City & State: CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS RAISE CONCERNS WITH DE BLASIO’S PRELIMINARY BUDGET
BY JON LENTZ | JAN 27, 2016 |
With the release last week of an early draft of New York City’s budget for the next fiscal year, the City Council has started to identify what it sees as gaps in the spending proposals.
New York City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, chairwoman of the Finance Committee, said that the de Blasio administration’s $82.1 billion preliminary budget reflects many of the priorities of the City Council that were discussed in previous years, but that some elements were noticeably absent.
“The fact that, for example, when we talked about libraries, that half of it was baselined, we still need the other half,” Ferreras-Copeland said at City & State’s New York City Legislative Preview event on Wednesday. “So that is something the Council is going to engage during this process.”
“One of the alarming things for us was also HHC’s current condition,” Ferreras-Copeland added, referring to the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation.
De Blasio’s preliminary budget would provide a one-time infusion of $337 million to the Health and Hospital Corporation to keep it afloat while the public health system maps out a restructuring plan
The mayor said the reorganization proposal will be released ahead of the executive budget this spring and before the City Council votes on it in June. Ferreras-Copeland said that she and her colleagues would carefully scrutinize the plan once it is released.
Another sticking point for some members of the City Council is investment in youth programs. The administration has proposed eliminating a $24 million summer program for youth, but said it was not otherwise planning to reduce services.
But some Council members say the city should be spending more on younger people, not less. City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who has made it a priority to reduce gun violence, said while the federal and state government should stem the flow of firearms, the city can do more with youth programs aimed at prevention, in particular adding new slots to popular youth jobs programs. So far, Williams said, the mayor’s budget does not provide sufficient funding.
“We really need to bend in that direction,” Williams said during the panel discussion. “Too often when we speak of public safety, we only speak of law enforcement, which is one part, but you’ve got to get the other parts as well.”
The preliminary budget did not feature any of the notable new spending initiatives like universal prekindergarten that marked de Blasio’s first two years in office, but another panelist, City Councilman Daniel Garodnick, said he is not disappointed.
“It’s OK for a budget to be boring,” Garodnick said. “It is OK for a budget to not necessarily make grand statements other than the fact that it is functional and that it is responsible.”
The City Council will hold hearings in coming weeks and submit a budget response by the end of March.
Perhaps the most controversial new expense that could eventually find its way into the city budget is a new stable in Central Park, which by some estimates could cost $25 million. An agreement announced by the mayor would relocate carriage horse stables to Central Park as well as limiting horse carriages to the park, reducing the total number of carriages and restricting where pedicabs can operate.
But as de Blasio is looking to push the deal through and at least partially fulfill a campaign pledge, members of the City Council remain frustrated with the administration on the issue.
City Councilman David Greenfield said during the panel discussion that he is highly concerned about government taking away jobs from horse carriage drivers and pedicab operators. He said that, in general, he is open to compromises, at least when they are a “win-win” that benefits both parties.
“I view this as a lose-lose-lose compromise,” Greenfield said. “The animal rights folks are not happy. The Teamsters are not happy. And now you’ve just sucked in a new group that didn’t even know they had anything to do with this, the pedicabs, and now they’re not happy as well. And for that matter, we can actually add the folks in Central Park, because they’re not happy, because they feel like their public park is being appropriated for private use.”