When normally reserved state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Citizens Budget Commission head Andrew Rein jointly roll out the A-word — “alarming” — to describe city finances, you can bet New Yorkers are headed for a world of fiscal hurt.
The two did just that last week, warning that the city now faces “a fiscal cliff.”
“Our mandate is to alert the public when the city faces an alarming financial situation,” the watchdogs wrote in a Crain’s op-ed column.
“That moment has arrived: major looming budget gaps will have serious consequences for New Yorkers, unless action is taken now.”
Gotham could see a staggering $14 billion cash shortfall next year — and that’s based on far more conservative numbers than the city uses.
DiNapoli and Rein blame “the staggering influx of asylum seekers and migrants” for straining social services and squeezing the budget, racking up costs that could rival what the city spends on sanitation and parks combined.
Outlays to accommodate migrants, per City Hall, could top $12 billion over three years — and account for 42% of next year’s $14 billion gap.
Yet, the watchdogs stress, “the major underlying cause of the budget gap comes from years of added and expanded city programs” backed by little or no funding.
“City-funded spending has increased more than 50% over the past decade while recurring revenues have not kept pace.”
They’re referring to the city’s profligate outlays under Mayor Bill de Blasio that exploded during COVID and were allowed to continue under Mayor Adams.
The city gave unions raises, adding $16 billion to the budget, with no way to pay for them — and no changes to work terms to lower costs.
It used federal COVID aid and a temporary tax-revenue surge from Wall Street bonuses to grow programs.
Overtime soared past budgeted amounts.
All that leaves the city facing “a fiscal cliff,” the men warned.
Which proves Adams right to impose up to 15% budget cuts at city agencies.
Meanwhile, raising taxes — already among the highest in the nation, prompting wealthy New Yorkers to flee (with their tax dollars) — is no longer an option.
The watchdogs suggest, for starters, improving efficiency and managing the city’s headcount carefully.
Yet beyond that, the city needs to prioritize important services — like policing — when it comes time to cut.
Notably, schools are ripe for cuts: Gotham already spends more per student than just about any other big city in America — about triple the national average.
And total Department of Education outlays keep rising even though public-school enrollment is falling.
Indeed, without serious cuts, per-pupil spending grow even higher.
Which is why Schools Chancellor David Banks is raising the idea of consolidating some schools — such as high schools with enrollments as low as 80 kids.
City Hall itself praised DiNapoli and Rein for issuing the warnings: “As the op-ed says, ‘Hard choices must be made, with the needs of New Yorkers — today and in the future — at the center.’”
Yet progressives will be pushing for more unfunded spending.
If Hizzoner can’t face them down, the city’s headed back into receivership a la the 1970s.