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Amid Ongoing Uncertainty, De Blasio Makes Modest Budget Adjustment


bdb budget presentation

De Blasio during a budget presentation (photo: Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio will release the mandated November budget modification on Tuesday, showing minor adjustments to the city’s nearly $86 billion budget for the current fiscal year, which runs through the end of June.

Spending for fiscal year 2018 (FY18) will be projected up from the $85.24 billion agreed upon by de Blasio and the City Council in June to $85.99 billion, according to the mayor’s office. The increase is largely due to more federal funding coming to the city for recovery from Superstorm Sandy and Homeland Security grants.

Otherwise, the budget adjustment includes a variety of new spending by the city and several areas in which the city is marking additional savings, according to the mayor's office. The city is projecting a $207 million reduction in city tax revenue, mostly in business taxes, while there is a projected increase in property tax revenue that will partially offset those shortfalls. The city budget has grown quickly under de Blasio and other November modifications have included larger increases in spending. The minimal nature of this mid-fiscal year adjustment appears indicative of the level to which de Blasio has funded his programs and priorities and the ongoing questions surrounding federal policies.

The November Plan, as it is known, will not reflect potential federal cuts or the possible effects of federal tax reform plans currently being debated, nor will it show any major new city spending.

"We came into office four years ago promising to bring opportunity to those who had been left without for so long. Today, we're on track to invest more in affordable housing than any administration in decades, we've created an entirely new grade and, bringing police and community together, we've seen the lowest crime rates in history,” de Blasio said in a statement. “While we will continue to provide for New Yorkers however we can, we must do so thoughtfully and strategically while the threat of funding cuts from Washington continues to loom."

The plan will show the addition of $47 million in city funds for FY18, largely for agency spending and an increase in pension contributions. The de Blasio administration says that the increases are more than offset by savings related to health care costs, debt service, and agency adjustments. While overall expenditures are projected to increase by $747 million, the FY18 budget remains balanced, as it must.

New spending highlights provided to Gotham Gazette by the mayor’s office include $7 million to upgrade the city’s 311 system and other major projects supported by the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications; $4 million for sending supplies and city works to Puerto Rico to assist with hurricane recovery; $4.5 million to develop a construction site safety program; and $10 million for creating the new procurement system, PASSport. There is also $7.5 million to reflect additional costs from new collective bargaining agreements with certain employees at the Department of Environmental Protection.

The modification does not include any significant additional expenditures toward fighting homelessness or any of de Blasio’s other major priorities, like expanding pre-school to three-year-olds, closing the Rikers Island jails, or spurring 100,000 good-paying jobs over ten years.

Some of the agency savings outlined in the modification include the Department of Transportation saving $400,000 by using less expensive video cameras and computer analysis contracts for projects where manual traffic surveys are insufficient and the Financial Information Services Agency saving $500,000 due to lower maintenance of new computer equipment, according to the mayor’s office.

The November Plan will show $59 million in additional projected spending for FY19. The FY19 budget process will kick into gear in January when the mayor releases his preliminary budget. Hanging over the current and next city budgets are potential changes in state aid to the city and a great deal of uncertainty in terms of federal aid and policy out of Washington D.C. The city budget has grown about 18 percent under de Blasio, up to the nearly $86 billion now projected for this fiscal year, in large part due to increases in the city personnel headcount (thousands more teachers, police officers, and others) and additional programmatic expenditures (including related to homelessness and other social services, where expenditures have increased dramatically).

The budget adjustment does not reflect any federal cuts, as most of what has been proposed in Washington, D.C. has yet to come to fruition. The high-profile threat to city taxpayers that is the proposed reduction of state and local tax (SALT) deductions from federal tax filings is still being debated in Washington and around the country. De Blasio, a recently reelected Democrat, is working to fight the proposed tax reforms, which are being pushed by President Donald Trump and many of his fellow Republicans in Congress. Even if there is significant reform to SALT, it would not cut federal funding to the city. It would, however, put additional financial stress on many city taxpayers, whose overall tax burdens would increase, in some cases significantly. This stress would likely lead to calls for reductions in city and state taxes, which could lead the city to lower taxes under its control and thus have less revenue to spend.

De Blasio’s prior November Plan budget modifications were more significant in scope -- his first, in November 2014, showed almost $2 billion in additional planned expenditure, largely having to do with federal Sandy aid, as well as tens of millions of dollars in added spending on de Blasio priorities like NYPD retraining of officers, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and a rental assistance program for domestic violence survivors.

Upon release of this November Plan, the City Council will review the budget adjustments and is expected to vote them through.

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 20


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Welcome to Thanksgiving week, which has a lot going on the first couple of days before quieting down for the long holiday weekend.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is back in town after a week on family vacation in Connecticut. While de Blasio was away, controversy blew up around NYCHA’s mishandling of lead inspections. De Blasio defended Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye amid calls from Public Advocate Letitia James and others that she step down. Council Member Ritchie Torres, chair of the public housing committee, announced plans for an oversight hearing in December. NYCHA announced multiple personnel and protocol changes on Friday, with Olatoye remaining in charge. Questions will surely follow into this week, especially amid calls from Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and others for an independent monitor of the housing authority, and new information is released -- there will be at least one relevant event Monday, see below for details.

