Two days after he held off on sending 30-day layoff notices to 22,000 city workers, Mayor de Blasio said he needed concrete quickly the State Legislature was coming back into session to let the city borrow $5 billion or pink slips would soon be issued.
He warned that if there wasn't a speedy disposition in the city's favor it was likely there would be "even more layoffs."
Waiting the Hardest Part
"We're waiting for a resolution of that," Mr. de Blasio told reporters at his Sept. 2 briefing. "And if it's a positive resolution and Albany declares that they're coming back to address this issue, we'll continue to hold off on layoffs. And if it turns out that we can't get such a declaration from Albany, unfortunately we will have to move ahead with the notices."
He continued, "The longer a delay goes, it means either you get the borrowing to stop layoffs, or God forbid you don't get the borrowing...Again, a few days, either way, not decisive. But if you start talking about weeks and you don't get the borrowing? Unfortunately, tragically for this city, it means even more layoffs."
For months, the Mayor has said he needed $1 billion in concessions from city unions, aid from Washington, or additional borrowing capacity from Albany to cover the city's $9-billion budget gap.
On Aug. 24, the Municipal Labor Committee wrote the Mayor asking that he hold off for 30 days on the layoff notices scheduled to go out Sept. 1 to give the unions more time to make the city's case in Albany.
Speaker Backs Plan
Late last month, Mr. de Blasio's borrowing proposal gained some momentum when City Council Speaker Cory Johnson announced, "I think that New York City deserves the authority to borrow funds to meet our immediate needs given the impact of COVID-19 on our revenue."
But there appears to be no clear consensus in Albany of how to address the state and city fiscal crises.
City & State reported that State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie were "also feeling more pressure to immediately reconvene their chambers to approve new taxes on the wealthy."
The website cited progressive lawmakers—including State Sens. Jessica Ramos, Julia Salazar and new Assembly Members Zohran Mamdani, Marcela Mitaynes and Emily Gallagher—who were all "pushing to "raise billions in new revenue to overcome the multi-billion-dollar state budget deficit caused by the pandemic."
"While many of us in our communities have been suffering tremendously throughout this pandemic, the very wealthy have been doing just fine," Ms. Salazar said during a virtual press conference, according to City & State. "This is the most important thing that we could be fighting for in New York right now."
'An Unprecedented Threat'
"Layoffs on this scale are an unprecedented threat to workers, their families, and the City economy," longtime Assembly Member Richard Gottfried wrote in an email. "This is a big part of why the Legislature needs to come back into session and raise major revenue by taxing high wealth."
But there were dissenters as well. "De Blasio's fear-mongering with threatened layoffs is yet another example of his failed administration, pandemic or no," wrote Sen. John C. Liu in response to a query from this newspaper. "The plain truth is that layoffs are avoidable even without incurring additional debt. De Blasio wants permission to borrow $5 billion mainly because he is incapable of making choices."
He continued, "Nonetheless, I and many fellow legislators do not want dedicated city workers to suffer the brunt of de Blasio's incompetence, which in turn hurts our constituents. Now that the City Council has dropped their opposition to city borrowing, I think there is enough support among state lawmakers to grant the borrowing authority."
Union leaders said the "up in the air" status of the city's fiscal situation was taking a serious toll on their rank and files.
Joe Puleo, president of District Council 37 Local 983, which represents 3,000 blue-collar workers in a variety of titles, said the one constructive development during the crisis was an increased willingness by his members to get involved, including traveling to Albany to advance the union's agenda.
Layoffs a Betrayal
"It used to be like pulling teeth to go up to Albany," Mr. Puleo said. "But, because they unselfishly worked through the pandemic, when everyone else was told to stay home, they take pride in the fact they are essential workers who kept the city safe. Now, they feel betrayed in the worst way to find out they could be laid off."
"Believe it or not we have FDNY EMTs who were just kids when 9/11 happened who moved from places like Kansas to work for the city for what they thought was their dream job," said Oren Barzilay, president of DC 37 Local 2507, which represents Emergency Medical Technicians and Fire Inspectors. "Now with talk of these layoffs, we are shattering their dreams. It was bad enough they had to worry about their low pay. Now they have to sweat out no pay."
Senate Majority spokesman Mike Murphy said "we are willing to work with New York City to identify the best course forward without hurting working men and women and at the same time pursuing a fiscally responsible course."
Brooklyn Sen. Andrew Gounardes. who chairs the Committee on Civil Service and Pensions, was more caustic, saying it was "flat-out repugnant for the Mayor to continue to hold the livelihoods of 22,000 public servants hostage while he continues to dole out hefty raises to political appointees.
A spokesman for Mr. Heastie said he was "in favor of letting the city have the flexibility it needs so it can deliver essential services and avoid laying off employees in the middle of the pandemic."
Precedent for Albany Aid
Mr. de Blasio told reporters that there was a precedent Albany granting the city more borrowing capacity in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks.
"The fact is, and we have a great example," he said, "the City of New York went to Albany right after 9/11, got $2.5 billion in borrowing authority. Long-term borrowing, 20-year plan, only ended up using $2 billion of that authority. So, granting us the ability gives us the ability to manage an ever-changing situation. But our clear purpose here is only to borrow that which we need, not a single dollar more."
But unlike 9/11, the city's problem is just part of a nationwide financial meltdown where cities, counties and states are awash in red ink due to COVID-19 and the public-health measures imposed to slow its spread.
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