New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Wednesday that he is furloughing his own staff, including himself, in a symbolic gesture that will save just $860,000 while the city faces a budget deficit of some $4.2billion.
The mayor’s plan will affect 495 City Hall staffers who will be asked to take an unpaid, weeklong furlough at some point between October and March 2021.
The furloughs will be taken by administrative assistants to both the mayor and his wife, Chirlane McCray, The New York Times is reporting.
De Blasio’s spokesperson told the Times that the mayor plans to continue working during his own furlough.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is seen above talking on the phone on the Coney Island Boardwalk in Coney Island, Brooklyn, on Tuesday
The spokesperson, Bill Neidhardt, said it was ‘a significant gesture that reasserts City Hall recognizes the sacrifices that will have to be made across the board if we don’t get a stimulus or borrowing.’
The mayor has warned that he may have to lay off 22,000 city employees if he and the union cannot agree on cost-cutting measures.
New York City also needs the state to grant it the authority to finance its operations with some $5billion in long-term debt.
The city has also asked the federal government for aid, but so far none appears to be coming.
The coronavirus outbreak had caused the city to lose $9billion in revenue and forced a $7billion cut to the city’s annual budget, de Blasio told reporters.
The furloughs will save only about $1million, the mayor said, but may serve as a useful symbol as he continues to negotiate with labor unions representing municipal employees over broader payroll savings.
‘It was not a decision I made lightly,’ he told reporters.
‘To have to do this is painful for them and their families, but it is the right thing to do at this moment in history.’
With the furloughs and other savings, the mayor’s office budget this fiscal year will be 12 per cent smaller than it was last year, de Blasio said, though he did not provide absolute totals.
The mayor has been more vocal about raising taxes for the rich over the last few months, to ease the city’s woes.
Just two weeks ago, on an appearance on The Brian Lehrer Show, de Blasio said: ‘Help me tax the wealthy. Help me redistribute wealth. Help me build affordable housing in white communities if you want desegregation,’ in response to a question about integrating public schools.
And on Monday, de Blasio advocated for owners of local sports stadiums, such as Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium, to also pay more taxes to help aid the city’s bounce-back.
‘Let’s be clear – sports franchises have gained incredible value over the years,’ de Blasio said during a press briefing.
‘They clearly have the resources. I think the history in this city and pretty much all over the country was stadium deals were not good deals for the public, by and large. Some of the more recent ones have been better, but mostly they haven’t been that good.
‘Everything should be reevaluated especially at a point when the city is going to need resources for our recovery.’
Other top city officials have also started urging the wealthy to pay higher taxes.
Comptroller Scott Stringer said the city’s wealthiest residents should be prepared to ‘step up and help’ close the Big Apple’s gaping deficit by paying higher taxes.
Stringer’s warning today echoes a similar caution issued by state Governor Andrew Cuomo last week, who said without additional funding from Washington, DC, he will be left with no choice to raise taxes to save the city from economic ruin.
Stringer told Bloomberg TV he believes the city could save $400million by refinancing debt and as much as $1 illion through efficiencies.
The wealthy may need ‘to pay a little bit more to get us through this crisis,’ he said.
‘People of great wealth have done great in the city in the last 10 or 20 years, they should be prepared if necessary to step up, to help out as well when that happens,’ Stringer, who is running for mayor in 2021, continued.
‘It seems reasonable that people who have great wealth would want to help this city in which they make money.’
Stringer also dismissed concerns that raising taxes for those in the highest percentile would likely drive them out of New York for good.
He said that people have fled many times over the years during various crises but inevitably return.
‘There will be some that leave,’ he said. ‘Why would you risk your life going to Texas or Florida or any place where you have governors who just ignore health and safety laws? You’ve got to be nuts to go there.’
Gov. Cuomo had long been reluctant to the idea of raising taxes of the wealthy. In August he begged the rich to return to NYC and save the city from economic ruin. He also warned against tax hikes, saying it would likely lead the wealthy to permanently relocate elsewhere.
However, late last week he appeared to changed his tune.
Cuomo said that if Washington DC fails to provide additional crisis funding to offset losses incurred by the coronavirus pandemic, he will have no choice but to increase the burden on New York’s already heavily taxed residents.
‘This will be a hole in the financial plan so large that it will be impossible to fill,’ Cuomo said Thursday of the mounting debt. ‘What would we do to try to fill it? Taxes, cuts, borrowing, early retirements [of government workers]. All of the above.’
According to the governor, that scenario will not play out until others have been exhausted.
The ideal scenario would be for the federal government to provide relief, Cuomo said, before adding that ‘Washington is doing absolutely nothing.’
The second-best option would be for the U.S. government to increase taxes nationwide, so that New York is not put at a competitive disadvantage when compared to other states and cities, the Democratic governor added.