In yet another subtle sign that he is one of the few city Democrats willing to criticize the new mayor, Comptroller Scott Stringer today tweaked Bill de Blasio for not sufficiently accounting for expired labor contracts in his preliminary budget.
Standing in front of a PowerPoint presentation in his downtown office’s conference room, the new comptroller praised Mr. de Blasio for fighting to raise the minimum wage and trying to hike income taxes to fund universal prekindergarten. But he said that Mr. de Blasio’s otherwise laudatory budget had failed to account for the mass of expired municipal labor contracts.
“I want to talk about the big elephant in the room this morning,” Mr. Stringer told reporters. “The Achilles’ heel of this FY15 [Fiscal Year 2015] preliminary budget is that it does not provide or adequately anticipate the resolution of some 150 outstanding labor contracts.”
Even Mr. de Blasio has acknowledged the vast challenge his predecessor’s open contracts present to his administration. Every municipal labor union is currently working under an expired contract (with the exception of one small environmental workers’ union, which reached an agreement with City Hall this week.)
In addition to raises going forward, many of the largest unions are publicly pushing for billions of dollars in retroactive pay, a move that fiscal watchdogs warn could cost the city up to $7 billion–putting the city’s finances on precarious footing. Though Mr. de Blasio enjoys a close relationship with many of the city’s unions, he has remained noncommittal about granting retroactive raises, saying only that they must come with other cost savings.
The budget nonetheless squirreled away more than $1.3 billion into various rainy day funds, which observers believe could be tapped to settle the contracts. Mr. de Blasio refused to comment on whether that was his intention during his presentation, saying only that he believed the reserves were important to have on-hand.
Mr. Stringer, who won his primary election last year with the overwhelming support of organized labor, would not take a definitive position today on whether the city could afford the raises. But he said that if the city decided to grant retroactive raises over the next few months, they would have to be bundled together into the coming year’s budget–potentially straining the city’s finances.
Still, Mr. Stringer urged Mr. de Blasio to resolve the contract issue by June 30, the day before the new budget goes into effect.
“Our municipal workers have waited too long for a settlement and our taxpayers need to know the true state of the city’s fiscal situation,” Mr. Stringer said. “Neither is possible without knowing the extent of this liability and how difficult it will be to fund. If we do not have a clear resolution of the cost of the labor settlement by around June 30, we run the risk of the decision made for the taxpayers by arbitration panels.”
Mr. Stringer evaded questions about what specifically he would have done with Mr. de Blasio’s budget–the comptroller once harbored mayoral ambitions himself–and insisted that he was simply trying to provide a fuller picture of the city’s fiscal status.
“My analysis would be incomplete if I didn’t give every body the total picture of what is in the budget and also what is missing,” he said. “In order to bring this budget into balance and give a true picture of what the challenges are, we certainly have to have a discussion about the outstanding labor contracts.”
Mr. de Blasio’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.