Mayor Bill de Blasio will translate his campaign pledge to battle income inequality into hard numbers this week when he unveils his opening proposals on the city’s $70 billion budget.
Taken together, de Blasio’s State of the City speech Monday and the budget draft for 2014-15 he releases Wednesday are the opening steps of a bargaining process that runs through June, with the mayor’s office, the City Council, the five boroughs, nonprofits, lobbyists, labor unions and other interest groups all jockeying over spending.
In previewing Monday’s speech, de Blasio has spoken of working “to make this one city, where everyone rises together,” and vowing to take on “big challenges with bold, progressive solutions.” But the mayor also said last week that the budget would uphold “fiscal stability” — a signal to both those seeking funds and those fearing wholesale giveaways to the 152 labor unions with expired contracts.
The unions, who cover most of the city’s 300,000 employees, are clamoring for raises and retroactive raises. De Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, warned that granting the back pay could blow an $8 billion hole in the budget.
Maris Doulis of the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission said that the scale of de Blasio’s spending ambitions would hinge partly on how conservatively he and his team forecasts future revenue.
“If you’re expecting more revenue, you have more resources to do policies and programs — assuming of course your assumptions are proven to be correct,” Doulis said.
The city’s Independent Budget Office has forecast a $1.9 billion surplus for 2015, but that figure does not factor in potential labor-settlement costs.
While Bloomberg handed over a budget he boasted was balanced, de Blasio never fully bought into that notion, calling the open labor contracts “a huge asterisk.” The city’s budget — bigger than that of all but a few states and which by law must be balanced — pays the salaries of municipal workers, keeps parks open, shelters the homeless, adds to pensions of retirees, and much more.
Much of it — 63% — is funded by taxes. De Blasio has repeatedly vowed not to raise property taxes, one of the few in which the city can set rates on its own.
Budget watchers expect de Blasio’s fiscal plan will reflect the assumption that he’ll get Albany’s green light to hike taxes on people with incomes above $500,000, which would raise $530 million a year to fund universal full-day prekindergarten and after-school programs for middle schoolers.
Indeed, past mayors state of the city speeches have proven valuable roadmaps. Mike Bloomberg’s first such address, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, called for such changes as the use of 311 as one-stop customer service for government and mayoral control of schools, both of which would become hallmarks of his mayoralty.