De Blasio’s budget: Increased spending, not many cuts

Stephon Johnson | 5/15/2014, 10:47 a.m.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new budget wants to have its cake and eat it too.
Bill deBlasio

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new budget wants to have its cake and eat it too.

Presented during a news conference at City Hall, de Blasio’s new budget would increase spending by 6 percent when compared to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s last plan. It includes a long-term commitment to pay $17.8 billion in compensation to the city’s labor unions, including retroactive wages, that will stretch into the year 2021.

“Now, I just want to say at the outset, there are some—I’ve met them over the years—who have trouble equating fiscal responsibility with progressive values,” said de Blasio during the budget presentation. “I think the two must go hand in hand. I think part of being an honest progressive is recognizing the world as it is and achieving the kinds of savings that allow us to actually do the good work of government consistently.”

Due to a projected increase in tax receipts, because of the economy, city revenue-backed spending would rise by $2.1 billion to $56.1 billion (close to 4 percent). While de Blasio’s budget is required to be balanced by law, there’s also a projected $2.2 billion deficit starting in July of 2015. That’s double the estimate of the mayor’s preliminary budget, which was released last year.

But de Blasio believes he can have it both ways. He told reporters that he’s figured out a way to be financially responsible and do right by the people of New York City.

“There is nothing unprogressive about being fiscally prudent. In fact, it’s necessary,” de Blasio continued. “And if you believe in the positive role of government as I do, then you need a strong and stable foundation to allow us to take the steps we need to create more fairness in people’s lives. A government that is wracked by fiscal instability simply can’t do that. A government that has a strong plan going forward is in a position to do a lot of good for people.”

Doing a lot of good for people includes projected budget deficits of $2 billion in fiscal year 2017 and $3.2 billion in fiscal year 2018. De Blasio calls these deficits “manageable.”

Some of the funding for the mayor’s championed initiatives includes $300 million in state funds to expand universal pre-K, $145 million for new after-school program, and money to create and preserve affordable housing in the five boroughs. One housing advocate felt it was high time for affordable housing to be addressed by City Hall.

“By investing in NYCHA, affordable housing preservation and development, and in addressing the homelessness crisis, Mayor de Blasio is putting his money where his mouth is,” said Jonathan Westin, the executive director of New York Communities for Change, in a statement. “It is refreshing to see a mayor truly make affordable housing a priority, which is what this budget does.”

There’s also money set aside for de Blasio’s municipal ID program, which drew praise from Linda Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York.

“We welcome the $8 million allocation in the city budget to the municipal IDs initiative,” said Sarsour in a statement. “Mayor de Blasio continues to show his commitment to New Yorkers by keeping his campaign promises. All New York City residents, regardless of immigration status, deserve a government-issued ID that gives them access to municipal buildings, bank accounts and more. Every New Yorker is going to want one of these cards.”

De Blasio’s budget also includes increased spending for the City University of New York, public housing, the homeless and summer jobs for teenagers. The budget also includes more spending to add child welfare caseworkers and reduce the number of trailers used as classrooms by public schools. Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress (the union that represents CUNY faculty and staff), welcomed the new funding with open arms.

“After years of underfunding, CUNY has a crying need for more full-time faculty and staff. With 4,000 fewer full-time faculty than when enrollments were last near current levels, the university struggles with larger classes and less availability of courses required for graduation,” said Bowen in a statement. “The mayor’s plan to invest $20 million in science, technology, engineering and math programs at the CUNY community colleges is a powerful first step in ending the era of public disinvestment in CUNY. It marks the beginning of achieving the mayor’s goal of dramatically increasing city support for CUNY.”

However, some agendas heavily pushed by New York City Council members—like providing free lunch for all public school students—didn’t make the cuts, though the details will be fleshed out in the next several months. Nonetheless, last week signaled a shift in what City Hall deems important enough for its money.

“We’re also trying to be clear about how much time it takes to spend the money effectively,” said de Blasio at City Hall. “In previous capital plans, we’ve seen some very unrealistic projections that really made it impossible to honestly track what was going to happen—money that was booked for things that literally couldn’t happen in one year or two years or three years. You’ll see in this plan a very different look from what you saw in the November plan of the previous administration— a spreading-out of the capital expenditures in a way that we think conforms to the actual reality of getting things done on the ground.”