It couldn’t all be good news, right?
Last week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg revealed a $68.7 billion executive budget plan for the fiscal year 2013, with a city-funded portion of $49.2 billion. According to the city, the executive budget would reduce “year-over-year controllable city expenditures by $110 million” from fiscal year 2012. Primarily, pensions, health care, Medicaid and debt service–expenses not completely controlled by the city–would rise by $1.9 billion, a 7.2 percent increase from fiscal year 2012.
“Our budget won’t impose any new taxes on New Yorkers, maintains the strength of the NYPD and continues our strong support for public schools,” said Bloomberg. “We’re able to make all of those commitments as a result of years of fiscal care, foresight and a constructive partnership with the City Council, as we began setting aside savings and reducing spending well before most other city and state governments heeded the economic storm warnings.”
Bloomberg added that in the not-so-distant past, a drop in Wall Street profits would have been a crushing blow, but the diversification of the city’s economy has lessened its effects.
“Our efforts in the tech, TV and film, tourism and higher education sectors are producing results, with private employment now at its highest level ever in the city, exceeding the record set back in 1969, and we expect this growth in private sector jobs to continue,” Bloomberg said.
But not everyone was completely satisfied with Bloomberg’s assessment.
Councilman Jumaane Williams thought a few things were missing from his budget.
“Mayor Bloomberg was elected in part on the promise of the financial creativity he would bring to City Hall, but I cannot find that exhibited in this budget,” Williams said in a statement. “We may face serious budget gaps, but the administration has the tools at its disposal to fill them without cutting essential programs.”
Williams also pointed out, “There are over $10 billion in contracts that could be examined for inefficiencies and overall necessity; much of these contracts are with the Department of Education, which has never responded to the City Council’s request for clarity,” stated Williams.
“The DOE, by its own admission, has also failed to collect almost $400 million in Medicaid reimbursements. The allocation of monies from the Retiree Health Benefit Trust Fund in fiscal year 13 and fiscal year 14 can be recalibrated. Additionally, because the mayor refuses to hire new firefighters in spite of Judge Nicholas Garaufis’ ruling, the resulting overtime pay is costing the city $60 million.”
According to the mayor’s budget, funding for education will increase from $13.3 billion in fiscal year 2012 to $13.6 billion in fiscal year 2013. The city said that the increase in education spending allowed them to increase the total number of teachers in schools.
City Hall said the executive budget relies on $300 million of funding in the next fiscal year for education that they said would only be realized if the city and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) finally agree on an evaluation system that meets the state and federal requirement. If they don’t reach an agreement by January of 2013, the city said they’d have to make amendments to the education portion of the budget in order to compensate for the loss of funding.
The increase in the number of teachers is music to Leonie Haimson’s ears. Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters, expressed a mostly positive opinion of Bloomberg’s educational agenda on the budget, but reminded City Hall that smaller classes wouldn’t have been an issue if the DOE followed certain rules a few years ago.
“Class size reduction is the top priority of parents in the DOE’s own polls, so parents should thank the City Council for making sure that our kids do not face even larger classes next year,” Haimson said in a statement. “Of course, our children by now would have had much smaller classes if the DOE had complied with the Contracts for Excellence law, passed by the state in 2007, but it looks like we will have to wait for the next administration for this to occur and for our children to have a significantly better chance to learn.”
UFT President Michael Mulgrew was generally pleased with the mayor’s goal of increasing teachers.
“New York City has lost thousands of teachers over the last few years, and it’s good news to hear that we will be adding educators to the system,” Mulgrew said in an emailed statement to the AmNews. “I can’t thank the City Council enough for making education a priority. In terms of the mayor’s statement about ‘serious negotiations’ surrounding teacher evaluations, he is the one who walked away from $70 million in federal money by refusing to negotiate a 33-school pilot program of the new evaluation system.
“The UFT went to Albany to fight for better teacher evaluations, and we will continue to work toward a system that works for the students and teachers of New York,” Mulgrew said.
However, others were more critical of the mayor. In the budget, the mayor would eliminate over 42,000 recipients of child care and after-school programs for children, which even has Council Speaker Christine Quinn worried about working-class New Yorkers. “Many working families, if these cuts go through, would no longer have access to low-cost child care for their children,” she said.
Also, the budget assumes there will be a $7 million cut from the city’s Runaway and Homeless Youth Services, as well as the elimination of 160 youth shelter beds. Carl Siciliano, director of the Ali Forney Center, which houses homeless Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) youth, talked about how this would disproportionately affect LGBT teens, who make up a significant chunk of the city’s homeless.
“Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to throw 160 homeless children out of their shelter beds and into the streets is cruel, reckless and contemptible,” said Siciliano in a statement. “These cuts create an even bigger crisis for the LGBT teens who are thrown out of their homes and forced to endure homelessness on the streets of our city. The LGBT community needs and demands political leaders who will protect our children.
“Instead, Mayor Bloomberg has proposed eliminating more than half of their shelter beds. The Ali Forney Center, and all those who work with and care about LGBT homeless youth, will not be silent in the face of this decision, which offends us as a community and needlessly puts our young people in harm’s way,” Siciliano said.
In his budget speech, Bloomberg touted the fact that private sector jobs in the city lost during the recession have made a comeback. According to the city, 180 percent of jobs lost in the recession have been recovered, but the majority of the jobs created pay less. Furthermore, one of the biggest growing industries in the city is tourism, whose jobs historically don’t pay well. According to the city, 97,500 jobs were lost from December 2007 through June 2009 and 174,500 jobs were gained from June 2009 to March 2012.
One step forward, a few steps back.