If NYC’s proposed budget and capital plan for fiscal year 2018 are any indication, Mayor Bill de Blasio has transformed from the progressive mayor with big plans to the practical mayor ready to make small but important fixes.
Missing are lofty promises and funds for big ideas like universal free school lunch and half-fare MetroCards.
Instead, de Blasio’s $84.67 billion plan is chock full of money to fix streets and the roofs of public housing, and for homeless shelters, school crossing guards, after-school care and summer employment.
Then there’s the capital plan’s $303 million to finish the last leg of NYC’s third water tunnel, which will bring water from upstate. The critical project was delayed last year when de Blasio was focused on other projects and programs.
In many respects, the shift could bode well for the people of New York City. The city’s aging infrastructure remains a key concern, and de Blasio’s focus on fixing water pipelines, transportation and housing is critical. And he’s clearly not ignoring some of his bread-and-butter concerns, like after-school programs.
But it’s an election year, and that’s clearly built into the budget, too. By adding funds for critical items like the tunnel and summer youth employment, de Blasio might avoid significant fights with advocates for those issues or with the City Council. And he can point to real plans and even early results — paved roads, safer streets, patched roofs — rather than amorphous efforts that are more difficult to quantify or see. It’s a political win for him when there is less for critics to complain about and interest groups are thrown a bone. But there is more to do.
De Blasio will have to keep an eye on the needs of low-income New Yorkers, homeless students and families and others for whom this budget might not do enough. And then there’s the possibility of federal funding cuts under President Donald Trump: an unknown pothole even de Blasio cannot just pave.