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City Council pleased with de Blasio’s budget proposals

January 21, 2016

With no significant asks of the administration for the upcoming fiscal year, City Council members on Thursday said they were satisfied overall with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary financial plan, which he detailed at City Hall Thursday afternoon.

The two closely-aligned sides of City Hall laid out similar priorities for the next fiscal year, mainly focused on investments in affordable housing, public safety and budgeting for the possibility of a financial downturn that could impact the city’s bottom line.

“There are many things in the preliminary budget which continue to keep New York City on a strong fiscal track, including continuing to keep reserves strong in the event of a downturn,” Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Finance Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland said in a joint statement.

De Blasio’s $82 billion spending plan for Fiscal Year 2017 which takes effect on July 1st and must first be approved by the council, is an increase of $4.4 billion from last year's budget. The Council will issue its official budget response in April.

The plan includes a total of $740 million in new agency spending, including a $47 million plan for a new Staten Island ferry; a $3 million expansion of the NYPD’s ShotSpotter program; $5.3 million towards new park security officers; $5.4 million for expanded EMS services; and $12.1 million to hire hundreds of new traffic safety agents.

During the mayor’s presentation unlike in the two years prior, the mayor spent a significant amount of time outlining how the city would prepare for the possibility of an economic downturn in light of the recent market drops and the overall fiscal outlook for the rest of the country.

“The city is in good fiscal health, our local economy is growing, and New York City is economically outpacing many other parts of the United States. Yet despite our discipline, we face some major challenges that didn’t exist the last time I spoke to you about our budget,” de Blasio said. “We’re also watching a global and national economic landscape that looks increasingly uncertain.”

That uncertainty made for a less splashy budget presentation than in past years, focused more on how the city would stay afloat and less on the big-ticket progressive agenda items the mayor has rolled out in the last two years.

“Boring is good sometimes,” de Blasio said.

De Blasio’s budget adds to the city savings program, including $1 billion each year in the city’s general reserve, $3.4 billion for the retiree health benefit trust and $500 million in newly created capital stabilization reserves.

The set up for this year’s budget negotiations between the mayor and council is much different than it has been, because the council is not requesting any significant spending as they did in the last two years when they asked the mayor to hire additional police officers, increase library spending and increase summer youth employment.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland agreed that, for the most part, the budget plan is welcome by the council, which will now begin to prepare for its first round of budget hearings in the coming weeks.

“The thing is, we are in line, we are in line with a lot of the things he put in,” Ferreras-Copeland said shortly after the council’s briefing at City Hall this afternoon. “Now it’s really about setting the council’s priorities — investment on youth and investing on adult literacy.”

Some of those priorities were detailed in the financial plan, including a plan to address school overcrowding with $868 million going towards the school construction authority’s five-year capital plan, as well as baselining the funding for the city’s three library systems.

“The baselining of libraries is huge, but of course we are going to push back — he should have baselined all of it, not just his portion,” Ferreras said.

Despite Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal earlier this month to cut $485 million in state aid to CUNY by fiscal year 2018, and a plan to make the city foot the bill for $485 million in Medicaid costs in the same year, de Blasio in his financial plan did not include any safety net for the potential $1 billion hole.

After detailing the budget at his State of the State address earlier this month, Cuomo suggested the cuts would not cost the city “a penny” and that he instead would work with the city to find cost-saving efficiencies.

De Blasio said on Thursday he’s taking the governor “at his word.” The Council agreed that it was reasonable financial planning to rely on the governor’s promise, although Ferreras-Copeland acknowledged it was of concern for the council.

“One of the questions of concerns is the CUNY and Medicaid dollars are not necessarily reflected in this budget — so we really have to begin the pushback on the state and ensuring that because it can really throw a wrench,” Ferreras-Copeland said. “Yes, the governor said that we would not be impacted and [the mayor] is taking the governor at his word, we need to be very watchful, and he expressed that also.”

Other council members were less trusting of the governor, but said they would rely on their downstate counterparts in the State legislature to advocate on behalf of the city.

“I don’t know if I personally believe him, so right now we are looking at taking him at his word, I guess we will see as we move forward,” said Councilman Jumaane Williams, a Democrat who represents parts of Brooklyn.

Councilman David Greenfield had kinder words for the governor, but also said he will rely on Albany lawmakers to make the case for the city.

“I trust — this is just the preliminary and, remember, most of the Democratic caucus in the New York State Assembly is from New York city, so to be fair I am very confident that our friends in the State Legislature will look out for us and make sure that we do well,” Greenfield said.

Capital New York