Negotiations between New York City officials and the city's banks and unions on how to solve the latest chapter in the city's continuing fiscal crisis broke down today amid bitter recriminations.
The stage appeared set for a new test next week over whether the city can stay of bankruptcy.
At the closed meeting, representatives of the banks appeared to come up with new preconditions for gaining their cooperation in a solution. The unions walked out. And an angry Mayor Abraham D. Beame later accused the banks of "putting a gun to our heads" and of bringing the city "very, very close, if not to the brink, of default."
The city will start running out of money of pay bills from vendors on Monday. And unless it settles the current impasse and gets a cash infusion from union pension funds, the banks or the federal government, it will be unable to meet a payroll on March and also will face default on a $64 million debt service payment three days later.
The immediate problem involves new rules under which New York City would raise money to pay off $1 billion in moratorium notes.
Treasury Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal, in a statement that was seen as an attempt to strenghten Beame's hand in talks with the bankers and unions, said that no additional federal funds would be made available until the disagreement between the city and its lenders was resolved.
The statement, issued in Washington, noted that the Treasury Secretary was required by statute not to make a new federal loan unless he found "there is a reasonable prospect that the [$255 million federal] loan will be repaid."
Another warning came today from Felix G. Rohatyn, chairman of the Municipal Assistance Corp., who was present at the fruitless meeting of the city, bankers and unions.
"This is a fairly serious breakdown," Rohatyn said. "I think there's a fundamental clash that's coming up, over what may be required to sell a city bond and what may be acceptable politically and economically to the city and unions."
The banks have been insisting on some kind of independent mechanism to monitor the city's finances so it can re-enter the financial markets and once again attract investors. The unions have resisted what they regard as an outside intrusion into the city's independence. And Beame, in an attempted compromise, has suggested a beefed-up version of MAC, a state agency set up to help the city raise money, as a solution to the impasse.
But the reason for today's breakdown was an apparent inability or unwillingness of the bank's representatives to come up with a precise response to Beame's latest proposal on how to pay off the moratorium notes before Friday. And the banks, in a letter to the mayor, also seemed to require a resolution of all the pending legislation surrounding the city's fiscal woes - A condition that other participants said was clearly impossible to meet by next week.
"We're all outraged at the fact that the banks come here at the eleventh hour to a meeting where we thought we would have negotiations and they tell us they will have to come in on Friday, thus bringing us very, very close, if not to the brink, of default," Beame told reporters after the session.
"The city and the unions don't want a proposal given to us that's gun to our heads, becuase it must be resolved overnight," Beame said, adding that he had strongly urged the banks to come in with their response no later than Wednesday.