De Blasio urges action on MTA funding, details healthcare program expansion
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday raised the possibility of a state transportation bond act as he urged state legislators to back a comprehensive funding package for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
De Blasio said the time for action was right after the November election left the Democrats controlling both houses of the state Legislature. While he still favors his own plan for a millionaire’s tax to help rehabilitate the nation's biggest subway and bus system, DeBlasio said a transportation bond act and congestion pricing could be used to fund the MTA into the future.
“We need Albany to do its job to finally fix the subways,” de Blasio said in his sixth State of the City address. “There's a big day coming up. … Circle April 1st, because it's the day the budget is due in Albany ... In the next 80 days, the fate of the MTA, the fate of our subways and buses, will be determined once and for all. And if it isn't determined in the next 80 days, we will lose our very best opportunity to address these problems.”
The city’s general obligation bonds are rated Aa2 Moody's Investors Service and AA by S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings. As of June 30, NYC’s outstanding GOs totaled $38.63 billion.
Speaking at the Symphony Space on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, de Blasio also highlighted a series of proposals aimed at fighting income inequality across the city. These included expanding healthcare, mandating paid vacations for workers and creating retirement funds for workers without pension plans
He spoke about his administration’s plan to expand healthcare to every New Yorker, which is expected to affect about 600,000 residents who don’t have insurance by strengthening the city’s public option called MetroPlus. The plan would let anyone who can’t pay for or isn’t eligible for insurance have access to NYC Health + Hospitals’ physicians, pharmacies and mental health and substance use services under the new NYC Care.
All services will be affordable on a sliding scale. The programs will include customer-friendly call lines to help New Yorkers — regardless of their insurance — make appointments with general practitioners, cardiologists, pediatricians, gynecologists and a full spectrum of healthcare services.
“The city is trying to do something where the federal government has been lacking under President Trump, and that is to get people better informed and use the system,” Howard Cure, director of municipal bond research at Evercore Wealth Management. “The federal government has not been nearly as aggressive under President Trump at making sure people are aware of ACA programs. The city is trying to fill in these gaps.”
Cure said he was uncertain about the financial impact on H + H's attempted turnaround.
“The question is, are there going to be more people with insurance and will they use New York City hospitals, not-for-profit hospitals or private hospitals. And, if the program is successful, would they be willing to cut other programs, such as the emergency rooms? Usually, emergency rooms are inefficient and hopefully people will not wait until they are very sick to use them,” Cure said.
Budget Director Melanie Hartzog said at least $100 million in be incremental costs would be added to the budget to get the program started.
“Currently H + H is in a very good cash position as we move forward, with looking at the implementation we are going to monitor where they are and see if we need to add funding for the ramp-up portion of it,” she said.
Bill Hammond, director of health policy for Albany-based free-market-oriented think tank Empire Center for Policy, said the proposal appears to be a relatively modest expansion of the existing safety-net programs.
“The total price tag for the plan, when fully implemented, was said to be $100 million a year, a fraction of what the city and state already spends on healthcare for the poor and uninsured,” he said.
“There are more details that we’d like to see,” said Andrew Rein, president, Citizens Budget Commission, noting that the city already provides roughly $2 billion a year in subsidy to H+H.
Rein praised H+H president Mitchell Katz for his efforts to stabilize the agency’s finances, citing initiatives ranging from cost controls to collecting from insurance companies.
“Everyone wants to see H+H stabilize to the extent that the city is reducing its subsidy to a sustainable level while not eliminating it altogether,” he said.
“Health + Hospitals is in the same boat as a lot of hospital systems,” he said, noting its provision of both in-patient and emergency-room care. “Care should be shifted from emergency room to primary care.”
The de Blasio plan, even if successful, would not necessarily mean a drop-off in emergency-room visits, he said. “It’s not always happened that way.”
Other programs the mayor highlighted included:
Paid personal time: New York City will become the first city in the nation to mandate paid personal time for workers. More than 500,000 full- and part-time employees in the city have no paid time off. The mayor will pursue local legislation that would require private employers with five or more employees to offer at least 10 annual days of paid personal time. The legislation would guarantee this time for approximately 3.4 million New Yorkers.
New protections for workers: The city will guarantee that hundreds of thousands of our lowest paid workers—from housekeepers to freelancers—will receive the wages and benefits they deserve. The Department of Consumer Affairs, 50 years after its establishment, will expand to become the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection with a new mandate to better protect consumers and workers. It will enforce city laws including Paid Sick Leave and intervene when a for-hire worker is mistreated or a freelancer’s pay is delayed.
Ferry expansion: The city is expanding NYC Ferry service to more waterfront communities where neighborhoods are growing and job centers are burgeoning. The New York City Economic Development Corp. will expand service from Staten Island to Lower Manhattan and the West Side of Manhattan; and from Coney Island to Lower Manhattan. NYC Ferry will add a new stop at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and a new landing at Ferry Point in the Bronx.
Retirement plans: Less than half of all working New Yorkers have access to a plan that can help them save for their retirement years and 40% of New Yorkers between the ages of 50-64 have less than $10,000 saved for retirement. De Blasio is proposing to provide access to Individual Retirement Accounts for all working New Yorkers. The mayor also will work with the City Council to pass legislation to require all employers with at least five employees to either offer access to a retirement plan or auto-enroll their employees into the city plan.