New York City mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a news conference in New York, the US, Picture: September 15 2020. Picture: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID
New York City mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a news conference in New York, the US, Picture: September 15 2020. Picture: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID

New York — New York mayor Bill de Blasio ordered five days of furlough for about 500 members of his City Hall staff, including himself.

Employees can take the unpaid leave any time during a six-month period beginning in October, De Blasio said on Wednesday at a press briefing. The policy will affect everyone from administrative assistants to the mayor’s top aides, including the office of his wife, Chirlane McCray, that is working on the mayor’s mental health initiative. De Blasio said he would work without pay during his time off.

The mayor had projected a $9bn revenue shortfall through the fiscal year ending in June 2022 because of lockdowns ordered amid the Covid-19 pandemic. He has said he may lay off 22,000 employees if the city does not  get federal fiscal aid or state authority to borrow $5bn for operating expenses.

“As of October 1, every mayor’s office employee will be taking a furlough, and that obviously includes myself,” the mayor said in a Wednesday news briefing. “This is a step you never want to see for good hardworking people.”

When asked whether he would extend such an order to the entire city workforce of more than 320,000, de Blasio said, “Everything’s on the table. We’re talking to labour about any and all ways to save money.”

The move would cut mayor’s office expenses by $1m out of a budget of $88.1bn. With other cuts made earlier, it has reduced the office’s total budget by 12% compared with 2019, he said.

The action is more a symbolic gesture than a cost-savings measure, “showing that at the top of the operation, more important actions are being taken every day and we will make the choices we have to, to keep this city going forward”, De Blasio said.

Such decisions, he said, have been forced on him because federal fiscal aid to states and localities has not  been forthcoming, and the state legislature hasn’t granted permission to sell bonds to pay operating expenses — approvals, he noted, given after the 9/11 World Trade Center attack and during previous fiscal crises.

He ruled out raising property taxes, the one levy the city could impose without state approval. The Citizens Budget Commission, a business-supported fiscal monitor, has proposed a 2% increase, which it said would raise more than $1.3bn over two years and cost the average homeowner $143 a year.

The commission’s president, Andrew Rein, welcomed the mayor’s move but added: “This is non-recurring and amounts to one-tenth of 1% of the promised $1bn in labour savings. He should follow this step with the kind of bold action needed to stabilise the city’s finances.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has resisted De Blasio’s request for borrowing authority, called on the mayor to find more savings.

“Before you borrow any funding, you would have to make sure that you cut everything possible,” Cuomo said during a Wednesday news briefing, disregarding De Blasio’s assertion that he cut $7bn in 2020 from a pre-pandemic budget. “You have the homeless problem. You have the crime problem. The city is dirty. So layoffs are the last option.”


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