Bill de Blasio’s Budget: Counting on the Future to Pay for Progressivism Today

by Katherine Connell

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a proudly “progressive” $73.9 billion budget yesterday (he used the word five times in introducing the blueprint to the press). It includes, the New York Times, reports “significant new spending on education, social services and municipal payrolls — but virtually no service cuts or new channels of revenue.” The proposed budget is balanced, as it must be by law, but it achieves this by tapping into a surplus left over from former mayor Michael Bloomberg’s last budget and, as the Wall Street Journal puts it, “blowing wider than expected holes in future budgets.”

The cost of new union contracts will be almost $18 billion through 2021. De Blasio arrived at a deal with the New York City teachers’ union last week that would give teachers a 10 percent pay increase over seven years and include retroactive pay raises for the years during which Bloomberg and the union failed to arrive at an agreement. De Blasio wants to make this the basis of all agreements with the city’s unions. Much of the retroactive raises for the rest of city workers would be paid out a few years down the line, with a large chunk of the tab coming due in 2018, 2019, and 2020.

Budget-watchdog groups are skeptical. The president of the non-partisan Citizens Budget Commission compared the plan to defer labor costs to “going to a restaurant and . . . saying to the waiter ‘I’ll give you 75% of the bill now and then in five years charge whoever’s in the restaurant the rest.’”

About future projected budget deficits, de Blasio is “confident that we will be able to handle them in time.” He apparently does not think this faith is at odds with his belief that “part of being an honest progressive is recognizing the world as it is” and having a “strong and stable foundation” for an expansive government. “There are some that have trouble equating fiscal responsibility with progressive values,” de Blasio said, suggesting that his budget should ease such concerns.

The rise in labor costs is supposed to be partially offset by reducing the cost of union health-care plans. De Blasio has not said how these savings will be achieved but has ruled out the possibility of workers’ paying any more toward the cost of their premiums.  

The City Council must approve the budget before July 1. City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a far-left ideological ally of the mayor’s, is mostly satisfied by it, although she was disappointed that the budget did not include a provision of free lunch for all New York City public schoolchildren regardless of income. De Blasio liked the idea, but feared that it would interfere with securing federal money for school lunches.