Special to the AmNews
With a gravelly voice and between sips of herbal lemon tea, Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered his preliminary 2016 Fiscal budget. He outlined the budget within three areas: fiscal responsibility, progressiveness and honesty.
In terms of fiscal responsibility, he said, “We addressed the great unknown, which was the labor situation in the city.” He proudly announced that, beginning with zero percent, 72 percent of the contracts were covered.
The plan proposes to secure $3.4 billion in guaranteed health care savings, “and we’re continuing to work every day on additional labor contracts,” he said.
On the progressive concept, the mayor was particularly expansive, with emphasis on the economic needs of the city’s school children, affordable housing, paid sick leave, the STEM investments at CUNY and the IDNYC initiative, which is going so fast that the website crashed and more workers had to be added. Later, he said that $5 million had been added to provide staff to handle more than a quarter million appointments for the ID, a plan he hoped would improve the status of the thousands of undocumented immigrants in the city.
The mayor said he was trying to be straightforward about the budget, his nod to the issue of honesty. “Previous budgets before this administration didn’t acknowledge the reality of labor costs,” he explained. “We obviously have put a pattern in place which we’re sticking to … people need to see [the labor costs] much more vividly displayed in this budget.”
At this point in his presentation, which was abetted by PowerPoint, the mayor turned to the national economy, noting the expected increase of approximately 2.8 million new jobs. Inflation, he said, was almost at zero, at 0.3 percent, adding that wages were expected to grow 2.8 percent. How these trends will affect New York City, which has a budget exceeded only by California and Florida, is among a welter of unknowns.
New York City has always been a tourist destination, and last year some 56.4 million visited the city, the mayor said. Tourism added approximately $61 billion to the city’s economy.
All of this fell under the rubric of good news. The decline of the city’s middle class led the way for his report on the bad news. Again, he cited remarks from President Barack Obama to underscore this problem and applauded Obama’s promise to lay out a blueprint to improve the situation.
Since de Blasio’s mayoral campaign, income inequality has been a priority on his agenda, and it remains so as he observed that the disparity hasn’t been this bad since before the Great Depression. “A very chilling report came out last month from Oxfam,” he said, “noting that the wealthiest 1 percent on this Earth will soon own more than 50 percent of the world’s wealth.” That grim statistic harkens back to his plan to tax the rich, which at this time wasn’t directly addressed.
What was given considerable attention, however, was the diminishing presence of the city’s middle class, which is down nearly 4 percent. He was equally distressed by the increased number of people in need of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. In 2002, 400,000 were in the program. Now it has expanded to more than a million households.
Sequestration, the cap put on spending, along with budget cuts, something that has troubled Obama, is giving the mayor problems as well. Two years ago, sequestration alone led to up to $370 million in cuts to the city. We can expect these cuts to continue.
Continuing, too, will be the capital shortfall in funding for the MTA. “The state has not put forward a plan to address that yet,” the mayor lamented, “nor has the state met its obligation in terms of some of the other infrastructure—roads and bridges—that are obviously aging.”
The mayor was well into his budget talk before announcing the overall figure: $77.3 billion. This budget, he added, was a balanced budget that closed a deficit projected to be $1.8 billion. “We will have reserves of $750 million per year included in fiscal’15 through’ 19,” he said.
Then he offered the itemized breakdown: more than $11 million set aside in a two-year period to provide better protective vests for NYPD officers; $10 million to expand the police cadet program; $11 million for 45 new ambulances and $6.7 million to add 149 new EMS dispatchers; and an additional $3 million for the law department to cover the lawsuits against the NYPD, which seems inadequate.
Sizable funds are planned for the Correction Department. The STEM program at CUNY will get an additional $29 million. Rental assistance and programs for the homeless have been earmarked for $28 million. “We also are adding $8.6 million to keep New Yorkers from being homeless in the first place,” the mayor said.
The city’s minority‑and women-owned business enterprises should be excited knowing that the Department of Small Business Services will be greatly enhanced with a $1.4 million investment.
Surrounded by his staff and aides, the mayor took a deep breath, sipped his herbal lemon tea and waited for the barrage of questions from reporters. He has a much longer wait to learn the fate of his fiscal budget.