Most of America has had a rough time since the 2008 economic crisis. New York City isn’t most of America. The city is doing strikingly well, repeatedly breaking its own records for job creation, tourism, and tax revenues. But New York also keeps eclipsing another record: spending. When Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in January 2014, New York was halfway through a fiscal year in which it would spend $76.2 billion; during the current fiscal year, which started July 1, 2017, the city will spend about $87.3 billion—an $11.1 billion increase. Thus, Mayor de Blasio’s inaugural term has seen a 14.6 percent rise in annual spending. (All numbers are in today’s dollars.)
New York’s seemingly unshakable economy has given de Blasio the luxury of never having to make any real choices, across four annual budgets. His administration has been able to add 1,550 new police officers and offer prekindergarten, starting next year, to three-year-olds. It has been able to put air conditioning in all the city’s public schools and buy special street sweepers to clean sidewalks. It has expanded funding for opioid addicts and repaired crumbling public-housing facades. And the mayor can claim to have done all this while purporting to be fiscally prudent. In early June, inking a budget agreement with the city council nearly a month ahead of schedule, de Blasio pointed to the city’s budget reserves as “by far the highest the city of New York has ever had.” The mayor has pulled this off, moreover, without succeeding in his efforts to raise taxes, which Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature have thwarted.
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