On stimulus spending, Andrew Yang says take it easy – but City Hall and Stringer have other ideas

Mayoral Candidate Andrew Yang.
Photo by Mark Hallum

Don’t spend it all in one place!

Mayoral candidate Andrew Yang made that suggestion to the de Blasio administration on Monday, but it was not exactly welcomed with open arms by either mayor’s press secretary or the city’s accountant (and one of Yang’s rivals in the mayoral race), Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Yang, in front of City Hall, urged Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council to take up his recommendation that the $6 billion granted to the city through the American Rescue Act to make up for funding shortfalls due to COVID-19 should be spaced out over a period of years to prevent future deficits.

“You’re looking at a total of, let’s call it six to $7 billion. So, if you project that it’s going to last you several years, then you’re looking at spending, let’s call it $2 billion a year, which is appropriate. If you’re facing, let’s call it a four to $5 billion budget deficit, then you use the federal money to build almost half of that goal [and eliminate] inefficiencies,” Yang said. “What you would not do is you would not take the federal money, just use it to cover your budgetary gap and then leave city council members and the people of New York City facing an extreme budget shortfall and very little in the way of additional resources to help avoid making really, really tough cuts.”

“This is all common sense,” Yang added. “Like, everyone can understand this, New Yorkers understand this, and we have to see to it that our mayor is thinking about his legacy, and about the situation that we’re going to be faced with not just today, but next year and two years from now.”

Yang, concerned that cuts would be “kicked down the road” for the next administration to grapple with, said 70% of the stimulus money coming through from Washington should be saved to cover the costs of recovery in the years to come.

De Blasio’s plan to add 30,000 jobs instead of instituting a hiring freeze was also a point of criticism for Yang, who said the city was operating on the assumption that there would surely be another stimulus bill.

But later Monday de Blasio administration spokesman Bill Neidhardt attempted to set the record straight about how the city is handling the funding in a statement. In a tweet, he also explained that it would focus on working people who depend on 3-K education, taxi drivers and support for small business.

“Austerity is not the answer for our recovery, and a basic fact check would have helped Mr. Yang avoid confusion today. The stimulus is in fact sent to the city at 50 percent over two years. The president pushed forward this stimulus to drive economic recovery immediately after the mayor balanced the budget with billions in savings,” Neidhardt said.“We furloughed non-union employees and there is a strict 3-for-1 attrition to hiring policy for everything outside of health and public safety. Does Yang wish we left the city with fewer doctors during a pandemic?”

De Blasio has not made public commentary about Yang’s critique, but said he planned to put priority behind immediate relief for New Yorkers who have struggled over the course of the last year due to the pandemic, which in the case below pertained to a bailout for renters and landlords.

“What we can do is make sure that everyone gets full advantage of the different types of stimulus funding that are available,” de Blasio said. “So, we’re constantly working with people, whether it’s tenants, or small businesses, you name it to make sure they get everything that is due to them.”

Stringer, who is also running against Yang in the June 22 Democratic primary for mayor, dismissed the suggestion at a press conference just a couple hours later in which he suggested that city would not be squandering the federal infusion of cash.

“I guess he passed the smart test. I mean, that’s what stimulus funding does, gets supplied over a couple of years,” Stringer said.