Mayor Bloomberg used his last major speech before leaving office to sound the alarm about skyrocketing pension and healthcare costs – and warn his successor Bill de Blasio to take a hard line with city workers unions.
The increasing costs, he said, are a crisis waiting to happen that threaten New York and cities across the country.“
Our country appears to be in the early stages of a growing fiscal crisis that – if nothing is done – will extract a terrible toll on the next generation,” he said, noting that the city has spent $68 billion on pensions during his administration – 13 times what it spent on affordable housing.
Bloomberg groused in his speech at the Economic Club of New York that city unions have resisted moving away from defined benefit pensions or requiring city workers to contribute to their health care premiums.
Bloomberg blamed a “labor-electoral complex” for blocking changes – and said de Blasio must not succumb to it.“
We cannot afford for our elected officials to put their own futures ahead of the next generation’s, and to continue perpetuating a labor-electoral complex that is undermining our collective future,” he said.
Bloomberg said that de Blasio must tackle the benefit reform that he has been unable to pull off.
All city worker contracts are currently expired. Bloomberg vowed not to sign any contracts with pay raises unless they also included cost savings on benefits – and ended up signing no contracts at all.But Bloomberg said de Blasio will be in a stronger negotiating position than he was.“
While labor leaders refused that deal, they cannot hold out forever – and they cannot afford to wait out another mayor,” he said. “That puts the next Administration in a powerful position of strength to negotiate historic reforms.“
The next Administration will have a once-in-a-generation opportunity for comprehensive benefit reform, which is essential to our long-term future,” he said.
Bloomberg suggested the consequences could be dire if de Blasio doesn’t heed his advice, noting 38 local governments have filed for bankruptcy since 2010, mostly because of pressure from pension costs.“
The costs of today’s benefits cannot be sustained for another generation – not without inflicting real harm on our citizens, on our children and our grandchildren.”
Bloomberg made the remarks as part of a broader valedictory where he hailed the rise of American cities, in which he boasted New York and his own administration have played a key part.“
It’s clear that the golden age of the suburb is over, and it is being replaced by a new urban renaissance,” he said.
He delivered the speech at the same time de Blasio was naming his new budget director. The future mayor did not sound very interested in his predecessor’s advice, our Jennifer Fermino reports.
De Blasio has given few details on how he would handle expired labor contracts, and has not ruled out granting retroactive raises that Bloomberg strenuously opposes.“
Every labor contract is open in New York City. That’s never happened before. No previous mayor ever let that happen,” he said. “
So I would caution, as much as I appreciate Mayor Bloomberg’s advice, that I would caution that one should be careful from giving advice from that perspective.“I think he’s just cementing his legacy,” de Blasio went on. “He can give speeches and that’s his right. We’re the ones that will have to resolve them.”
Harry Nespoli, chair of the Municipal Labor Committee, said it was “unfortunate that Mayor Bloomberg would use his last few days in office to blame unions yet again for the failure of his own Administration.“
Unlike the private sector where workers jump from job to job and have higher pay, our municipal workers spend their entire professional lives working for the city knowing that they will be able to have a secure retirement. Pensions are at the heart of that commitment. Does he really believe there is something wrong with a City employee having adequate healthcare and a reasonable pension after 25-30 years of serving the public?” he said. “
As Mayor Bloomberg goes off into his retirement, he should realize that others who have worked just as hard deserve it as well.”