level of credit for management" prowess afforded his predecessor, who left so many labor contracts unsettled for so long.

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