Each year, the Independent Budget Office (IBO) bravely wades into the City's budget debate with highly sensible ideas for how to raise revenue and cut wasteful spending. The nonpartisan office was founded by voter referendum in 1989 "as a counterbalance to the mayor," as one former budget director put it. But the IBO wasn't fully empowered until the late '90s, because it turns out that mayors really don't like it when you obtain the City's uncut financial information and dispassionately interpret it for public consumption.
Last week, the IBO released its annual "Budget Options for New York City" report, meant to keep New York's decision-makers aware of the many options on the table before they go about slashing City budgets because of the possible threat of a recession. The IBO technically has "no position" on these proposals, they just, you know, want lawmakers to know they have options. Somehow, they avoid the need to scapegoat migrants or cut library budgets to make sure the police budget remains at record highs.
Here are a few of their far-out ideas to save New York money, and even make some money while we're at it:
— Ban Broker Fees: The City (i.e. you, the taxpayer) pays the broker fees charged to tenants who use municipally funded rental assistance programs, because landlords would discriminate against them even more if they didn't pay up. So besides ending the heinous and almost uniquely New York practice of charging broker fees, it would also save the City $22 million (and everyone else a ton of cash too).
—Make Police Officers Pay for Their Misconduct: The City pays out an average of $241 million per year in settlements related to police misconduct, according to the IBO. Officers who are repeatedly named in misconduct complaints often end up costing the City way more in payouts than other officers. The solution? Make officers who receive three or more complaints pay into a liability fund meant to offset the costs to taxpayers for their misconduct. The savings? $45 million annually. The chance of this happening? Yeah, we can't even hold them accountable when they run over people on camera in broad daylight. But still a good idea!
—Stop Paying Charter Schools' Rent: Wait, we pay their rent? Yes, to the tune of $75 million annually, in either classrooms provided in actual NYC public schools or spaces we help rent for them. So we're losing state funding for each kid that switches from a public school to a charter school and then we pay 60 percent of rental expenses under state law. Cool.
—Bike Lane Blocking Program: Like the idling truck snitch program, New Yorkers could report bike lane violators and share the fine with the City. Ultimately, the City could collect $6 million annually and get people to stop blocking bike lanes.
—Increase the Number of Tax Auditors in the City's Department of Finance: Haha—a "budget office" would say this, wouldn't it? But then we'd have to hire all those new auditors and where's that money coming from for that? Oh, you're saying that more auditors means more money collected, meaning they'd actually make money for the City? How much? $165 million? Yeah, but they'd be pencil-pushing nerds, right? Who wants that? Give us cool cop cars with racing stripes, please!
—Making Organics Collection Mandatory: By sorting out compostable materials from our trash stream (a whopping 46 percent is compostable, according to the IBO), NYC would be better able to negotiate on organics processing and streamline trash collection—netting $33 million in annual savings. Oh, on that note, the IBO estimates the City could raise as much as $400 million by making you pay for the collection of non-compostable and non-recyclable materials. The rats would be furious!
Admittedly, some of the IBO's past suggestions would probably not go over very well, especially among City workers—the IBO outlines a pay freeze, ending bonuses for long-serving City workers (savings: $641 million annually), and eliminating some health care coverage for retired employees.
Where can the City find some real pocket change? In the pockets of its highest-earners. A tax increase on households making more than $250,000 annually, with 89 percent of that tax burden going to those making over $1 million annually, would raise up to $543 million this year. Hell, with that sort of money, maybe the City would even be able to follow through on half the things we're already legally obligated to do—like making our roads safer!
Some links to start your President's Day Week:
- New York’s organic farming pioneers are getting into the weed game.
- Mayor Eric Adams has reached his first union contract with DC 37, which represents 100,000 City workers. The contract provides for three percent annual salary bumps (retroactive to last year), while also agreeing to explore a pilot program to allow some municipal workers to have a hybrid schedule, working some days from home.
- The City has been auctioning off equipment it bought to battle COVID-19 for pennies on the dollar.
- After serving just a year at City Hall, Adams's former chief of staff, Frank Carone, is ready to use his access to profit, by relaunching his consulting firm. (But don't worry, he says, he himself won't personally lobby the mayor, just his staff.)
- The number of drug overdose deaths in the city is the highest it's been in two decades, driven mostly by fentanyl.
- Legislators might actually go ahead and strip the "Mario M. Cuomo" name from the Tappan Zee Bridge.
- The "chief advisor" to the mayor says she has not taken the subway since she was 19.
- With George Santos, the grift is a family affair.
- A sweetheart deal for the endless string of rich people and tourists riding helicopters that are ruining your life.
- And finally, Bernie does not care for your "tik-tok":