Nicole Gelinas I February 13, 2014
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s inaugural budget left big fiscal questions unanswered. The budget contained a smaller puzzle, too – one that further muddles the mayor’s argument for hiking taxes to spend more on education.
In his Blue Room presentation Wednesday, de Blasio persisted with his plan to use $530 million from a new tax on the wealthy to pay for pre-K and after-school programs. (Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who must sign off on a such a tax hike, spent the mayor’s budget day honing his opposition to the tax.)
But beyond that figure, the mayor said he wants another half-a-billion dollars from Albany, as well. “In this preliminary budget,” notes the mayor’s fact sheet, ”the de Blasio administration is asking the state for an additional $500 million to fund improvements to New York City public schools.”
De Blasio said he’d spend that other $500 million on smaller class sizes (meaning more teachers) as well as more teachers’ aides and something called “raising the floor.”
But unlike with the $530 million in requested pre-K tax money, de Blasio won’t rely on this other $500 million to balance this year’s budget. That is: if this extra money doesn’t come through, the city won’t spend it.
This points up two problems with de Blasio’s budgeting approach.
First: if this randomly desired $500 million has nothing to with the task at hand – balancing the annual budget – then why include it in a budget presentation? De Blasio spent much of his first budget presentation talking about things that have nothing to do with the mayor’s mandate, under state law, to make sure that the city doesn’t spend more than it takes in.
Second, the request for another $500 million from Albany highlights the flaws in de Blasio’s tax-hike argument. De Blasio has repeatedly refused an offer of cash from Albany in lieu of the tax hike to pay for pre-K. He has refused Cuomo’s offer because, the mayor says, New York City cannot rely on Albany to keep up the funding year after year amid economic and political cycles.
But if money from Albany is so unreliable, then why does de Blasio want an additional half a billion dollars from Albany? After all, even though the city may not need this money now for budget balance, after the city has received the money and grown accustomed to spending it year after year, the city would be on the hook to maintain this new spending if Albany ever cut back.
One takeaway from the new mayor’s first crack at the budget: de Blasio wants to rely more on Albany, even as he says he wants to rely less on Albany.