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New York: Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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Brad Lander

POLITICS: NYC needs these charter reforms

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By setting up a Charter Revision Commission last month, Mayor Adams gave New Yorkers a chance to weigh in on ways to improve city government; both the Citizens Budget Commission and city Comptroller Brad Lander have has offered some ideas for putting Gotham on a sounder fiscal footing.

Crucially, both want rules to govern the Rainy Day Fund created in the 2019 charter reforms, setting minimum annual deposits to it in good times, and standards for how quickly to use it in tough times.

As Lander notes, the lack of such a requirement leaves the amount of money set aside in the fund undersized and subject to the annual whims of budget negotiation.


City Comptroller Brad Lander has offered ideas on fixing NYC’s finances. Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

The CBC also wants City Charter rules on pre-funding health benefits for retired city employees: The cost of such benefits has grown enormously these last three decades, yet the city doesn’t put nearly enough aside to cover them.

That makes it too easy for today’s politicians to promise the moon, leaving future pols (and taxpayers) stuck when the bills come due, forced to break those promises, slash vital spending (for cops, schools, hospitals etc.) and/or hike city taxes even more.

All those choices are cruel, and most of them threaten to devastate the city’s economy and quality of life, putting it into a downward spiral.

To guard against another potential disaster, the pros at Lander’s office and the CBC want hard guardrails on running up new city debt: specifically, limiting debt-service costs to at most 15% of yearly revenues.

That limit is now city policy, but it’s easy enough to see future leaders abandoning it to spend wildly in the knowledge that they’ll be out of office by the time disaster strikes.

At least one of these charter reforms strikes us as questionable: Lander wants the city’s constitution to ensure timely payments to the city’s contracted nonprofit service providers.

Hmm: That “fix” would be a huge gift to the entities in Meg Barnette’s Nonprofit New York network — Barnette being the comptroller’s wife.

We may endorse other reforms in coming weeks, but here’s one more the commission should definitely consider: Eliminate the Public Advocate’s Office.

This job got created in the original charter essentially to give Andrew Stein (now a regular Post oped contributor) a position as the post of City Council president was being eliminated.

But all it really does (with apologies to Betsy Gotbaum, who served honorably in the post) is employ ambitious politicians, giving them a paycheck, staff and a few powers to make mischief and advance their careers.

If the Charter Reform Commission proposes some more fiscal discipline and the removal of the advocate, a worthless appendix of city government, it will have served the public well.



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