Since the city’s recovery from the 1975 fiscal crisis, mayors and the media have treated the city’s budget-day announcement as a sober technocratic event. Mayor de Blasio, by contrast, used his annual unveiling of the city’s revenue and spending blueprint on May 8 as a campaign-style opportunity to push what he himself called a “progressive” agenda. The budget adds money to enforce the city’s new mandated sick-leave law for private employers, and it spends more for public housing and education. But the most controversial and fiscally explosive portion offers retroactive pay raises to the city’s teachers and, later, raises for other city employees at a projected added cost of $9 billion over four years.
The mayor calls his budget “historic” and “transcendent.” Indeed, for the first time since New York recovered from its near-bankruptcy of the 1970s, the city is willing explicitly to spend beyond its means to buy labor peace. The new teachers’ contract, including $4.3 billion in retroactive pay raises back to 2009, is the acute example.
De Blasio’s plan to march New York right back to the brink of bankruptcy might be stopped by a sort of mayoral safety net put in place after the debacle of the 70s:
After the fiscal crisis of the ’70s, New York state and city set up institutional checks and balances to make sure that no mayor can ruin the city again. Mr. Stringer and State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli serve on the state’s Financial Control Board, ultimately controlled by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The board can take over if it finds an operating deficit of more than $100 million, or if it finds the city is borrowing for operating expenses. Proper accounting for the teachers’ deal would expose the city as committing both of those sins.
Read the whole thing, and remember that de Blasio won in a landslide, 72.2% to 24%. For reasons I’ve not seen satisfactorily explained—but which I think represented lack of enthusiasm for both candidates—the turnout in that election was a record low of 24%.