The Office Of The Mayor Of NYC 1915 Part II
 

By John Purroy Mitchel
 
 

I have already tried to outline to you in a very brief and rough manner the matter of budget making. There are a number of agencies that contribute to that work. The departments first submit their estimates. The plan prior to the beginning of this
administration was for each department to submit its estimate to the board of estimate in just as large a sum as it dared ask for, and then the board of estimate took that request and through the comptroller's office investigated it and then cut it down to just as low a sum as it dared appropriate. The board of estimate was largely without accurate information upon which to predicate the cut that it might make. The department itself was largely without accurate information upon which to predicate its request. We
have established these two new bureaus for investigation. During the administration of Mayor Gaynor we established the budget committees, which have been continued under this administration. But one thing was undertaken last year which never was undertaken before. Each department head was instructed to make a request based not on the idea of inflation, but on the actual necessities of the department and reduced to the minimum which he believed to be consistent with those needs.

He was instructed to submit it to the mayor and not to the board of estimate until it had been passed and reviewed by the mayor. Each department head did submit his request to me. I went over those requests, acting through the commissioner of accounts and through the city chamberlain, who personally represented me; and when he had reviewed the requests and they had been recast in the light of our examination, they were sent forward to the board of estimate over my signature in the form of an executive budget, which had never been attempted before, and that executive budget, for the first time in the history of the city, represented a decrease in its total request from the actual appropriation of the year before. When the budget went into the hands of the board of estimate it came under the scrutiny of these bureaus. It was again scrutinized by the commissioner of accounts and by the chamberlain, now sitting as a member of the sub-committee on budget appointed by the budget committee of the board of estimate. And as a result of all that work and re-scrutiny these appropriations when made, taken together with and reviewed by the mayor. Each department head did submit his request to me.

I went over those requests, acting through the commissioner of accounts and through the city chamberlain, who personally represented me; and when he had reviewed the requests and they had been recast in the light of our examination, they were sent forward to the board of estimate over my signature in the form of an executive budget, which had never been attempted before, and that executive budget, for the first time in the history of the city, represented a decrease in its total request from the actual appropriation of the year before. When the budget went into the hands of the board of estimate it came under the scrutiny of these bureaus. It was again scrutinized by the commissioner of accounts and by the chamberlain, now sitting as a member of the sub-committee on budget appointed by the budget committee of the board of estimate. And as a result of all that work and re-scrutiny these appropriations when made, taken together with the appropriations of the offices of the five borough presidents, represented a net reduction of $2,000,000 under the actual appropriations for the year previous.

That represents, to my mind, intelligent and scientific budget making, as far as we have been able to develop it up to date. The budget of next year will be made in the same way, after the same kind of careful scrutiny; and I want to emphasize this fact, that effective and scientific budget making means not merely scrutiny of the requests of the departments by the board of estimate, analysis of the requests by the agencies of the board of estimate, and control exercised there, but it must also mean a painstaking continuous effort on the part of the departments and their administrative heads themselves to predicate requests upon actual needs, after those needs have been ascertained by careful and scientific analysis in the departments, made by the heads of the departments themselves; and in no other way will a scientific budget be made or will this city be able to keep its budget down to the actual requirements of the departments.


Through his membership in the board of estimate, and through his membership on the constructive and most important committees of that board, the mayor contributes to the making of city policy. He must also contribute to that individually as head of the city government. There are a great many problems which are handled both within the board of estimate and independently of the board of estimate, upon which the mayor must exercise a certain leadership in community thought. For example, we are facing to-day an acute and serious problem in the matter of taxation. The budget of New York, by reason of causes over which no member of the present board of estimate and apportionment has control, by reason of inherited conditions, due in a very large degree to mandatory legislation which has come to this city from Albany without the request of its own officials, the budget, we find, is going constantly up to higher and higher figures, without the power of the board of estimate or the mayor to keep it down. For instance, the budget of 1915 went up $6,000,000 over the budget of 1914 in spite of the fact that we reduced the administrative cost of government, that which is under our control, by $2,000,000; and this was due to the fact that we had to provide in the budget for four and a half millions more of uncollectible taxes in 1915 than we did in 1914, that we had to provide for approximately $3,000,000 of increase due to the cost of the $100,000,000 loan that New York was compelled to negotiate as a result of the war conditions that we faced in common with the rest of the world, when we were compelled to secure that money in order to meet our foreign obligations in gold, and not default the city's obligations; due also to the fact that last winter we had an unprecedented condition of snow followed by falling temperature, so that the street cleaning department was compelled to cart from the city's streets almost every cubic yard of snow that fell in those two great snowstorms.

