Into the weeds: CBC surveys New Yorkers on the state of their city

The Citizens Budget Commission has launched a survey of New York City residents, wanting to know what locals think about their quality of life today as well as how they perceive the city is meeting its goals of providing essential services, such as public safety and education.

This is only the third time such a survey of those living in the five boroughs has been taken. A poll was conducted in 2008 by the city itself and a survey was taken in 2018 by the CBC, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that says its “mission is to achieve constructive change in the finances and services of New York City and New York State government.”

“Following several unprecedented years, there has never been a more critical time to assess the state of our city,” said Andrew Rein, CBC’s president. “CBC’s ‘NYC Resident Survey’ gives New Yorkers the chance to highlight the critical issues facing their communities and tell the city’s leaders about their quality of life and the quality of core city services affecting health, public safety, education, sanitation and more.”

Garbage piled on the streets of New York City. Trash collection and sanitation are among the subjects of a new Citizens Budget Commission survey of residents.

Bloomberg News

The CBC plans to poll 72,000 randomly selected households to find out what New Yorkers think about K-12 public education as well as sanitation, health and other public services; public safety; housing affordability; and if or why they would leave the city to live somewhere else.

“This survey promises to provide insight into how New Yorkers are rating the ‘livability’ of our city,” said Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City. “The results will help guide public policies and private investment that ensures New York will continue to attract and retain the talent we need to remain the greatest city in the world.”

Ana Champeny, CBC’s vice president for research, said this was an important time to take the pulse of the city and what residents like about it and what they feel could be improved.

“One of the unique things about this survey is that we’re going out and asking the same set of questions with the same structure now in 2023 as we did 2017,” Champeny told The Bond Buyer, “It’s a very different point in time if you think about what the city has been going through and some of the changes coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Comparing the results from this year’s survey to previous polls can show how residents’ lives, perspectives and priorities have changed post-pandemic and with current challenges, such as the influx of migrants.

“This is an important moment for New York and an opportune time to take the pulse of New Yorkers,” said Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future. “At a time when the city is facing so many real and perceived challenges, from affordability and public safety to remote work and the migrant crisis, it will be incredibly helpful for policymakers to see what things matter most to New Yorkers.”

The survey will report what has changed since 2017, when 70% of New Yorkers surveyed said they felt safe walking alone in their neighborhood at night, 45% were positive about the city’s rat control efforts, 48% were positive about the quality of public education and 21% said they think the city spends their tax dollars wisely.

Responses will be collected through Oct. 23 and the results of the survey will be made public this winter, the CBC said.

“In a vibrant metropolis like New York City, ensuring that our residents have the tools to actively participate in shaping their communities is of paramount importance,” said Melva Miller, CEO of the Association for a Better New York. “The NYC Resident Survey is a vital step towards that goal.”

On Wednesday, the city plans to issue about $700 million of taxable fixed-rate general obligation social bonds. Proceeds will go toward financing the construction of around 4,500 affordable housing units.

An underwriting syndicate led by book-running senior manager Barclays Capital is set to price the $935 million Fiscal 2024 Series B taxable new money GOs, consisting of the $700 million of Subseries B-1 social bonds and a $235 million issue of Subseries B-2 bonds.

In October 2022, the city sold $400 million of taxable GOs, the city’s first issuance of social bonds. Those bonds supported the creation of more than 3,000 units of affordable housing.

In the second quarter of fiscal 2023, the city had about $39.3 billion of GOs outstanding. The city’s GOs are rated Aa1 by Moody’s Investors Service, AA by S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings and AA-plus by Kroll Bond Rating Agency.

In affirming its GO rating on Sept. 22 ahead of the upcoming sale, KBRA said the AA-plus with stable outlook “recognizes the city’s pre-eminent role as a domestic and international center of business and culture, the historic resiliency of its broad and diverse economic base, elevated, yet manageable debt obligations, and institutionalized procedures and plans for confronting near-term financial challenges.”

“Counterbalancing the aforementioned strengths is an economic base that, while highly diversified, remains susceptible to economic cyclicality,” KBRA said. “Continuing, out-year budgetary imbalances now exacerbated by costs associated with the asylum seeker crisis; and a geographic footprint that is increasingly vulnerable to climate change driven weather events, including severe flooding.”

KBRA noted the city’s June financial plan reflected migrant care costs of $2.9 billion in fiscal 2024 and $1.0 billion in fiscal 2025. In August, however, the forecast was sharply raised to $4.7 billion in fiscal 2024, a $1.8 billion increase, and to $6.1 billion, a $5.1 billion increase, in fiscal 2025. No costs were assumed for fiscal 2026 and 2027.

KBRA said it believes since the influx of migrants shows no signs of slowing down, related spending may have to be adjusted upward.

So far, federal and state support has been limited. Without more state and federal money, the city will need to add an additional $7 billion to the financial plan in fiscal 2024 and 2025, due to the revised costs, KBRA said.

“The migrant crisis is a budget buster for New York City,” John Hallacy, founder of John Hallacy Consulting LLC, told The Bond Buyer. “Something needs to be done at the federal level. Maintaining unfettered sanctuary status is also becoming very impractical.”

Hallacy said the economy was still performing reasonably well.

“However, return to work, government shutdown, higher rates, and other factors including the possibility of another federal credit downgrade are weighing on results,” he said.

Hallacy noted that “stock market performance has been sluggish of late and the gains for the year may prove to be weaker than estimated. Fortunately, the bond market remains receptive to the paper. ”

In early September, Mayor Eric Adams announced measures to stabilize city’s finances, including a 5% a year cut in city-funded agency budgets in each of the next three financial plans starting in November.

In addition, a hiring freeze will be implemented starting Oct. 1, with exemptions for positions supporting public health, public safety and revenue generation.

As the city moves forward with difficult budget choices transparency will be needed, state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a report issued Wednesday.

While the city plans to cut spending as much as 15% in response to budget gaps that are being fueled by escalating costs due to the migrant crisis, the city’s ability to cut spending is limited to what it has discretion and control over, according to the report.

“As New York City navigates very difficult budget choices, it should be transparent over what spending can and cannot be adjusted,” DiNapoli said.

“Unfunded programs and the unprecedented influx of asylum seekers poses very real fiscal and operational challenges,” the comptroller said. “The city is limited in where it can make adjustments, and all stakeholders will benefit if it makes clear what can actually be changed and where cuts are likely to impact them.”

The report said that given the size of the mayor’s plan to trim costs, the report cautions that certain services will likely be adversely impacted, and previously planned service expansions could be jeopardized.

While the city has benefited in recent years from higher-than-projected revenue collections and slower growth in non-discretionary spending, these favorable fiscal conditions may not last, the report said.

“As of fiscal 2022, about 40% of the city’s spending was nondiscretionary,” the report noted “These costs, which the city has little ability to change, include pensions, fringe benefits, Medicaid, debt service, public assistance and other legally or contractually required payments.”

DiNapoli recommended the city use its previous recessionary experience to assess non-discretionary and controllable costs and take actions it could implement to fully fund projected spending over the financial plan period to achieve structural balance.

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