Hottest Ticket on Broadway — The Budget!

So we now have President Trump’s first budget, weighing in at $4.1 trillion. Medicaid, food stamps, health care are up for big cuts. Defense spending would rise. One thing all sides agree on: it won’t pass as proposed. It’s the beginning, not end, of the process. Which is as it should be. The budget is, after all, a fiscal blueprint of the society we wish to be, or can afford to be. If we can’t agree on those, how can we easily agree on a budget?

Jim Bourg/Reuters

Let’s talk a little history. Budgeting didn’t emerge as a discipline until the early 20th century. Before that, government officials just spent (or mis-spent) what they wanted, often on cronies, and then tried to figure out where their operating and capital funds would come from. According to a 2008 scholarly survey by Baruch’s own Public Affairs Prof. Daniel W. Williams and Mordecai Lee of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the three pioneers of American urban reform, William H. Allen, Henry Bruère and Frederick A. Cleveland were among the earliest advocates of budgeting. The so-called ABCs went on to found the New York Bureau of Municipal Research that became the Institute of Public Administration. https://blogs.baruch.cuny.edu/ipaprocessing/2014/12/how-it-all-began-with-a-scandal-of-course/

The trio seemed aware of a groundbreaking exhibit on budgeting in the jewel box Saxon city of Dresden in 1903. Within five years, budget exhibits began cropping up in American cities.  In 1908 New Yorkers thronged a two-week budgeting show in the City Investing Building at 165 Broadway that included discussions with city officials.

By 1916, the Bureau of Municipal Research had psyched out the budgeting process, noting how the proposed budget was intended to stir controversy by drawing fire from opponents, in order to expose their arguments.

Indeed, the BMR went on, the treasurer presenting the budget “shells the ranks of the opposition to locate their batteries; to get those who had taken sides against the government to fire off all the ammunition which accumulated since the last meeting of the assembly.”

So, now, a century later, get ready for the 2017 budget firefight.

Meanwhile, see what an engaged citizenry back then looked like, from the archives of the New York Public Library:

We located more images of the budget exhibits at the New York City Department of Records:


The New York City Public Design Commission has its own archives:

Art Commission display, New York City budget exhibit, 1911

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The New (And Truly Great) Deal

We never miss a chance to learn more about The New Deal, and the program May 11 at Roosevelt House, the Public Policy Institute at Hunter College, was everything a history buff would relish. For one thing, it featured one of the reigning experts on FDR, William Leuchtenburg, going strong at 94, with some two dozen books to his credit including his 1958 classic, “The Perils of Prosperity.” (We were privileged to be instructed by Prof. Leuchtenburg at Columbia Journalism School in 1963-4, when he was a mere stripling of 40, and we were even merer.) Here he is at his last academic redoubt, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he is now the William Rand Kenan, Jr. Professor Emeritus of History. http://video.unctv.org/video/2183781430/

The occasion was the unveiling of Roosevelt House’s latest exhibit, “The New Deal in New York City” which will be up until Aug. 19. Displayed are posters, murals, photos and books, all telling the story of how FDR’s program to pull America out of the Great Depression played out in the nation’s greatest city. Much of the New Deal planning, in fact, went on here at Roosevelt House, 47-49 East 65th Street, where Franklin and Eleanor lived from 1905-34. http://www.roosevelthouse.hunter.cuny.edu/house-history/

Perhaps the best part of the exhibit is the colorful map highlighting dozens of the hundreds of public works and art projects, particularly murals, that The New Deal brought to NYC between 1933 and 1942.


We were especially delighted to see we made the list with our Baruch College Administration Center (P) at 135 East 22d Street.

(Little side story here: In 2015 we discovered that the building had been converted from a Family Court built in 1940 — and still contained a holding cell with barred windows used today as a student tutoring center! We wrote that up for The New York Times. )


The May 11 program at Roosevelt House, curated by Deborah Gardner and hosted by its director, Harold Holzer, the prodigious Lincoln scholar, featured a panel discussion with Roosevelt experts. Besides Prof. Leuchtenburg, they were: Owen Gutfreund, Associate Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning, Hunter College; Richard Walker, Professor Emeritus, Department of Geography, University of California, Berkeley; Marta Gutman, Professor of Architectural and Urban History, City College; and Ira Katznelson, President of the Social Science Research Council and Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History, Columbia University.

Prof. Leuchtenburg told of having been invited to Moscow for a symposium on The New Deal, which the Russians found a worthy role model. Upon arrival, he was notified that the keynote speaker was unavailable — he would be the keynote speaker. With no notes or prepared talk, he panicked. He saved the day, he recalled, by taking his audience on an improvised tour of America via the great legacies of The New Deal — from LaGuardia Airport, Triborough Bridge, FDR Drive and Lincoln Tunnel, to the Blue Ridge Parkway, the great Western dams and California coastal highway.

The Works Progress  Administration is credited with building at least 5,900 schools; 9,300 auditoriums, gyms, and recreational buildings; 1,000 libraries; 7,000  dormitories; 900 armories; 2,302 stadiums, grandstands, and bleachers; 52 fairgrounds and rodeo grounds; 1,686 parks covering 75,152 acres; 3,185 playgrounds; 3,026 athletic fields; 805 swimming pools; 1,817 handball courts; 10,070 tennis courts; 2,261 horseshoe pits; 1,101 ice-skating rinks; 138 outdoor theaters; 254 golf courses; and 65 ski jumps — at a cost, in today’s dollars, of some $186 billion.

You can find all The New Deal projects here: http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/archives/resources/newdealprojects.html#

Turns out that the Roosevelt House program was just the kickoff for a whole panoply of celebrations of The Living New Deal in New York. Next up is a forum at the Museum of the City of New York on May 18. http://njfac.org/index.php/living-new-deal-new-york-city/