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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Delivers Remarks at the New York State Financial Control Board Annual Meeting

August 3, 2021

Mayor Bill de Blasio:  Thank you so much, Chair Mujica. And as we were just talking a moment ago, it is a much better meeting we get to have in 2021 than the one we had in 2020. We've come a long, long way together. I want to thank everyone. Special thanks to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and, of course, to the members of the board, Secretary of State Rossana Rosado, Steve Cohen, and Bill Thompson. Thank you all. We have, during this whole period of extraordinary challenge, and there is just nothing to compare historically to what we've all been through together with COVID, but there has been a really strong atmosphere of partnership and that extends to the City Council. I want to thank the City Council for their partnership throughout this process and their focus on fiscal responsibility and reserves, which I'll talk about in a moment. And thanks to the folks on my team who saw us through doing the hard work every day, First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan and Budget Director Jacques Jiha.  

For our budget, the Fiscal Year ‘22 Adopted Recovery Budget is $98.7 billion. It is a budget entirely focused on what it's going to take to bring this city back fully, bring back the lives of our people, jobs, livelihoods, revenue for our city, all of the above. It is balanced and fiscally responsible with manageable out-year gaps. The Recovery Budget makes strategic use of almost $6 billion in federal direct aid and $7 billion in education aid to jumpstart New York City's economic comeback and build a Recovery For All of Us. The stimulus, to say the least, has been a game changer, and I want to express personally, and we all feel this, tremendous gratitude to President Biden and his administration and our partners in Congress, Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, and the entire Congress, for what they did for this city.  

We survived the worst of the COVID era until the stimulus was available because we had prepared long in advance for any potential type of downturn, even though you could not have possibly imagined the one we got. We were ready – and this comes to the topic of reserves. Before the pandemic, we had a record level of $6 billion in combined reserves, more than three times higher than what the prior administration had left when I came into office. We took a number of actions to build our reserves and thanks to these actions when the pandemic hit, we were able to avoid layoffs and avoid major cuts to critical programs and services. It became obviously a priority to restock the reserves rapidly. And so, in the recovery budget, we replenished the reserves adding $2.8 billion since June of last year, 2020, including $1.6 billion to the Retiree Health Benefits Trust Fund, and in partnership with the City Council $500 million to the city's first-ever Rainy Day Fund. Total reserves in Fiscal Year ‘22 are now $5.1 billion. So, less than $1 billion lower than our all-time-high and absolutely believe the City of New York will continue to add to those reserves going forward.  

Now let's talk about the savings efforts that we've undertaken and particularly our focus on headcount. On top of building and maintaining reserves, we've remained committed to reducing headcount and achieving savings. Through strict headcount and attrition management, we reduced agency employee headcount to 313,000. This is a cut of 14,000 from the peak headcount that we reached less than two years ago. The Recovery Budget achieved nearly $4 billion in savings over the two-year savings program. The second highest total of this administration. And then on top of gap closing savings, we recently announced something very, very important. We announced that our retirees are moving to the NYC Medicare Advantage Plus plan in January. This was something we obviously achieved with our partners in labor. This means our hardworking former employees will have better health care options and the City's long-term liability for retiree health costs will be significantly reduced. So, this is truly a win-win. 

As to revenue, during the pandemic, careful, cautious forecasts ensured that we were able to react swiftly and responsibly as the economy rapidly declined. Your report shows significant revenue increases in Fiscal Year ‘22 over our current forecast and smaller upsides in the out-years. And I certainly do appreciate your confidence in the recovery. And although it's a matter of approach and strategy, always, in the State of New York to remain cautious and careful in our estimates, I certainly share your optimism that things are moving in the right direction. And there's a positive outlook for revenue.  

