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Lacking Funding, Not Acronyms
March 9th, 2009

Budget hearings at the City Council are kicking off with alphabet soup.

There is FMAP. Then there’s AIM. And finally CHIPS.

Translation: federal medicaid funding, municipal revenue sharing and street and highway funding (respectively) — funding whose fate is at the whim of Albany.

These funds were just part of the conversation this morning at the first of what will be more than two weeks worth of preliminary budget hearings at the City Council. Kicking off with testimony from the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mark Page said that although the federal stimulus package has given a one-time bailout to the city, they are “not out of the woods.”

City officials, he said, are looking to Albany for help closing a $5.77 billion gap for the next fiscal year. Their strategy so far, he added, is talking.

“Short of going up there with small arms, which the administration is not in favor of, talking is really all we have,” Page said.

It’s the state government who has the power to control how much funding the city will see from the stimulus package, Page added, which is likely to come in the form of the aforementioned acronyms. That didn’t quell City Council members concerns, though, who — at times — struck a combative tone with the administration’s budget czar.

After getting grilled by Councilmember Letitia James, Page threatened to leave the hearing. He eventually calmed down and stayed put.

James had been criticizing the administration’s plan to send kindergartners to the Department of Education who are currently getting care from the Administration for Children’s Services. The reorganization, James said, will deal a serious blow to lower income neighborhoods, who rely on the administration’s services. She also pushed for the speaker’s plan to tax higher income New Yorkers, which also seemed to irritate the budget director.

“I’m not in a position to protect the wealthy,” said James, who represents Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and parts of Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn. “I’ll leave that to the mayor of the city of New York.”

Page argued a hike in the personal income tax for higher income New Yorkers would be counterintuitive, because higher income New Yorkers would leave the city and further erode the tax base.

Not surprisingly, Councilmember Lewis Fidler jabbed at the administration, saying he understood why the mayor was seeking the Republican line for this fall’s election since he seemed to believe in trickle down economics. Fidler tried to persuade the administration that increasing the city’s capital program (arguments he said are being put into action in Washington and in the State Legislature) would bolster the economy. Cutting capital funds, which the administration is proposing, won’t put people back to work.

In response, Page said, “In order to support the economy, you and everyone else in this room should go out and buy a new car.”

Fidler countered: “I bought one last week. It was American.”

By on March 9, 2009, 2:35 pm
In category: Albany,Economy,Electoral Politics,Governing,Law,nextNY,Public Finance | Comments Off on Lacking Funding, Not Acronyms

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