As the COVID-19 lockdowns drag on and the local economic picture looks ever grimmer, the fiscal response by city officials — from Mayor Bill de Blasio on down — looks increasingly out to lunch.
Jobless numbers released Thursday hint that the nation is heading into Depression-era territory: With 26 million out of work, the US unemployment rate has now likely passed 20 percent; the 1930s peak was 25 percent. New York has been especially hard hit, with 1.4 million now without jobs.
The local economy is taking a massive hit, meaning huge drops — maybe $10 billion-plus — in Gotham’s tax revenue. How will the city pay its bills, its workers, its debts?
City Hall needs to imagine a whole new way of running government — an approach far different from what de Blasio’s mostly business-as-usual budget envisions.
The mayor’s $89.3 billion spending plan makes ends meet by tapping surplus revenue and reserve cash, making rosy assumptions about federal aid and projecting lower costs. Cuts? They’re a mere $2.7 billion over two years, barely 2 percent of the budget.
De Blasio’s plainly in denial.
Let’s be blunt: New York faces an epic emergency, warranting far more serious tightening — starting perhaps with a wage freeze for city workers, as Nicole Gelinas advised on these pages Thursday.
Roll back the municipal head count, too. And delay noncritical capital projects.
Charging up the economy — quickly and dramatically — would also help by producing more revenue, or at least containing losses.
Alas, the City Council is now looking to hobble businesses by, for instance, forcing them to pay workers bonuses of as much as $75 a day. Gelinas had a far more logical idea: Announce a sales-tax holiday and scrap the commercial-rent tax. Other mandates on businesses should be paused, too.
The city can weather this storm, just as it skated by bankruptcy in the ’70s. But government has to change drastically, as it did back then. The only other option is to go belly up.
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