Ending municipal contributions to union annuity funds and pegging health insurance reimbursement to the lowest-cost carrier could save New York City a combined $460 million of first-year savings, a watchdog agency said Thursday.
They were among the newest savings scenarios the New York City Independent Budget Office presented Thursday in its 12th annual budget options for the city. IBO examined about 80 ways for the city to reduce spending or raise revenue, and presented pros or cons for each option.
“Although New York City’s economy is growing, the city continues to face fiscal challenges,” said IBO director Ronnie Lowenstein.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg last week presented a $69.8 million budget for fiscal 2014 to the 51-member City Council, which must act on it by June 30. While the proposed budget calls for no tax increases and is balanced, New York faces out-year gaps of about $2.2 billion in 2015, and $1.9 billion and $1.4 billion, respectively.
Bloomberg said the city has applied $142 million toward closing the gap in fiscal 2015, which begins July 1, 2014, and will pursue a 13th round of measures to help close the deficit in November.
According to the IBO, the lowest-cost carrier move alone would save $322 million in fiscal 2014, and $316 million and $311 million, respectively, the following two fiscal years. Now the city must pay the cost of health insurance for active and retired city employees at a rate equal to premiums for the Health Insurance Plan’s (HIP) health maintenance organization.
“Proponents might argue that this option allows the city to slow the growth in health insurance options without bringing hardship to city employees who would still have the opportunity to maintain a premium-free health insurance plan,” the IBO said. “Opponents might argue that removing the requirement to offer the HIP option would allow the city to offer a very low-cost health insurance plan without regard to quality.”
Repeating an option from previous years, the IBO projects the city could save $489 million in 2014 by requiring all city workers and retirees not yet on Medicare to contribute 10% of the cost the city now bears for their health insurance, with the city contributing 90% of the HIP rate.
Moody’s Investors Service rates the city’s general obligation bonds Aa2, while Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s assign AA ratings.
IBO’s new options for generating revenue include eliminating the cap on the capital tax base of the general corporation tax, which could generate $320 million.
Repeat options for revenue include $1.5 billion from establishing a progressive commuter tax, in which commuters with higher incomes are taxed at higher rates, similar to how city residents are taxed, though at only one-third the resident rates.
According to IBO, the city could realize $1 billion annually by tolling bridges over the East River and Harlem River.