Wall Street Journal
Updated Feb. 24, 2015
8:43 p.m. ET


City Comptroller Sees Higher Revenue for New York City

Stringer’s projection is $1.58 billion more than de Blasio’s

By MICHAEL HOWARD SAUL

CRAIG WARGA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer released projections Tuesday showing the city will have $1.58 billion more than Mayor Bill de Blasio estimated for fiscal years 2015 and 2016, creating what he called an unprecedented fiscal position.

The comptroller’s higher revenue estimates—including nearly $3.5 billion more than the mayor anticipated for fiscal 2017, 2018 and 2019—are nearly sufficient to close the deficits Mr. de Blasio projected for those years when he released his preliminary budget proposal earlier this month.

“This is an unprecedented situation in our city,” said Mr. Stringer, the city’s chief financial officer, at a news conference. “We’ve done well with this recovery,” he said, referring to the city’s improving economy following the recession, “but we have a lot more work to do.”

Mr. Stringer described Mr. de Blasio’s budget proposal for fiscal 2016, which starts July 1, as “measured.” He urged the administration to do a better job of identifying cost savings in city agencies, and he recommended the administration squirrel away more money to protect against a future economic downturn.

Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s budget office, said, “We are intentionally prudent in our revenue projections, as always, because we’ve seen the risks of over-projecting revenue.” She said the mayor’s projected deficits for fiscal 2017, 2018 and 2019 were “well below historical averages.”

The administration has instructed agencies to identify savings, she said, and those results will be evident when the mayor releases a revised budget plan in the spring.

According to the administration, the city has what officials are calling record high reserves of $750 million for each fiscal year between 2016 and 2019. Mr. Stringer said the city needs a “cushion of billions” to protect against a downturn.

As part of his analysis, Mr. Stringer said that the decrease in the rate of growth in pension costs since fiscal 2013 had offset more than half of the higher costs in salaries following the successful negotiations under Mr. de Blasio of contracts with about three-quarters of the municipal workforce. Between fiscal 2013 and 2019, salaries are projected to rise $867 million annually, while pension costs are estimated to rise $67 million a year, Mr. Stringer said.

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, “unquestionably” believes the comptroller’s analysis shows the city has the money to give officers the raises they are seeking, Mr. Lynch’s spokesman said. The police union and the de Blasio administration are heading to arbitration over the union’s contract.

Mr. Stringer declined Tuesday to intercede in the mayor’s contract negotiations with the police union. The mayor’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on Mr. Lynch’s view.

The comptroller also released a new report examining the city’s capital budget, which showed the city completed 52% of the contracts officials had planned in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2014, the second lowest rate in a decade. That year, the Sanitation Department completed 89% of its commitments, while the Department of Parks and Recreation finished less than a quarter, according to the report.

Mr. Stringer and a number of other elected officials, including Mr. de Blasio, are scheduled to testify Wednesday in Albany about Gov. Andrew Cuomo ’s proposed state budget for the fiscal year that begins April 1.

According to a rough draft of Mr. Stringer’s testimony provided by his office, he plans to tell lawmakers the governor’s budget proposal underfunds the city’s prekindergarten program by $40 million.

Mr. Stringer also intends to praise the governor’s overall plan for statewide property tax relief but say that the city “finds itself on the short end of the stick,” according to the draft.

According to the comptroller, the city’s share of the governor’s property tax relief program, including benefits to both homeowners and renters, is 29.2%. Mr. Stringer plans to ask lawmakers to tinker with the program so that city residents receive a more equitable distribution.

Write to Michael Howard Saul at michael.saul@wsj.com