Nature did not aid the street cleaning department last winter as it has done this winter. That cost the city of New York upwards of $2,000,000. The increase was due, also, to the fact that we had to provide in the budget about $1,800,000 as the increased cost of the educational work of the city. - That increase was occasioned in part by the mandatory increases of teachers' salaries prescribed by law, and in part by the additional teachers that we had to provide for to teach the new and additional pupils that had already come into the system or were naturally to be expected during the year 1915.

These things raised the budget $6,000,000 despite the cut of $2,000,000 in administrative cost. Next year the city of New York, through the exercise of economy in administration and through certain reductions which it will be able to effect in uncollectible taxes, and by reason of the fact that there will be no $100,000,000 loan, we hope, to negotiate next year, would be able to keep its budget constant and its tax rate constant, were it not for the fact that next year we face, as far as we are able to see to-day, a direct state tax, in addition to our own budgetary requirements.

New York pays 70% of any direct state tax, and so we must look forward to an increase in our budget due to that direct state tax if it comes. In the year that follows, because of the new financial policy of carrying in the budget non-income-producing public improvements, we must expect still greater increases. Therefore, this problem of taxation becomes a real and pressing problem.

There are three courses that are open as I see it, and we must follow one of them. We must either lay additional taxes upon real estate—and that is highly undesirable, because real estate is already burdened about to its limit, or we must reduce the
amount or the character of service that the city renders to its people. We must cut out police protection, health protection, education service, or some one of the great services that the city renders. Or, as a third possibility, we must develop some new
sources of municipal revenue; and that can be done only by devising some new and additional system of taxation. So I say that that problem of taxation, which from time immemorial has been the most difficult problem of government, is here with us to-day and must be solved by the present city administration. In the solution of that problem the mayor must take upon himself the burden of leadership. Now, no system of taxation is going to be popular with the people who are to be taxed. No plan for the  cutting of broad services is going to be popular; perhaps it will be even less so than a new plan of taxation; the results flowing from the cut of service in health protection or in education or in police protection might be far more serious to the city and its people than the development of new sources of income through taxation.

But there is a problem which must be solved by the mayor and the board of estimate, and it requires about as much time as one individual has to give even when he gets the fullest help and support that intelligent citizen committees and an intelligent
board of estimate can give.

I have already outlined the difficult question of financial policy which we solved last September when we declared that these permanent improvements shall hereafter be carried in increasing proportion in the budget until they are entirely so carried. That
problem had to be solved on a few days' notice. Although it had been long under consideration, the board of estimate did not come to the point of actually dealing with it until it was precipitated by the negotiation of the $100,000,000 loan, and then we
felt the time had come to take a stand, and we declared for this new policy, a policy which puts New York city for the first time in its history upon the sound financial basis of "pay-as-you-go"— a basis upon which every private enterprise must rest if it does not wish to go ultimately into the hands of the receiver or the bankruptcy courts. New York stands upon that basis now, but in order to get there and to stay there during the next few years, it is going to be necessary to lay a temporarily increased burden
through the budget upon the tax-paying community as the price of putting the city upon that sound financial basis. That was a difficult problem. It had to be solved last September. This board of estimate faced it frankly and solved it in that way, and
I believe that the taxpayers of a few years hence will have ample cause to thank the present city government for solving the question as it has done, when the interest payments included in the budget have been reduced to a point more than enough to balance the increase which we have to carry on account of these permanent improvements.

I had intended to talk to you at some length about the functions of the mayor in dealing with legislation that comes either from the legislature at Albany or from the local legislature, the board of aldermen. With regard to the former he has a suspensory veto of a local bill; that is to say, he may veto it and it stands disapproved, unless the legislature repasses it over the mayor's veto, which it may do by a majority vote. That has been a most necessary safeguard to the city. Every year we get vicious and interfering bills which the mayor of the city must veto in the interest either of the taxpayers or of the development of the community.

It looks as if we were going to get such a bill in a few days. The senate of the state this afternoon passed the so-called Lockwood-Ellenbogen bill, which provides for the disruption of the tenement house department, the department of water supply, the fire
department, the health department, and the license department, by taking from all of them jurisdiction over the construction of buildings and distributing that jurisdiction among the various offices of the five borough presidents. I shall not go into all the
features of that bill which cause me to make the statement I am about to make, but they will be discussed sufficiently in public within the next few days. Suffice it to say that that bill, conceived by the land speculators of this city, has been put forward primarily for the purpose of prostituting the administration of the tenement house law of the city of New York and of breaking down the effective administration of that law and the other laws which provide for a proper regulation of building construction in the city of New York. It has behind it, too, political purposes, but they are insignificant in comparison with that primary and vicious purpose of breaking down the administration of those necessary regulative laws. The bill will come to me if it passes the assembly.


 

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: The Office Of Mayor 1915 Part II
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina

Source:

BIBLIOGRAPHY: The Government of the City of New York: (A collection of addresses and discussions held in the City of New York. April 7 to 30, 1915) The New York State Constitutional Convention Commission 1915
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