Our city is getting slammed with a generation’s set of crises in the space of a few months between the coronavirus, the economic collapse it drove and the deep divisions over crime and policing that have been driven to the fore by long-smoldering anger here and precipitating events elsewhere. We sure as heck better get through hurricane season unscathed.
Now we have the city’s first budget plan in the age of the virus, and from what we can tell right away, it doesn’t live up to the challenge.
This is a time when serious cuts need to be made across the board, in every agency, to keep the city from heading toward bankruptcy, a road it’s been down before. And yet all we got on that count are vague promises of things like labor savings to be worked out in the future with the unions. Are you kidding? Currying favor with the unions in order to get their endorsements and boots on the ground come election time is pretty much Job No. 1 of most elected officials in the city. And we’re supposed to expect those same officials to wring savings out of the public workforce? That was unlikely even before many of the employees became hero essential workers during the virus crisis.
One city agency was singled out for savings, though — the Police Department. It supposedly took a $1.5 billion hit, two-thirds of it from operations and the rest from capital plans, but we’ll see if that even stands. You can estimate savings from overtime cuts ($300 million), but when protesters shut down a highway and cops are needed, well, they get paid for however long they’re needed. Many of the other savings are not savings at all; the mayor and City Council are just shifting personnel out of the Police Department and into another agency. But the cancellation of the next Police Academy class is real; we better hope the sudden spike we’re seeing in violent crime doesn’t last.
Officials say they cut the budget plan from $95 billion to $88 billion. We doubt much of those savings will ever materialize, and we hope the ones that do don’t have too great an impact on public safety, when we need all the safety we can get.