It's that time of year... for the annual report from the Independent Budget Office (IBO)! Yes, we know you never miss an issue; the yearly compendium has the best suggestions on how the city can make cuts and get easy cash. This year's new additions include a $4 round-trip fare for the Staten Island Ferry and a 4.5% tax on legalized recreational marijuana (note to city: first get legalized recreational marijuana).

The document of 94 money-saving and money-generating ideas mostly consists of repeats from last year's fantasy scenarios of East River Tolls and taxes for high-income residents. The number of repeated proposals indicates that most of the options end up being wistfully stared at, and then saved for next year.

"It's less about keeping a scorecard of how many get adopted than helping to inform the debate," Doug Turetsky, the Communications Director of the IBO said. Still, the report is an interesting way to peer into the messy labyrinth that is our budget system, and to see the strange ways New York spends and doesn't spend its money.

The IBO gives each idea a pro and con argument. The SI ferry fare, which has been free since 1997, would not be imposed on Staten Island residents or any person who can prove they have to use the ferry to get to work. The cons are that implementing the $4 round-trip fare would cost $3.6 million, over half of the projected $6.8 million intake, making the profit a measly $3 million. A further problem could be a decrease in Staten Island tourism, not to mention the loss of a spontaneous ride on the ferry and a cheap way to see the Statue of Liberty.

Legalizing marijuana, with a lowball estimate of $25 million in revenue, comes with a huge stipulation: the state has to first recognize recreational marijuana use. The report says that State Senator Liz Krueger intends to reintroduce a bill from last year, but until then, this option is purely speculative.

The options for revenue cuts reveal budget spending that the average New Yorker might not know about. Did you know that the Department of Education acts as Fashion Institute of Technology's (FIT) local sponsor? We'd save $46 million annually if that was cut. Or that the city provides public transportation to private school students? Another $50 million. Of course every expense has a long list of reasons why it's there, but the report makes an argument for and against its usefulness.

There's a proposal for a six cent plastic bag tax, not to be confused with the ten cent fee the City Council's debating. Other money-making ideas:

  • Increase the fees on birth and death certificates; get $10 million

  • Increase civil marriage licenses; get $2 million

  • Tax movie and theater tickets and other live performances; get $85 million

  • Tax sugar-sweetened beverages; get $235 million

  • Charge $15 for the pick up of "non-recyclable bulk items"—that's your crappy couch you lugged to the curb that magically disappears by the morning.

Like Turestky said, the point of the Budget Options is to see where our money is going, and to see where it could go. When the IBO first released the Budget Options in 2002, it was because the Bloomberg administration was projecting a budget shortfall of $3 billion dollars, which was a gap of 10% of the city-generated revenue. Though the shortfall is expected to be the same next year, the report said, it will only be about 5% of the revenue, meaning the city is in relatively decent fiscal health.

"Is there a need to look to budget options?" IBO asked. "The simple answer is, 'Of course.'"

If you think you have a better idea of how to fix the city's budget, the IBO is open to suggestion via their Facebook page or email for future reports.