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Mayor Myopic

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Mayor Myopic

New York City faces a massive fiscal crisis and a private economy in tatters, but all Bill de Blasio seems to care about is preventing public-employee layoffs. November 6, 2020
New York
Economy, finance, and budgets
Politics and law

In the spring of 2020, as New York City faced a massive decline in revenue and a $10 billion deficit, Mayor Bill de Blasio began warning that budget cuts were imminent and that municipal workers might face layoffs, unless he could get help from Washington. For months, he demanded a federal bailout that would “make us whole.”

In April, at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in New York City, de Blasio said, “the one thing that I’ve asked the president for lately that should be the easiest part of the equation is to help New York City through this crisis, give us the financial support to make us whole, to actually balance our budget, pay our first responders and our public servants who are doing this work.”

In August, looking ahead to the election, he said, “I think that election could lead to a very different reality in Washington and a very different investment in New York City in the country as early as January or February.” But, the mayor warned, if “that doesn’t work, we’re moving forward layoffs on October 1st, I don’t want to, it’s 22,000 employees. I don’t want to do that. It would be horrible for them and their families, but that’s what we will do to get through if that’s our only choice.”

As October 1 loomed, de Blasio continued to fret about taking out the ax if the federal money didn’t come through. “What would really solve this,” he said, was “a federal stimulus, and it is shocking that it still hasn’t happened.”

Five weeks after the deadline, no federal bailout has materialized, and given the apparent results of the national election, there is no reason to expect one, either. In lieu of layoffs, de Blasio briefly furloughed his own office, which consists of more than 1,000 employees, many considered “special assistants” and making six-figure salaries. He touts close to $1 billion in “labor savings,” but these are really just deferred payments to the municipal unions in exchange for promises not to impose layoffs.

Gotham’s fiscal crisis is massive. This fiscal year and next could see a combined $20 billion shortfall in revenue. That money will have to come from somewhere, and budget cuts are unavoidable. The city’s private economy is in tatters, with an unemployment rate of 13.9 percent—more than double the rate of upstate economic basket cases like Watertown, Utica, or Buffalo. More than 800,000 New Yorkers—almost three times the total number of municipal workers—are looking for work.

Given these realities, it’s odd that de Blasio consistently frames the emergency around the possibility that municipal employees might face layoffs—as though a job with the city should be guaranteed for life, no matter what. The mayor’s constant focus on the impending layoffs of city workers reflects his blindness about New York’s private economy, which generates the revenue that pays those government-employee salaries in the first place.

To listen to de Blasio, you can almost imagine that the 330,000 employees of the City of New York are his true constituency. His myopia about the city’s broader economic and employment picture demonstrates how deeply local politics has been captured by public-sector unions.

Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images

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