Bill de Blasio’s exhilarating landslide victory over Joe Lhota in New York’s mayoral election offers a once-in-a-generation chance for progressives to take the reins of power in America’s largest—and most iconic—city. The rest of the country will be watching as this proud liberal, who earned our enthusiastic endorsement in the primary, moves to deliver on his promise to “leave no New Yorker behind.” The new mayor’s to-do list will be long, and the following is not intended to be comprehensive; but here are five areas where we see immediate possibilities for meaningful change in our city under Mayor de Blasio.
The Economy and Inequality
(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
De Blasio’s “tale of two cities” campaign zeroed in on New York City’s most fundamental problem: the dramatic widening of its income gap, a trend that accelerated greatly on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s watch. As we noted in our May 6 special issue, “The Gilded City,” the richest 1 percent of New Yorkers claimed 39 percent of the city’s income share in 2012—up from 12 percent in 1980. Enacting de Blasio’s campaign proposal to tax earners of $500,000 and up to pay for universal pre-K would be a fine way to begin to reverse this tide, although the state legislature has to be persuaded to get on board, and it may take some time to implement the plan for more mundane reasons, such as the scarcity of classroom space.
Meanwhile, there are other steps the mayor can take to tackle the inequality that he called, in his victory speech, “the defining challenge of our time.” He will have to plug the leaks in the tax system and persuade the state to end tax breaks for luxury properties, close business tax loopholes and cut subsidies for developers (which increased almost tenfold under Bloomberg). And why not push to reinstate the commuter tax? Vast changes in the city’s tax structure aren’t likely—and its mix of personal income and business taxes is already relatively progressive—but halting giveaways to the wealthy is essential if the city is to address its pressing social needs.
The most powerful tool the mayor wields is the city’s $72 billion budget. Rather than nickel-and-dime New Yorkers in the budget process, as they’ve come to expect, the mayor can use it to promote equitable economic development and well-funded services for all. He can make infrastructure investments that save money and energy long term to make the post-Sandy city more resilient in the face of climate change—while increasing the kinds of jobs and industries that offer economic security and upward mobility for ordinary New Yorkers.
Even small changes would make a big difference to many people. For example, the city awards billions of dollars in contracts to nonprofit agencies for social services—for publicly funded childcare, public health, and programs for seniors, youth and the homeless. But as many as 50,000 workers at these agencies are poor or near-poor, according to James Parrott of the Fiscal Policy Institute. The mayor could grant them a living wage as part of the preliminary executive budget for 2015, due January 16.