New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani yesterday unveiled his executive budget for fiscal 1995, proposing a series of budget, cuts, asset sales, and a massive refunding of city debt to pay the bills in the next fiscal year.
The plan would eliminate a $2.3 billion budget gap projected in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
In addition to the fiscal 1995 budget gap, the city faces budget holes totaling more than $7 billion through fiscal year 1998.
Giuliani's executive budget calls for $31.635 billion in overall spending, about $100 million less than the city's fiscal 1994 budget prepared by former Mayor David N. Dinkins.
The executive budget, if approved by the city council, would reduce overall city spending for the first time in 16 years. However, the spending reduction appears less aggressive than the one Giuliani proposed in February when he released his preliminary budget. The February plan proposed a $516 million drop in spending.
"We have to show that New York City has the capacity to spend less money next year than [it] did last year" Giuliani said in a press conference at City Hall. "If we can do that, we can begin to show that New York City is moving in the right direction."
Many fiscal analysts said they approved the broad outline of Giuliani's executive budget, including his call for spending cuts and municipal workforce reductions.
Giuliani is calling for the elimination of 15,000 jobs by June 1995, and has talked of making city services, such as sanitation, more productive. Wall Street bond analysts and the city's fiscal monitors have criticized prior administrations for failing to rein in the city's vast municipal workforce.
But analysts also said the executive budget failed to meet some of their expectations that Giuliani would emerge as more fiscally prudent than his predecessors. Analysts said the budget still depends on uncertain revenues, such as the inclusion of state and federal aid that has yet to be delivered.
In addition, the executive budget relies on several fiscal gimmicks to produce additional revenues.
The city, for example, plans on selling between $800 million to $1 billion of general obligation debt to produce $225 million in budget relief for fiscal 1995. However, the transaction has a cost: The city will be forced to make higher debt service payments in the future because the refunding produces savings by lengthening the maturity of outstanding city debt.
"I'm a little disappointed that the city didn't move further along to eliminate these risks and had to resort to the bond refunding" to close its budget gap, said Michael Brooks, a senior municipal credit analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.
Standard & Poor's Corp. gave the executive budget mixed reviews. "Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's first budget submission for New York City indicates the likely achievement of strong progress toward long-term budget balance," the agency said in a statement released yesterday.
But, the release said, the budget "also contains missed opportunities and the continuation of practices that perpetuate the chronic budget stress that have characterized New York City budgets in the 1990s." Standard & Poor's rates city's debt A-minus with a negative outlook.
Richard Larkin, a managing director at Standard & Poor's, said yesterday that the agency is "standing part" on its current rating of the city at least until the city council has a chance to ratify Giuliani's budget proposal.
Larkin described the executive budget as containing "big positives and big negatives."
On the positive side, Larkin said the executive budget makes a serious attempt at reducing spending - "one of the best" attempts at reducing spending in five years, he said.
But Larkin said the budget contains too many risky revenues, such as $200 million for the privatization of sewer treatment plants, the sale of delinquent property taxes, and the bond refunding. The refunding is particularly vexing given the city's plan to reduce its capital spending level to lower its overall debt service costs, Larkin said.
"[Giuliani] is obviously committed to shrinking the size of government," said Michael Johnston, a vice president and assistant director at Moody's Investors Service. Johnston said, however, that the use of one-shots, like the bond refunding, is typical of lower-related credits.
Moody's rates the city's debt Baal and Fitch Investors Service rates it A minus.
Analysts also questioned if the city in its budget documents had adequately disclosed the service impacts of the proposed workforce cuts. Unlike previous mayoral budgets, the Giuliani plan fails to show how work-force reductions will affect the maintenance of parks, or the delivery of other services, analysts said.
Giuliani said whatever its short-comings, the executive budget made important breakthroughs toward achieving structural budget balance and maintaining city services.
"Our budget is a balance between what the rating agencies want to see and what some of the people want to see who are complaining about the cuts," Giuliani said during a press conference.