The mayor will need to do something he has rarely been able to: ask the labor unions to share in the sacrifice. The Citizens Budget Commission found that the city could save nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in the first year alone, rising to a saving of $750 million annually after several years.
Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, said she determined that a $150,000 salary cap on the city’s nonunion work force could save New York $200 million every year.
The mayor must also get serious about enforcing overtime caps, which have been blown for years by city agencies. As just one example, this year’s budget calls for overtime pay at the Police Department to be reduced by $350 million, a commitment that should be kept.
There are other cuts to be made. Scott Stringer, the city comptroller, has urged the mayor to demand that agencies come to the table with greater savings, an exercise former Mayor Michael Bloomberg turned to frequently that can help force agencies to become more efficient.
Laura Feyer, a spokeswoman for Mayor de Blasio, said the city had already shrunk its budget significantly. “We can’t just cut our way out of this Covid-19-induced budget hole,” she said in a email. “We are not asking for borrowing to avoid making hard choices. We’re going to continue having discussions with unions to avert as much pain as possible, but we all agree long-term borrowing is the best solution.”
The uncertainty around New York’s financial position has some calling for the state’s Financial Control Board, created in the mid-1970s to oversee the city through its fiscal crisis, to take the reins of New York’s finances. That is premature and should be avoided if at all possible. New York’s mayor and City Council, duly elected by New York voters, are far more accountable to residents than a panel in Albany. The city should be given a real chance at managing this crisis.
To make it through, the city needs Mr. de Blasio to act swiftly and forcefully to make tough cuts that will save the city greater pain later. With any luck, this lame-duck mayor is still up to the task.