From the NY Times:
A rosier-than-expected financial picture has left Mayor Bill de Blasio with an unanticipated predicament as he releases his first preliminary New York budget on Wednesday: how to hide a surplus that could easily exceed $3 billion.
The problem is not that the city does not have ways to spend it. Its 152 labor unions are demanding some $7 billion in back pay. Members of the City Council want to increase spending on social programs and repairs to public housing. And the mayor has his own ideas.
But if Mr. de Blasio acknowledges that there is extra money in the next budget, fiscal experts warn, it will become open season for different groups to make demands for it. “City Council members, member items — he doesn’t want a lot of time to go by with people coming up with their own priorities,” said Carol Kellermann, the president of the Citizens Budget Commission, a business-backed watchdog group.
Hence, the ritual game of hide and seek.
On the eve of the budget presentation, Mr. de Blasio’s aides played down the likelihood of a big surplus, saying that such talk was exaggerated and that there were many potential risks to the budget, like the unsettled labor contracts and reduced support for the city from the federal and state governments.
In his State of the City address on Monday, the mayor warned that the city was “in the midst of a budgetary challenge that is unprecedented.”
Still, the numbers are the numbers: The Independent Budget Office projected in December that the city would have a surplus of $1.9 billion in the fiscal year that starts July 1.
On top of that, the Bloomberg administration accounted in its financial plan for 1.25-percent-per-year raises for municipal unions in this fiscal year and the next one — putting aside some $730 million for that purpose. If that money is not spent on raises, it will be added to the surplus.
Moreover, each year, sometimes as early as February, the city’s administration adjusts its financial plan to reflect both anticipated income that did not materialize and planned expenditures that did not end up being spent. Typically, the result has been a net gain of several hundred million dollars.