The virus is forcing N.Y.C. to consider borrowing billions.
The coronavirus pandemic has plunged New York City into a dire fiscal crisis and forced top officials to contemplate a maneuver that once brought New York to disrepair: letting the city borrow billions of dollars to cover basic operating expenses.
Numerous fiscal experts and public officials, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, are leery of giving the city permission to take on significant debt, sensitive to the history of reckless borrowing that led the city to the brink of bankruptcy in 1975.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has asked legislative leaders to grant him permission to issue bonds to cover operating costs, saying he would only do so as a “last resort.”
Doing so, however, has become a real possibility: Legislative leaders are discussing the issue with the governor’s office and city officials.
Mr. Cuomo said on Thursday that issuing bonds to pay for operating expenses was fiscally questionable.
“We don’t want to create a situation where the state or any local government borrows so much money that they can’t repay it, and then you have to start to cut service and now you’re in that vicious downward spiral,” he said. “New York City has been there before.”
Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller, said that if the city borrowed $7 billion to cover current expenses, it could be on the hook for more than $500 million a year in debt payments for the next 20 years.
But the mayor said Wednesday that he could not make further budget reductions without leading the city to a “horrible place where we would be cutting back basic services, cutting back personnel, furloughs, layoffs, things we do not want to see.”
On Friday, Mr. de Blasio noted that the city had been allowed to borrow money with no strings attached after the 2001 terror attacks. He also pointed out that several weeks ago, state lawmakers gave Mr. Cuomo the ability to borrow up to $11 billion.
“I think it’s a matter of just decency and fairness,” the mayor said. “Everyone’s looking for the right way to get something done that everyone can feel good about, and I’m very confident, based on those conversations, we’ll get something done during the month of June.”
The key to Governor Cuomo’s plan to reopen New York State’s economy was to take things step by step.
First, regions of the state that met a series of virus-related health metrics could begin “Phase 1” of reopening, in which construction and manufacturing could restart and nonessential retailers could offer curbside pickup.
After two weeks, if progress on health indicators continued, those regions could enter “Phase 2,” the governor said. In Phase 2, many stores could fully open, office-based jobs could resume, and personal-service businesses like hair salons could offer limited service.
For five upstate regions that entered Phase 1 on May 15, those two weeks are up today.
Mr. Cuomo said on Thursday that as early as today, experts would begin analyzing public health data from those five regions — Central New York, North Country, Finger Lakes, Southern Tier and the Mohawk Valley — to see if they qualified to enter Phase 2.
But many officials and businesses had apparently been counting on entering Phase 2 today, and felt that the governor had just moved the goal posts.
“Local Leaders Thought Phase 2 Would Begin Friday. Andrew Cuomo Said Otherwise,” read a headline in The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
“Phased and Confused,” was the headline on the news site Syracuse.com.
In Amsterdam, 40 miles northwest of Albany, a hair salon owner, Dan Martuscello, told News10 in Albany that he had thought he would be able to open today and had booked appointments.
“We installed a plastic forefront barrier at the front desk,” he said. “just like you see now at the grocery store.”
As of Friday morning, every region of the state had entered Phase 1 except New York City, which is not satisfying three of the health metrics and remains under the strictest lockdown.
City positive testing rate falls to 5 percent.
Only 5 percent of people in New York City tested for the coronavirus tested positive, the lowest daily figure the city has yet recorded, Mayor de Blasio said on Friday.
“How profound that is when you think about the fact that testing is growing and growing and growing all the time,” Mr. de Blasio said.
A low positive rate is an indicator that the virus is spreading more slowly. At the height of the outbreak in early April, more than 70 percent of those tested in the city were positive, Mr. de Blasio said.
Other highlights from Mr. de Blasio’s morning briefing:
The city will provide two million free face coverings to businesses and workers, as part of the plan to help over 200,000 people get back to work once the city meets state criteria to begin reopening. “Workers have every right to be safe when they return to work,” Mr. de Blasio said.
The city will provide 10,000 tablets with built-in internet to senior citizens in public housing. The computers will allow isolated New Yorkers to see their doctors via telemedicine appointments.
On the front lines: Erick Arbenz, M.D., anesthesiologist.
The Times is regularly profiling essential workers in the New York region during the pandemic.
Where do you live? Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan
Where do you work? N.Y.U. Langone Hospital.
Anesthesiologists are critical at hospitals treating Covid-19 patients. Why so? We have the unique skill set of knowing how to intubate patients suffering from difficult or compromised airways.
What has been the most difficult part of your job since the pandemic began? The amount of deaths we saw each day, we weren’t prepared for that. Those numbers, that’s something you see on the battlefield. We aren’t prepared for them in a hospital setting. Also, knowing that we were potentially exposing ourselves. It gets hard, but we have to keep pushing on.
What keeps you going? Knowing this is the nature of medicine and remembering we took an oath. We want to help patients and use our skills and knowledge the best way possible in order to save lives.
There’s also my grandparents’ stories. My grandfather was the president of Guatemala when his government was overthrown by a coup. Times were tough then, but he and my grandmother, they were resilient. That resilience they had, it helps me get through these tough times.
What gives you hope? Knowing this is a time when the whole world is united toward finding a common cure. That inspires me to keep doing what I can.
Any advice for readers? Keep following the social distancing guidelines. It’s the only way that we can minimize the use of our health care system. And, please, be patient with front-line workers. Don’t be rude.
What do you do in your spare time? I like walking my dog, Jorel (yes, as in the father of Superman). He’s a miniature husky. FaceTime with friends and family has been a tremendous help during social distancing. And I’m also working on pitching a television show about my grandfather and the coup to networks.
State lawmakers pass $100 million rent relief bill.
After weeks of outcry from distressed New Yorkers demanding that housing payments be halted during the pandemic, the State Legislature passed a bill on Thursday to provide emergency rent relief for tenants.
The legislation would cover rent due from April 1 to July 31; as of late Thursday, it had yet to be formally delivered to Governor Cuomo, but would take effect immediately if he signed it.
The program would be funded with New York’s share of the $2 trillion federal relief package passed several weeks ago.
Aides to Senator Brian Kavanagh, the Democratic chairman of his chamber’s housing committee, said the bill was one of several that state lawmakers had passed to address the current housing crisis.
As The New York Times follows the spread of the coronavirus across New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, we need your help. We want to talk to doctors, nurses, lab technicians, respiratory therapists, emergency services workers, nursing home managers — anyone who can share what’s happening in the region’s hospitals and other health care centers.
A reporter or editor may contact you. Your information will not be published without your consent.
Reporting was contributed by Luis Ferré-Sadurní, Jeffery C. Mays, Jesse McKinley, Andy Newman, Azi Paybarah, Aaron Randle, Dana Rubinstein, Matt Stevens and Katie Van Syckle.