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Letters to the Editor — May 11, 2021
Man who survived subway attack tells mayor: ‘Get these nuts off the street’
Mayor Bill de Blasio is treating nearly $6 billion in federal stimulus money intended to bail out a pandemic-stricken city like a windfall — blowing tens of millions at a shot on big-government investments the city can’t afford and doesn’t need, critics say.
“He’s spending like a drunken sailor and leaving it to the next mayor to be sober,” said Carol Kellermann, former president of the independent fiscal watchdog the Citizens Budget Commission.
Indeed, many of de Blasio’s daily press briefings since the taxpayer-funded relief money was first announced over a month ago have included such new spending as $234 million for a cleanup corps — whose mandate to sweep the streets is strikingly similar to the job of sanitation workers — and even $37 million to hire even more government employees.
The mayor’s more frequent smile during those briefings may be attributed in part to the Biden administration giving the term-limited de Blasio a virtual blank check to spend $3 billion in unrestricted American Rescue Plan funds during his last six months in office. The remaining $3 billion in unrestricted funds must be spent after May 2022, when the city will have a new mayor.
The city received $4.3 billion of the funds Monday plus another $1.7 billion for the boroughs. Another $9 billion coming to the Big Apple is earmarked for specific purposes like education and controlling the coronavirus. In all, the Big Apple will eventually see $15 billion from Uncle Sam.
City Hall could not immediately provide a full breakdown of where all the stimulus funds will go, but Andrew Rein, Kellermann’s successor at CBC, said that disclosure is key.
“Transparent reporting on the use of federal aid is essential for accountability,” said Rein, who is wary about de Blasio using short-term stimulus funds for permanent projects and to spur employment.
For example, he notes the $61 million de Blasio has pledged annually to increase overhead for city-affiliated nonprofits.
“This is a good thing nonprofits needed but I don’t know what will happen four years from now,” Rein said, explaining that the funds should come from city coffers, not a one-time cash injection from Washington, DC.
Meanwhile, de Blasio modeled the new City Cleanup Corps after a “New Deal-style” program to put 10,000 New Yorkers to work making the city “cleaner and greener.” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a front-running candidate to replace de Blasio, has said he’d disband the corps if elected because “we already have a Sanitation Department.”
The Biden stimulus funds will also reverse what Hizzoner claimed was necessary belt-tightening during the pandemic, with the mayor taking $21 million from Uncle Sam to repay municipal workers furloughed for one week last year.
Rein said City Hall should be reducing its 325,000-person workforce, not increasing it by 5,000 people — a new budget item made possible by the American Recovery Act that will cost the city $37 million annually. The workforce has ballooned by over 30,000 people during de Blasio’s tenure.
The mayor will also dip into the federal money to build a long-planned, $105 million police precinct in southeast Queens that was cut last year — not to meet a budget but to satisfy the demands of “Defund the NYPD” activists.
In the last several weeks, the American Rescue Plan has seemed to be de Blasio’s answer to nearly all the city’s woes.
The struggling theater industry?
“I think you’re right, the federal aid is crucial,” the mayor said during an April 28 daily press briefing when asked if stimulus funds would be used to revive Broadway.
Illegal immigrants who weren’t eligible for pandemic relief?
Well, 500,000 “undocumented New Yorkers here in this city … contribute a lot to the city, who are part of our economy,” de Blasio said at an April 8 press conference.
They should get stimulus money because “it’s the right thing to do,” de Blasio said.
“We need to spend every dollar wisely to emerge from the pandemic,” said City Councilman Robert Holden (D-Queens).
“But the mayor still hasn’t broken his habit of spending like a drunken sailor on items that don’t help New Yorkers,” Holden added.
This year’s final budget proposal is the biggest in city history. At $98.6 billion, the plan is over $10 billion more than the spending total just a year ago.
Groups like the CBC have criticized de Blasio’s plan for saddling his successor with deficits of nearly $4 billion — a figure that grows to almost $5 billion unless the city scores major concessions from its labor unions.
Asked about the mayor’s shop-a-holic penchant when it comes to the federal bailout money, spokesman Bill Neidhardt said: “There is an unemployment crisis and Mayor de Blasio has directly created 10,000 jobs to beautify New York City. That’s leadership in a time of crisis.”
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