In the weeks leading up to the original September 11th primary date, the mayoral candidates would occasionally acknowledge that their plans might have to change if New York City encountered a full-blown recession.
Sadly, there’s no longer any “if” about it. The horrific attack on the World Trade Center will deal a severe blow to New York’s economy and government revenues for at least the next year, if not longer. Before September 11th, the city’s projected fiscal 2003 budget gap of $2.8 billion looked like a worst-case scenario. Now, it’s a grim reality.
The men who would be mayor have a lot of catching up to do. Prior to the attack, five of the six leading candidates were proposing ambitious new capital programs leveraged by more than $100 million in projected revenues from the World Trade Center. Those ideas are obviously moot, but the programs they would have financed represented only a portion of the new spending that mayoral candidates will now have to reconsider.
Even before the catastrophe, it was clear that the next mayor would have to deal with an economic slowdown and potentially huge budget gaps. While the mayoral hopefuls all say they have re-ordered their priorities in the wake of the attack, their original campaign proposals can still provide useful insights into each candidate’s philosophy and policy preferences.
We estimated the costs implied by each candidate’s campaign proposals as they stood on the eve of the original September 11th primary date. Here is how they stacked up:
FERNANDO FERRER (D)
Well over three-quarters of Ferrer’s total would have gone to a 30 percent increase in teacher salaries, with the remaining amount devoted mainly to other new education programs, and to housing and health.
MARK GREEN (D)
The bulk of Green’s new spending would have gone for increased teacher and police salaries, class-size reduction, an expanded “living wage” for employees of city contractors, and new dedicated funds for transportation and housing construction.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R)
Although much of his program was amorphous, the proposals that most clearly entailed new spending were Bloomberg’s plans to reduce class-size, and to dedicate park-concession revenues for park purposes.
ALAN HEVESI (L)
The bulk would have gone for increased teacher salaries and reduced class sizes, but he also proposed to spend more on police salaries and housing.
Our analysis of the candidates’ proposals yields, in addition to the above rankings, two main conclusions:
1. If an election in normal times is a courtship between candidates and voters, then the flowers and candy prior to September 11th were education and housing. Most of the candidates had focused their spending proposals in these two areas
2. The candidates have been unanimous in their praise of Giuliani’s leadership in the aftermath of the terrorist attack. Yet, none of them have fully embraced his fiscal legacy, including the kind of budgetary discipline that was required to close huge budget gaps without increasing taxes early in his tenure.
Alan Hevesi, for example, “said that his call for raising teacher salaries would have to be slowed down” and that he and other candidates would have to “rethink” their housing programs, according to The New York Times (“Primary Candidates Urge Strong Turnout as Act of Defiance,” Sept. 24, p. A21).
Alan Hevesi remains the Liberal Party candidate despite losing the Democratic Party primary. While there is no indication he will actively campaign, his name will remain on the ballot.
DECONSTRUCTING THE CANDIDATES’ PROGRAMS
In the wake of the World Trade Center attack, New York City faces its most serious fiscal and economic crisis since the mid-1970s.
The leading mayoral candidates all agree that these extraordinary circumstances will demand much more stringent fiscal discipline than they had originally planned on. Estimates of the immediate impact vary widely, but it’s possible that city revenues over the remaining three-quarters of the 2002 fiscal year will drop by $1.2 to $2.3 billion below original estimates.* In the following year—the first budget of the next mayor’s tenure—further declines are possible, with the severity of the problem depending heavily on the progress of the economic recovery and the status of the new war on terrorism.
Under the circumstances, it’s more vital than ever for voters to be able to gauge how much fiscal discipline each candidate is likely to show. One way of doing so is to assess the costs implied by each candidate’s campaign proposals prior to September 11th, when the city was already facing potential fiscal problems.
Our estimates were derived from information in the candidates’ own public statements and campaign materials, and on press coverage. In analyzing this information, we followed three guidelines:
1. The baseline for each candidate’s “new spending” total is the adopted city budget and financial plan for fiscal 2001–02. Proposals to dedicate revenues that the city does not currently earmark for specific purposes are counted as new spending. However, any cost already budgeted is not counted against a candidate’s total. For example, an 8.2 percent salary-hike for teachers and police is already built into the city’s budget plan. Thus, any estimate we provide for a candidate’s proposal to increase those salaries reflects only the amount greater than the 8.2 percent already budgeted.
2. We focus on major items for which mayoral candidates themselves estimate costs, or which they describe in detail sufficient to allow an estimate. Where the campaign provided no estimate for a particular policy position, we assessed the cost implications using reasonable mid-range assumptions based on the authoritative data sources, as explained in the notes to the summary table for each candidate.
3. Spending totals are assessed in terms of their annual budget impact when fully implemented, not on a multi-year basis. Proposals for additional city-funded capital projects, such as new housing and schools, are evaluated in terms of the debt service costs they would generate every year.
View report at Manhattan Institute