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De Blasio and staff to take self-imposed furlough amid fiscal hardship

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 9/16/2020 Michael Gartland
Bill de Blasio wearing a suit and tie talking on a cell phone: New York - September 14, 2020 - Mayor Bill de Blasio deliver remarks and cut the ribbon at the new One Vanderbilt building in midtown. One Vanderbilt is a 77-floor supertall skyscraper at the corner of 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue in midtown Manhattan. Proposed by New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and developer SL Green Realty as part of a planned Midtown East rezoning in the early 2010's, the tower stands immediately west of Grand Central Terminal. A groundbreaking ceremony for One Vanderbilt was held in October 2016. The tower topped out on September 17, 2019, two months ahead of schedule. The 1.6-million-square-foot (150,000 m2) skyscraper's roof is 1,301 feet (397 m) high and its spire is 1,401 feet (427 m), making it the city's fourth-tallest building after One World Trade Center and the under-construction Central Park Tower and 111 West 57th Street. (Luiz C. Ribeiro for New York Daily News) © Luiz C. Ribeiro New York - September 14, 2020 - Mayor Bill de Blasio deliver remarks and cut the ribbon at the new One Vanderbilt building in midtown. One Vanderbilt is a 77-floor supertall skyscraper at the corner of 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue in midtown Manhattan. Proposed by New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and developer SL Green Realty as part of a planned Midtown East rezoning in the early 2010's, the tower stands immediately west of Grand Central Terminal. A groundbreaking ceremony for One Vanderbilt was held in October 2016. The tower topped out on September 17, 2019, two months ahead of schedule. The 1.6-million-square-foot (150,000 m2) skyscraper's roof is 1,301 feet (397 m) high and its spire is 1,401 feet (427 m), making it the city's fourth-tallest building after One World Trade Center and the under-construction Central Park Tower and 111 West 57th Street. (Luiz C. Ribeiro for New York Daily News)

Mayor de Blasio announced Wednesday that he and City Hall staffers will take unpaid, week-long furloughs over the next several months to address the fiscal crisis the city is facing.

The move will reduce the Mayor’s Office staff salaries by about $860,000 and would serve mostly as a symbolic gesture as the city expects to see billions of dollars in budget shortfalls in the coming years.

“As of October 1st, every, every Mayor’s Office employee will be taking a furlough,” de Blasio said Wednesday. “That obviously includes myself.”

When adding in other savings, the furloughs help to reduce the Mayor’s Office budget by 12% overall. They will affect nearly 500 mayoral staffers, including those working for his wife, Chirlane McCray.

De Blasio makes $259,000 a year, which means he’ll be giving up almost $5,000, or one week’s pay.

According to Kenneth Sherrill, a professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College, it’s the first time in the city’s history that a mayor has taken such a drastic step.

“I’ve never heard of a mayor putting himself on furlough,” Sherrill said.

The last time the city furloughed any of its workers was during the fiscal crisis of the 1970′s, he added.

On average, City Hall staffers overall made just over $55,000 a year in 2019, a Daily News analysis of city data found. Staffers who earned an annual salary — those who are not listed as earning an hourly wage — earned on average $105,000 in 2019, putting the average furlough pay hit for them at about $2,000.

Furloughs for himself and his staffers could pave the way for more far-reaching measures, including furloughs for all city workers, a measure de Blasio said he isn’t ruling out.

“Everything is on the table,” he said. “We’re going to look at every option to address this situation.”

Bill de Blasio wearing a suit and tie: Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a media availability at City Hall on Wednesday, September 16. © Provided by New York Daily News Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a media availability at City Hall on Wednesday, September 16.

Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a media availability at City Hall on Wednesday, September 16.

But when asked about the possibility of raising property taxes — which would raise much more money than the targeted furloughs to his staff — he quickly did an about-face.

“I just won’t do a property tax increase. That’s off the table, period," he said.

Hizzoner described the furloughs to his staffers as especially painful given their hard work through the pandemic.

“This is a step you never want to see for good, hard-working people,” he said. “The folks who work here throughout this crisis, they have not been working 35 or 40 hour weeks. They have been working 80 hour weeks, 90 hour weeks, 100 hour weeks.”

De Blasio has lobbied for months for Albany to grant the city increased borrowing power, but has been met with push back from state legislators and fiscal hawks concerned he hasn’t done enough to find more savings.

He’s also been in secretive talks with labor leaders for weeks to identify other savings.

Those talks involve the possibility of an early retirement incentive for city workers, which would also require approval from Albany, but have yet to yield any definitive results and are ongoing.

a large building: New York City Hall in Lower Manhattan. © Provided by New York Daily News New York City Hall in Lower Manhattan.

New York City Hall in Lower Manhattan.

The furloughs serve to show that de Blasio is making an effort to trim more from the city’s budget, but are a relative drop in the bucket compared to what’s needed.

“It’s at the point where we have to show that we’re going to do anything and everything to get through this,” he said.

Fiscal watchdogs viewed the move as little more than a gesture.

“The mayor projected labor savings in his budget of $1 billion. This doesn’t even generate $1 million of that,” said Maria Doulis, a vice president with the Citizens Budget Commission. “It’s a baby step in what’s going to be a marathon.”

Comptroller Scott Stringer took a harder line.

“Furloughing city workers with little payoff instead of scrubbing the budget for real waste and inefficiency is emblematic of the mayor’s approach to budgeting: a lazy substitute for real work,” he said.

Asked whether he thought the furloughs would give him more leverage in his efforts to secure more borrowing and in his discussions with labor leaders, de Blasio said it shows that everyone in city government is feeling the pain now.

“I certainly think it says to people, you know, everyone’s trying to do what they can, everyone’s sacrificing in some way, let’s all keep working together,” he said. “I hope it does send some of that message.”


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