We interrupt this head-scratching over the mayor's proposed pre-k tax to look at something that seems to actually be working: the end of the City Hall budget dance.
In what was a annual rite of passage by Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, the mayor would propose cutting things that he didn't necessarily want to cut in his preliminary budget: arts programs, library hours, and even firehouses. After much hand-wringing and harrumphing, the City Council would ride to the rescue each year and save much of what the mayor was about to cut.
The budget dance actually benefitted the Council because it gave it some tangible accomplishments to point to -- besides changing hundreds of street names. Politically, it would give the mayor bona fides with others, looking tough in negotiations but willing to compromise.
While the budget dance largely worked, it was also a massive waste of time and posturing for the Council, the mayor, and the media. Was the mayor really serious about cutting these programs or was he doing it with a wink? It was never clear until the last minute what was actually on the chopping block and what was just a "proposed cut." Meanwhile, most lobbyists loved the game because frightened organizations would need to hire a dance coach to help them save their programs.
Mayor de Blasio vowed to end the budget dance – and he may have succeeded. As our Courtney Gross reported yesterday, the toughest question that the City Council had for de Blasio's budget director, Dean Fuleihan, was how many muffins he wanted to munch on before his testimony.
Obviously, there are still large budget questions out there – including whether the city really has a surplus it's trying to hide from more than 100 unions that are working without a contract. But by helping install Melissa Mark-Viverito as City Council speaker, the mayor has bought himself a valuable piece of political insulation as the budget process moves forward. And regardless of Council politics, de Blasio seems to be true to his word when it comes to ending the dance. But with the Council largely on board with the mayor's fiscal plan, this puts more pressure than ever on the City Comptroller and the Independent Budget Office to find flaws with whatever fiscal assumptions the mayor is making in his $74 billion blueprint.
It may be more challenging for the mayor in the future when the city is in more dire fiscal straits and he has to propose being the bad guy. But in a winter that's been dominated by his uphill fight with Gov. Cuomo, it's nice to actually win a battle.