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Mayor Bill de Blasio’s voice was practically trembling at a news conference he called last week to assail the funding cuts New York City is facing under President Donald Trump’s spending plan. “It’s extraordinary how many negative...

If the mayor fears Trump's cuts, why won't he prepare for them?

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s voice was practically trembling at a news conference he called last week to assail the funding cuts New York City is facing under President Donald Trump’s spending plan. “It’s extraordinary how many negative...

If the mayor fears Trump's cuts, why won't he prepare for them?

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s voice was practically trembling at a news conference he called last week to assail the funding cuts New York City is facing under President Donald Trump’s spending plan. “It’s extraordinary how many negative things have been packed into one budget,” the mayor said, enumerating the reductions that police, education, housing and other services would endure. “New York stands to lose so much.”

Whether Congress will approve a budget that so drastically shifts spending to the military from just about everywhere else is an open question.

But de Blasio, by calling the media briefing and urging New Yorkers to rise up in opposition, indicated he is taking the plan seriously. If that is true, he should also prepare for its consequences.

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But he won’t. It is business as usual at the mayor’s budget office, which is making no special effort to create contingency plans or set aside additional reserves to offset cuts from Washington in the federal fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. “I don’t do hypotheticals,” de Blasio said when asked how he would cope if the cuts materialize. “We are going to fight.”

There’s no harm in fighting. Indeed, the city should fight for every last dollar it has been getting from Washington—which already is far less than we pay in taxes. But protesting doesn’t pay any bills.

Getting ready for hypotheticals, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg did by socking away billions of tax dollars during the mid-2000s boom, is part of a mayor’s job. Bloomberg’s savings softened the blow when the recession hit. De Blasio enjoyed a surge in tax revenues as well and began replenishing the city’s reserves, but he has not made many sacrifices on the spending side—even growing the city’s workforce by 10% to 327,000. The head count is projected to reach an all-time high by 2021. Bloomberg’s annual ritual of having agency heads find savings of 2% to 3% (on the theory that some positions outlive their usefulness and that practically any operation can be more efficient) ended when de Blasio took office in 2014. After objections from budget hawks, he did resume the agency cuts, but the last three rounds have been in the 1% range.

The mayor’s budget director, Dean Fuleihan, was asked at an event last week how the city was preparing for the large federal cuts about to be proposed. “Our answer,” he said, “is ‘We cannot accept this.’ … Once the public understands [the impact], they will inform our elected officials, who will make the right decisions. That’s not a Pollyannish view. I have great faith in the American people.” That was Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategy.

Deputy City Comptroller Preston Niblack, seated beside the budget director, took a more responsible view. “We’re going to take some cuts,” he said. “There’s a lot of risk. It’s time for the agencies to look more at their own operations and do a more significant scrub.” — THE EDITORS

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s voice was practically trembling at a news conference he called last week to assail the funding cuts New York City is facing under President Donald Trump’s spending plan. “It’s extraordinary how many negative things have been packed into one budget,” the mayor said, enumerating the reductions that police, education, housing and other services would endure. “New York stands to lose so much.”

Whether Congress will approve a budget that so drastically shifts spending to the military from just about everywhere else is an open question.

But de Blasio, by calling the media briefing and urging New Yorkers to rise up in opposition, indicated he is taking the plan seriously. If that is true, he should also prepare for its consequences.

But he won’t. It is business as usual at the mayor’s budget office, which is making no special effort to create contingency plans or set aside additional reserves to offset cuts from Washington in the federal fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. “I don’t do hypotheticals,” de Blasio said when asked how he would cope if the cuts materialize. “We are going to fight.”

There’s no harm in fighting. Indeed, the city should fight for every last dollar it has been getting from Washington—which already is far less than we pay in taxes. But protesting doesn’t pay any bills.

Getting ready for hypotheticals, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg did by socking away billions of tax dollars during the mid-2000s boom, is part of a mayor’s job. Bloomberg’s savings softened the blow when the recession hit. De Blasio enjoyed a surge in tax revenues as well and began replenishing the city’s reserves, but he has not made many sacrifices on the spending side—even growing the city’s workforce by 10% to 327,000. The head count is projected to reach an all-time high by 2021. Bloomberg’s annual ritual of having agency heads find savings of 2% to 3% (on the theory that some positions outlive their usefulness and that practically any operation can be more efficient) ended when de Blasio took office in 2014. After objections from budget hawks, he did resume the agency cuts, but the last three rounds have been in the 1% range.

The mayor’s budget director, Dean Fuleihan, was asked at an event last week how the city was preparing for the large federal cuts about to be proposed. “Our answer,” he said, “is ‘We cannot accept this.’ … Once the public understands [the impact], they will inform our elected officials, who will make the right decisions. That’s not a Pollyannish view. I have great faith in the American people.” That was Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategy.

Deputy City Comptroller Preston Niblack, seated beside the budget director, took a more responsible view. “We’re going to take some cuts,” he said. “There’s a lot of risk. It’s time for the agencies to look more at their own operations and do a more significant scrub.” — THE EDITORS

A version of this article appears in the March 20, 2017, print issue of Crain's New York Business.

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