As to bond ratings, fiscal monitors agree that our financial strategies are working. Moody's and S & P recently upgraded our credit outlook to stable. Last month, Kroll Bond Rating Agency rated the City for the first time, giving us an AA+ rating, and a stable outlook. In terms of employment, we've recovered almost half of the jobs lost during the pandemic, adding 145,000 jobs since December alone. By the end of the year, our estimate is we should achieve 4.5 million jobs, actually higher than when I first took office. And then a return to the pre-pandemic level of 4.7 million total jobs in the city within two years.  

And the impact on recovery in this budget, our economic recovery will be built, of course, on beating COVID and investing in a recovery that reaches all New Yorkers. We could not have tackled COVID without a very strong public health system. And that system has now administered over 10 million doses of the vaccine in the five boroughs. The Recovery Budget makes additional investments in public health and in the future of the City's efforts on public health and around jobs that will be created in the health sector, including the LifeSci NYC initiative that will establish New York City as the public health capital of the world.  

The Recovery Budget is also making investments in public safety by fighting gun violence, with the expansion of Cure Violence and the Crisis Management System, support for the NYPD’s crime reduction efforts, and then beyond the issue of safety, on quality of life, cleaning up our city with the City Cleanup Corps, helping small businesses come back with a variety of loans and grants, and bringing our tourists back with a massive national and international advertising campaign. As the city reopens opportunity will return and obviously revenue as well.  

We're also investing in our children. What has become clear in this crisis is that nothing has been more important to New Yorkers than the needs of our children and nothing signals recovery more than the strength of our schools. We invested in our children this summer with Summer Rising, first ever free, absolutely universal full-day summer program. And this is something I hope will be continued in the future because it's been tremendously successful for 200,000 kids. And this fall students will be supported by a new Universal Academic Recovery Plan so we can close that COVID achievement gap that emerged when kids were not in school and address their emotional needs as well.  

To conclude, I'm proud to say that the Recovery Budget is balanced, and out-year gaps are manageable and within historic norms. And by remaining committed to strong fiscal management and restoring reserves to near record levels, we will have a stronger and even more resilient city going forward. As always, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. This will be my last appearance. It's been good. And thank you, everyone. And thank you all for the important work you do for the people in New York City and New York State. 

[...] 

Just very briefly, I appreciated the analysis, and we take all these issues very seriously. And I think what we're hearing across the whole table is, you know, there's the natural tension, as my friend, Scott Stringer, said. Everyone's supposed to play a different role and is playing it well. But I think where there's unity is, we've increased the reserves, that has proven to be the ultimate bulwark. We see some very positive signs on revenue, even though we think it's smart to be cautious in our assumptions. We still all see positive signs on revenue and recovery, locally and nationally. The very, very good developments in the last few days – I mean, even as we came into this meeting, the world has changed, and I want to give Scott Stringer credit and his whole team for wise investments. Because a lot – you know, we didn't – we talked about, rightfully and I won't take sides between the two comptrollers. They both did a great job. But strong stock market, smart investments, smart choices has put our retirees in a better position, but it also is going to require less in terms of City contribution over several years. That's going to improve our budgetary standing. So, that's the – the areas of concern are honest and real, but, you know, trying to accent the honest, positive too, we just got a great step forward from the comptroller with good news for retirees, but also good news for the City budget for several years to come.  

And then also the actions being taken in Washington unquestionably will reduce some of our capital needs vis-à-vis infrastructure. We have to go through a process on that, obviously, there's – some of these are competitive grants, although New York City fares very well historically in federal competitive grant competitions. But to the concern about the capital budget, which again, I think is honest, my answer is, I do think enhanced capital spending is crucial to recovery. It's also the fact of life in the greatest economic center and greatest city in the world, but also an aging infrastructure city, that we must address these needs. But the good news is we believe we'll see some substantial costs offset over the next few years as that infrastructure money comes into play. So, that's a good X-factor in the equation as well. So, definitely more work to be done. But I expect a smooth handoff to the next administration and a lot of the measures that we've taken can be built upon by the new team. 

 

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