The executive budget that Mayor Michael Bloomberg released this month shows a $3.4 billion surplus for the current fiscal year (which ends on June 30th). The real surplus is $5.2 billion; the mayor has already moved the rest off-budget in various ways for future use.
This is just one example of the mayor's ever-expanding domination of the budget process. Another example was his success with the stadium financing deal that the city council approved almost unanimously in April.The council, the city’s countervailing budget power, has been unusually accommodating in its responses to the mayor's initiatives.
But the council has very little to show for its cooperation. The executive budget, according to the New York Times, retains some $338 million in cuts to council-supported programs â€“- part of the so-called budget dance that keeps the council at bay.
The one new council suggestion that the mayor adopted, $12 million for police vests, is insignificant in a $53 billion budget. And the council request for a more transparent, more detailed budget presentation has translated into the weak promise of a pilot project in two agencies, one of which, the Department of Small Business Services, is among the city’s smallest agencies ($51 million in city funding).
$1.8 Billion Off The Table
The City Council has already approved the mayor's plan to take $1.8 billion of this year's surplus off the table:
- $1 billion to a retiree health fund
- $200 million paid in cash ("pay as you go") for capital projects
- $232 million in tobacco-settlement funds saved for later use.
- $350 million of debt service paid off early.
The remaining $3.4 billion surplus (which may in fact rise further in the several weeks left in this fiscal year) will be "rolled over" into 2007 by pre-paying certain expenses in 2006, such as debt service that would be otherwise due in 2007.
The mayor has seemingly given up on additional federal aid. He has a long menu of requests from Washington -- $920 million worth, mostly for additional education aid â€“ but he assumes only $50 million of new aid in the new budget plan.
As usual with Bloomberg budgets, there is very little mayoral text accompanying the budget documents. The general tone of the minimal prose remains cautious: Non-discretionary spending (pensions, health benefits, Medicaid, debt service) goes up 12.9 percent next year, but agency spending goes up only 1.8 percent. Budget deficits in later years remain high, averaging $3.8 billion from 2008 to 2010. (The fiscal monitors will review these numbers in the next few weeks.)
Thus, despite two years of enormous surpluses, there is surprisingly little discussion of alternatives to the mayor's choices. As the City Council moves to adopt the budget next month, the floor seems set for a re-staging of last year's budget dance -- the restoration of some $300 million that the mayor cut in council programs, and perhaps a few additional council initiatives. But in some ways the budget battle has already been won by the mayor.
Glenn Pasanen, who teaches political science at Lehman College, has been in charge of Gotham Gazette's finance topic page since 2001.Â