It's hard to believe it's been so long, but our super-progressive mayor Bill de Blasio was elected in November 2013, and took office on January 1, 2014. That means that he's now been in office for a full three years plus. And indeed, he has begun his campaign for re-election, albeit unofficially. Shall we have a review of how he's done?
For reasons that won't surprise anyone, my prognosis for de Blasio's mayoralty upon his election was not good. My first post on the subject was way back just before the 2013 election, titled "Bill de Blasio: How Bad Is This Guy?" (Conclusion: bad.) Literally everything he proposed threatened to make the city worse off. But what we couldn't know then was how much of his progressive agenda he would get enacted and implemented, and how fast any destructive effects would be realized. (As covered here many times, the corrosive effects of "socialist death spirals" play out very slowly.)
And then, we stumbled into an unbelievable piece of good fortune. It turns out that de Blasio is one of the laziest people on the planet, and undoubtedly the number one laziest person ever to hold such high and responsible public office. As reported in many places, his daily schedule seems to run something like this: arise around 8 or 9 AM at the mayoral mansion on the Upper East Side of Manhattan; get in his two-car motorcade of gigantic Chevy Suburbans for the 11 mile ride to his gym in Brooklyn; leave the behemoth cars idling while he works out for an hour or so; stop by his favorite coffee place; then back in the motorcade for the 5 mile trip to City Hall. Wander into the office some time around noon. Here's a snippet from the Brooklyn Paper in 2015 on de Blasio's routine, with some emphasis on his exquisitely sensitive environmental consciousness:
Mayor DeBlasio routinely travels 11 miles in a two-car motorcade to workout in his beloved Park Slope YMCA, and leaves his security force in idling cars outside as he breaks a sweat inside. The mayor, who has positioned himself as an environmentalist by backing bans on in-home wood-burning fireplaces and single-use Styrofoam containers, and is considering a fee for the use of plastic bags at stores, is thumbing his nose at the environment by allowing his motorcade — generally made up of two Chevrolet Suburbans — to idle for up to an hour while he works out, opponents say.
So, for this guy who barely can be bothered to show up for work, how has progress been going on his signature issues -- things like increasing taxes on "the rich," instituting universal pre-K in public schools, expanding "affordable housing," ending homelessness, and reducing income inequality?
Increasing taxes on "the rich." Probably the most talked-about item in de Blasio's agenda immediately after his election was his plan to raise the top New York City income tax rate by a little over .5%, from 3.88% to 4.41%. That proposal required approval from the state legislature, and it went nowhere. Mostly, taxes have stayed right where they were before de Blasio was elected. The exception is the real estate tax, which has seen small increases each year. Of course, that one is paid substantially by non-wealthy people.
Universal pre-K. Basically, he got this one done, so I guess we should give him credit. Of course, the basis on which he sold the idea was that it would be critical to reducing income inequality. How universal pre-K would have any noticeable effect on income inequality in less than about 20 years (when the beneficiaries begin to enter the work force) has never been obvious to me. However, de Blasio did accomplish getting several thousand more dues-paying members for the teachers union.
Income inequality. Of course, it has gone up. Oops! According to a December 2016 report from Alex Armlovich of the Manhattan Institute, "Household income inequality, as measured by the Census Bureau’s Gini coefficient, has risen moderately . . . since the beginning of the current mayor’s term in January 2014." Looks like the universal pre-K didn't help. Also not helping was the fact that other de Blasio initiatives, like "affordable housing," don't count as income to the recipients and therefore have the inevitable effect of increasing rather than decreasing income inequality, if only marginally.
Homelessness. That has increased too. Oops again! From the New York Post, December 7, 2016: "The population of the city’s homeless shelters has hit a record high as the number of families and single adults with nowhere to live continues to rise under Mayor de Blasio’s tenure." According to that Post article, the number of homeless in city shelters had reached about 61,000, an increase of some 83% over the previous ten years (granted about a third of that during the Bloomberg tenure). I predicted that an increase in homelessness would occur when de Blasio reinstated priority for public housing slots for people who have declared themselves "homeless." Deeply subsidized housing for life if you will only go through a period of "homelessness" first -- what could go wrong?
Affordable housing. This is an enormously expensive exercise in futility that I have covered dozens of times, calling it the "most expensive possible way to benefit the smallest number of people," and then of course trap them in poverty for life. In early January the de Blasio administration trumpeted a figure of 22,000 units of "affordable housing" supposedly "built or preserved" in 2016 -- but the New York Times, skeptical for the first time in its existence, asked a few questions and learned that only 6800 units had been "built." Nobody knows what's in the "preserved" category. This in a city of well over 3 million housing units. On this one, I'm not giving de Blasio any credit. If the city would only stop over-regulating private builders, they would quickly build enough housing to drive market rentals down. De Blasio will never allow that. We are doomed to a lifetime of housing lotteries to allocate microscopic numbers of subsidized units that will never make any real difference in housing affordability for the masses.
Meanwhile, on the budget front, it's basically what you would expect from an incompetent manager who's not paying much attention and gives the subordinates free rein. The employee head count is increasing on some kind of autopilot, as the bureaucrats build their empires without accomplishing anything you can notice. According to the Wall Street Journal back in September, the number of City employees was about 297,000 when Bloomberg left office, and is expected to reach about 323,000 by the time the next budget kicks in in July -- about a 9% increase. Nobody knows what the extra people are doing (other than the universal pre-K). Mayor Bloomberg's last budget (FY 2014) was $72.7 billion. The budget for the coming FY 2018 (beginning July 1, 2017), which was projected to be $81.6 billion back in 2014 (during de Blasio's first year in office), is now projected to be $84.7 billion. I sure hope your income is going up that fast!
There are definitely some worrisome long-term trends here, particularly allowing unproductive government spending to increase faster than the underlying economy. But just think about how much worse it could have been if de Blasio was an energetic guy striving hard to implement the "progressive" agenda! As it was, he has done little, and things where city spending has any impact have gotten a little worse.