Bill de Blasio’s re-election as New York mayor was easy.
The next four years could be much tougher.
A possible economic downturn, escalating debt and myriad uncertainty from Washington could force de Blasio to play his cards differently during his second – and by law his final – term.
“I think the biggest thing is not so much a spending blowout by the mayor because we’ve already seen that in his first term,” Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, said Wednesday, the morning after de Blasio, a Democrat, trounced Republican state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis.
Annual debt service is projected to spike to $8.3 billion from $6.5 billion over three years. The city’s tools for managing debt are in question, given provisions of President Trump’s tax-overhaul proposal that would eliminate advance refundings, which have become a tool of choice for New York.
“De Blasio’s capital plan is heavily reliant on debt,” said Gelinas. “If we have a recession or even worse, where will he find the extra $2 million to fund the debt? Our infrastructure will be at risk.”
De Blasio, a former city public advocate and councilman from Brooklyn, captured 66% of the vote while Malliotakis, from Staten Island borough, totaled 28%. A raft of other candidates combined for the other 6%,
The healthy economy and generally low crime statistics benefited de Blasio, as did his incumbency and Democratic affiliation in a heavily blue city. He was able to fend off criminal probes of some donors and accusations that he mismanaged such initiatives as affordable housing and recovery from Hurricane Sandy.
“We can do much better in our city,” Malliotakis said in her concession speech. “It’s about trash, it’s about transit, it’s about traffic and the deteriorating quality of life.”
Gelinas expects de Blasio to continue to work hand in glove with the city’s powerful labor unions, with a financial pinch possible several years down the road. The lopsided rejection of the statewide ballot measure calling for a constitutional convention reflects labor’s clout, she said.
“The yes people weren’t very organized while the public employees were scaring everyone to vote no.”
Anthony Figliola, vice-president of Empire Government Strategies in Uniondale, N.Y., called on the mayor to tap the outer boroughs to boost economic development.
“Areas like the South Bronx and Hunts Point are ripe for continued investments as well as Willets Point and underinvested portions of the Brooklyn,” he said. In Brooklyn’s Brownsville, he added, the city has harnessed the solar industry to make major investments – lowering utility costs for low income residents.
“There are dozens of industrial buildings in Long Island City [in Queens] that could accommodate rooftop solar, which could support neighboring communities,” said Figliola. “It’s a tangible success with proven technology.”
Figliola also called on city officials to investigate the homeless crisis “at the granular level.”
He cited the West Harlem Group, which oversees a $200 million portfolio of buildings used for emergency housing and homeless families and has created an on-site social service program.
De Blasio’s prickly relationship with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, notably on transit funding, will continue to draw scrutiny.
Cuomo said he would back a congestion-pricing plan for Manhattan to generate toll revenue for the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the city’s subways and buses. De Blasio, by contrast, wants a millionaire’s tax, although Cuomo said he opposes such a measure.
“The mayor’s go-to priority on funding things has been a tax on wealthy people,” said Howard Cure, director of municipal bond research for Evercore Wealth Management. “That’s something worth watching, whether there will be a millionaire’s tax or a form of congestion pricing to help pay for mass transit.”
Figliola suggested a tax-amnesty program to raise funds without hurting taxpayers and riders. “There are in billions in uncollected monies sitting on the table,” he said.