Mayor Bill de Blasio’s strategy for resolving New York City’s 150-plus labor contracts was left opaque yesterday in his first budget proposal.
He presented a sobering fiscal outlook, saying the budget for fiscal year 2015, which begins July 1, is balanced only thanks to leftover resources from previous years. He projected a $1.1 billion deficit for fiscal year 2016.
“We enter this process with a clear vision of the fiscal challenges ahead, including the structural deficits we face each year,” he said, in unveiling his preliminary financial plan at City Hall.
De Blasio’s budget would replenish the retiree health benefits trust fund with $1 billion and increase general reserve funds for future years to $600 million annually.
But he sidestepped a question about whether those funds would go toward potential raises or retroactive pay for the city’s 300,000 unionized workers, and he blamed Michael Bloomberg for leaving the city in a bind.
“It’s money that should have been have been there already as a matter of fiscal prudence,” he said. “The previous administration was given an artificially high level of credit for management. ... You cannot ignore open labor contracts for years on end.”
The introduction of de Blasio’s $73.7 billion budget blueprint marks the start of a monthslong bargaining process among the mayor, the City Council, lobbyists, labor unions and other interests.
De Blasio and his budget director Dean Fuleihan would not detail how the city will handle any union salary hikes and about $8 billion in backpay requests.
“We don’t get into the specific numbers because the demands of the negotiation process require discretion,” de Blasio said, adding, “We do know we’re going to need cost savings and efficiencies to get through this.”
The mayor said, however, that no tax increases are planned beyond the proposed hike on those earning more than $500,000 to fund his universal prekindergarten and after-school initiative.
His budget includes an additional $530 million revenue for the estimated cost of pre-K programs — even though the city’s prospects of winning the state legislative approval necessary to move forward are uncertain.
Maria Doulis, director of city studies at the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission, called the $1 billion restoration to the health care fund “very prudent and forward looking.”
City Council Finance Committee chair Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) said she doesn’t believe the fund will be depleted by union pay demands.
“We have an incredible growth ... in health care when it comes to those expenses, and it’s him being responsible and balancing our budget,” she said of the mayor.
Councilmember Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) stressed the city’s challenges.
“To say there’s extra money floating around is a misstatement, because built into this budget is the fact that we have to pay our workers,” he said. “You can’t disrespect the workers and let them work without a contract.”