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City workers were left behind in Bloomberg era

Opinion

[This column originally appeared in the Nov. 18 issue of City & State.]

Mayor Bloomberg has spent recent years claiming poverty — that the city has no money for its workers. He has described retroactive pay, including for workers who haven’t gotten a contract raise in four years, as “something the city can’t possibly afford.”

But the reality is that the city has consistently had more money available than the Mayor has maintained. Rather than be fair to city employees, the Bloomberg administration has repeatedly chosen to spend public resources on tax breaks for developers or for consultant contracts on failed or overpriced projects.

Underestimating revenue, overestimating expenses

As part of the city’s multi-year financial planning process, budget games begin well before each fiscal year begins. In January 2010, for instance, the Mayor’s Financial Plan projected a deficit of $4.8 billion for fiscal 2013 (the fiscal year that just ended June 30, 2013). At the beginning of that fiscal year the Mayor took great credit for having eliminated that projected $4.8 billion deficit, but in reality most of it was accomplished by little more than budget legerdemain — re-estimates, adjustments and unspecified "efficiencies.”  

And when fiscal 2013 finally ended, there was actually a budget surplus of more than $2.8 billion.

How did that happen? As the city Comptroller's final report on the last fiscal year shows, revenues came in well above what the city had projected, while spending in many categories was substantially smaller.

Taxes, including personal income and general corporation tax, along with real estate and sales taxes, came in more than $2 billion over projections.

Meanwhile, the city "saved” nearly $1 billion because it had overestimated how much it would have to spend for expenses like supplies and materials, the cost of borrowing for bond issues and fuel and energy costs.

In fact the Comptroller’s report shows that the total of under-spending and revenues above budget projections was nearly $6 billion ($5.827). This amount made it easy for the city to deal with issues like the loss of funds from the expected taxi medallion sale, an unrealistic estimate of increases in state aid, and some higher-than-expected other expenses, even while rolling its $2.8 billion surplus into the next year.

Breaks for developers and consultants

After years of indulging in corporate loopholes and giveaways like more than $100 million in tax breaks for the new Goldman Sachs headquarters and paying consulting firms hundreds of millions of dollars to work on failed technology projects like CityTime, the Mayor saved one of his largest corporate handouts for the final moments of his tenure: hundreds of millions of dollars for developers through the midtown east rezoning.

The rezoning was stopped only recently by the City Council, which balked at the potential loss of millions in tax revenues from letting air rights in the neighborhood go to developers at fire-sale prices.  Transportation advocates calculated that the deal that the administration proposed would have left more than $360 million on the table.

Most of the Bloomberg administration’s claimed successes — from falling crime stats to higher high school graduation rates — came from the efforts of city workers. Yet Bloomberg leaves office with a multi-billion-dollar budget surplus and every single union contract expired.

The city’s workforce doesn’t expect favoritism from the de Blasio administration. But we do expect fairness, and an acknowledgment that it is our work that keeps this city going.