Vote yes on a rainy day fund for New York City
New York Daily News
When New Yorkers head to the polls to vote, they will find five ballot questions proposing amendments to the New York City Charter. These all are important proposals, but one in particular is worth supporting because it would make an important change to how the city manages its budget.
Many of us know that it is common sense to put aside some money when times are good, since cloudy days may lay ahead. Question 4 would change the charter to allow the city to create a “rainy day fund” — essentially a savings account so the city could save during prosperous times in order to stave off budget cuts or tax increases in times of crisis or recession. Voters should vote yes to approve this change.
The City Charter is essentially New York’s Constitution. It establishes the governmental framework, authorities and responsibilities of city officials and agencies, and outlines the process for everything from budget to zoning and land use. The Charter’s budgeting provisions require the city to balance its budget under strict accounting rules. These rules have helped the city manage its budget well; however, an unfortunate byproduct of these otherwise good rules is they prevent the city from using money saved up from prior years to pay for services during “rainy days.” Question 4 would keep the requirement that the city balance its budget, except it also would allow the city to create and use a rainy day fund.
While the city is experiencing record economic expansion and job growth, economists, the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), which I lead, and even the mayor are increasingly worried about looming storm clouds. According to the CBC, a recession could result in multi-year revenue shortfalls totaling at least $15 billion.
To balance the budget, city leaders will resort to service cuts and tax increases. To weather the last two recessions, the city reduced police and ambulance staffing, cut library hours, suspended recycling and increased personal income, sales and property taxes. A well-structured rainy day fund can help protect New Yorkers from the most harmful service cuts or counterproductive tax increases.
Question 4 includes three other proposed Charter amendments. Two changes are minor, and adjust the timeline for the budget process. The third would set minimum budgets for the offices of the public advocate and borough presidents. Budget guarantees are generally unwise; they restrict our city leaders’ discretion and can result in budget increases for certain offices or functions while other critical services are cut. However, the proposal addresses that possibility and would allow the mayor to propose lower budgets for these offices if accompanied by a justification. These escape hatches reduce concerns about the impacts of this proposal.
Voters have an important opportunity to protect New Yorkers when they need it most by strengthening the city’s budgeting processes; they should vote yes on Ballot Question 4 to create a rainy day fund.