Report Capital Spending

Planning After PLANYC: A Framework for Developing New York City's Next Ten-Year Capital Strategy

The Most Important Economic and Fiscal Decisions Facing the Next Mayor

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December 06, 2013

New York City is the center of the largest metropolitan area in the nation. More than eight million people live in the five boroughs, and they are joined by millions of commuters and tourists who visit the city for work, school, shopping, cultural events and other recreational activities. Facilitating these activities is a vast system of infrastructure and capital assets that is necessary to provide government services, engage in economic activity and support a good quality of life.

Maintaining and improving these capital assets is crucial to the city’s continued competitiveness, and the importance of capital investment was recognized by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his administration. Mayor Bloomberg’s infrastructure and sustainability plan, PLANYC, included ambitious goals to improve the transportation system, expand the water and sewer system, increase the supply of parks and housing, and make the city’s buildings greener and its waterfront more resilient against climate change.

In pursuit of these goals, more money was committed to capital projects than under any mayor since the fiscal crisis of the 1970s. The City has more than $100 billion in debt outstanding and its debt burden is high when evaluated under the benchmarks used by rating agencies to assess affordability. The outcomes of investment have been mixed: the condition of schools and bridges improved, carbon dioxide emissions were reduced dramatically, park space expanded and tree planting accelerated, but citizens express dissatisfaction with street maintenance, water main breaks remain a costly problem, and sewer backups continue to plague many neighborhoods.

The new mayor will face a difficult challenge: how to responsibly fund competing capital priorities without increasing capital spending and debt extensively. This report reviews capital planning and spending during Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure in order to suggest principles that can guide the development of a new long-term capital plan and financing strategy. The start of a new administration provides a valuable opportunity to articulate a vision for a modern city and establish broad priorities, as well as to improve the city’s operations and establish a new tenor of doing business. By improving the city’s asset management practices, developing an appropriate investment standard, using clear guidelines to establish priorities and adopting more cost-effective approaches to managing contracts and construction, the next mayor can have a long-term impact on the city’s infrastructure, government, economy and quality of life.

This paper was developed for a CBC Conference, The Most Important Economic and Fiscal Decisions Facing the Next Mayor, held on December 6, 2013 in New York City.

A video of the presentation and panel discussion can be found here.