New York City’s CFO On Bears and Bloomberg

sitdown 18 New York City’s CFO On Bears and BloombergLocation: The city’s fiscal future looks pretty rough. How would you feel about raising property taxes?

Mr. Thompson: What you’re looking at now … it’s almost a rollback on a reduction. Because if you look, they just cut property taxes 7 percent. I think it is reasonable to expect that that’s going to get rolled back—I know the mayor is attempting to do that now. That probably makes the most sense in the short term.

Do you think the mayor will be successful in getting that through?

It’s clear the state isn’t going to be helping us; we haven’t felt the full impact of what the state cuts are going to be, so I think it makes sense to be able to do that, and the members of the [City] Council will probably agree with that.

And how about the $400 homeowner rebate?

That should stand for right now. I know it’s hard to take out of one pocket and put into the other, but we should continue that until times get tougher; and I think that’s fair to be able to try to give money back to homeowners.

How about a personal income tax increase?

You want to do income tax increases as a final resort, as a last resort, and I don’t think we’re there yet.

Was the city budget grown too rapidly in the past few years? I think city spending has grown over 20 percent after inflation since Bloomberg came in.

I think that a number of watchdogs have said that the mayor’s spending has exceeded what should have been done. Obviously, during tougher times, it’s easy to say that. I think there’s a lot to be said to the dollars that were put away during the good times. We didn’t fully get our way—I would have liked to see a rainy day fund. … We’ll see over the next year.

Should we step up capital spending on infrastructure and major projects? Some think spending on infrastructure is a way to stimulate the economy.

I think that what we need to do is look at projects that make sense. … You need to continue to spend and grow. At the same point, you may have to look at it [an individual capital project] and do it slightly differently than you had in the past. You might want to do it in stages.

So it’s not the city’s obligation to spend that money for the purpose of stimulus?

I don’t think you want to look at it as stimulus—I think you want to look at it as constant growth. I think you want to look at it as, those economic development projects that made sense before, they make sense today.

 

The Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn faces some clear challenges, and the developer has asked for more than $100 million in additional assistance from the city. Do you think the project should get more government assistance if it can’t go forward otherwise?

No. I think that that project has received a lot of government assistance to this point. It’s a project I supported in its original form. It continues to morph and change, and that may be one of the projects that you have to reevaluate on a staged basis before you move forward. It is still a project that I support, but it continues to change.

A lot of people don’t seem to believe you when you say you’re running for mayor. Have you found that?

Some have, some haven’t. The one thing I have run into is a lot of people who have asked the question, ‘Are you running?’ You say, ‘Yes.’ They go, ‘Great.’ I think New Yorkers right now are angry. They’re angry with what happened. … I think every time you poll the public, they still indicate that they want term limits.

Do you think that will be a large issue come 2009?

I think that will be one of the issues in 2009. It still is early to identify and lay out a campaign against the mayor.