Dreaming of Budget Discipline
July 1, 2020
Dear friends and supporters!
Last night, the City Council voted to approve the 2021 budget (our fiscal year began today). NYC is required by law to produce a balanced budget each year. Albany politicians are famous for their secret back-room budget deals, but the small team of negotiators who worked with Mayor de Blasio on this budget held just a single public hearing last month. Coupled with the reality of uncertainty and trauma across NYC, palpable tensions collided with supersized egos last night as politicians justified their positions, frustrations, and ultimately, their votes.
Why does any of this matter to you? The 2021 budget matters, in part, because it is based on pipe-dream revenues! Last year expenditures were $93 billion on city revenues of approx $60 billion (state and federal funds make up the difference). 2021 expenditures are now planned at $88.2 billion with revenues of $58 billion. COVID19 halted virtually all services and business operations. Tourism is obliterated. The NYC Marathon is even cancelled this year. Do government officials really think that the city will bring in $58 billion in tax revenue?
That thinking aside, here’s the bigger problem, and here’s why I wanted to write this post. Budgets are a road map of values and priorities. The Mayor of NYC consults with Borough Presidents but ultimately, City Council leadership and the Mayor hammer out the deal to provide all government services so that New Yorkers can go about their lives. Since 2014 when this crew of NYC leaders took office, expenditures have ballooned from $70 billion to $102 billion, a 46% increase in just eight years. But is New York doing better? Are New Yorker’s lives better?
I’m not. Most of my neighbors, friends, and fellow parents aren’t. Private sector booms have been limited to certain sectors of the economy, leaving many hard-working New Yorkers behind more each year. We all carry a ton of debt and pay a huge percentage of our income to live in Manhattan. Tens of thousands are priced out each year, and most of these New Yorkers are essential workers. Worse, we are spending more for government services but receiving fewer benefits and lower quality services.
Just look at public schools. Hundreds of high-paid DOE executives have been added to the payroll in recent years, hundreds of millions of dollars have been paid to corporate consultants, yet many community schools can’t afford librarians, art, music, basic supplies. They can’t afford full time nurses, social workers, and guidance counselors. One school in my district in Harlem recently operated an entire year with less than $5,000 for all of its expenses.
COVID19, the economic collapse and the death of George Floyd and other Black Americans call everything that we know about the government into question. Our budget values and priorities have to meet the moment! Our budgets must:
- Reflect our renewed commitment to divest in the NYPD and restructure the way that we navigate community issues for which the police have come to be responsible.
- Redesign funding structures for community services, starting with public schools, so that essential workers and services are prioritized over bureaucrats and consultants.
- Demonstrate a vision of community that supports the ability of all New Yorkers to live, work, and thrive in their neighborhoods. To do this, leaders must strive to synthesize ways to serve the public without exacerbating oppressions such as unaffordable housing, inoperable public transportation, damage to our environment, and institutional racism and biases.
- Be derived from a process that is open and transparent.
The 2021 NYC budget will likely change again, once revenue estimates show true damage of the COVID19 shutdown. Brace yourself, because as of last night, the majority of the cuts hit those of us at the bottom of the city’s food chain first.
Please chip in to help me build my team and fight for you! Chip in to prioritize our essential workers. Chip in to support our most vulnerable. Chip in to protect essential services. Chip in to help me become the next Manhattan Borough President!