On Monday, de Blasio has three public events on his schedule -- see below for details. De Blasio will hold a town hall meeting in Queens on Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, there’ a bit of action at the City Council this week, including a couple of high-profile oversight hearings -- see below for details, and, on Monday night, a forum for those seeking to become the next Speaker of the Council, an event co-hosted by Citizens Union and New York Law School, as well as other co-sponsors, and moderated by Gotham Gazette’s Ben Max. Attend the event at New York Law School or watch the livestream on Facebook or listen to the live broadcast on WBAI radio (99.5 FM).  

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
Mayor de Blasio will and NYPD Commissioner Jimmy O’Neill "will deliver remarks at the NYPD Academy Library’s renaming ceremony in honor of Commissioner Benjamin Ward" at 11 a.m. At 12:30 p.m., "the Mayor and Commissioner will hold a media availability about security for the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade" and will take press questions. Later, at 4 p.m. at City Hall, "the Mayor will hold a public hearing on 23 pieces of legislation."

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committees on Veterans and Mental Health will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “mental health services for NYC-area veterans.”
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Committees on Housing and Buildings and General Welfare will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “HPD’s coordination with DHS/HRA to address the homelessness crisis.”
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.

On Monday at 8 a.m. at The InterContinental New York Barclay Hotel, "Food Bank For New York City will hold "a Legislative Breakfast to release a new report on the state of hunger and the Emergency Food Network in NYC. The report analyzes food insecurity among New York’s communities in the face of looming uncertainty at the federal level." The report comes amid federal cuts and threats to food funding. The breakfast will also "honor New York City Council Members Levin and Grodenchik for their leadership in the fight to eradicate poverty and hunger across the five boroughs by working to strengthen New York’s emergency food network."

On Monday at 11 a.m., Riders Alliance "will introduce a new tool for riders to address continuing subway delays by becoming transit activists in the moment, right on the train or platform. The Riders Alliance will distribute thousands of “Subway Delay Action Kits,” packets of cards with instructions that riders can use to sign the online “Fix the Subway” petition, tweet their frustration directly at Governor Cuomo, and become transit advocates who can help win the funding and attention needed to modernize the MTA." The event, which will include elected officials, will take place "outside Grand Central Station at the SE corner of 42nd St and Park Ave." 

At 11 a.m. Monday, the Assembly Standing Committees on Health and Aging will meet jointly in the Assembly Hearing Room at 250 Broadway in Manhattan, to discuss “nursing home quality of care and patient safety and enforcement.”

At 12:30 p.m. Monday at 250 Broadway in Manhattan, "Members of the New York State Senate, Assembly and New York City Council will call for the creation of an independent monitor to oversee the New York City Housing Authority...Members of the Independent Democratic Conference will also unveil a new report, “Public Housing Peril: The Need to Hold NYCHA Accountable,” conducted with City Council Public Housing Chair Ritchie Torres and Community Voices Heard, on poor NYCHA conditions and the slow responses to requests from tenants to remedy their complaints." Participants will include Senator Jeff Klein, Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Assemblyman Walter Mosley, Senator Marisol Alcantara, Senator Diane Savino, City Council Public Housing Chair Ritchie Torres, Councilman Mark Treyger, and others.

At 5 p.m. Monday, the Brooklyn Historical Society and the Brooklyn Navy Yard will “celebrate Teen Innovators, an after school program offered by BHS and BNY, which has just been named a 2017 National  Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award winner.” The celebration will take place at BLDG 92 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

On Monday at 6 p.m., #GetOrganizedBK will partner with Congregation Beth Elohim for a town hall with newly-elected Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, Citizens Union and New York Law School will host a forum for candidates for New York City Council Speaker, focusing on good government. Confirmed attendees are Manhattan Council Members Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, and Ydanis Rodriguez; Queens Council Members Donovan Richards and Jimmy Van Bramer; and Brooklyn Council Members Robert Cornegy and Jumaane Williams. Gotham Gazette’s Ben Max will serve as moderator. Other co-sponsors include Reinvent Albany, League of Women Voters, and NYPIRG.

Tuesday
At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committee on Public Safety will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “NYPD’s School Safety’s role and efforts to improve school climate.”
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 10:30 a.m.
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 10:30 a.m.
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Committees on Consumer Affairs and Environmental Protection will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “the feasibility of microgrids.”

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals will hold a public hearing at Spector Hall.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio will hold a town hall meeting at Flushing International High School with Council Member Peter Koo, U.S. Rep Grace Meng, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, and Assemblymember Ron Kim.

Wednesday
No events on our radar as of Sunday evening.

Thursday
Happy Thanksgiving! The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will travel through Midtown Manhattan on Thursday.

Friday and the weekend
No events on our radar as of Sunday evening.

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

City Council Ends Term with Flurry of Oversight Hearings


mmv hearing john mccarten city council

Speaker Mark-Viverito (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


A flurry of oversight hearings are filling the City Council calendar as the Council enters its final month of the four-year session, most notably a hearing slated to address controversies over NYCHA’s falsified lead inspection reports, a hearing to discuss the city’s progress in closing Rikers Island jails, and a hearing on integrating the city's segregated public schools.

More than a dozen oversight hearings are slated for Council committee discussion between November 20 and December 4 as this current iteration of the Council ends its term. A new class of Council members, many of whom are current officeholders who won reelection this fall, will be sworn in just after the new year, with a new Council Speaker chosen at the first full-body “stated meeting” in early January.

At oversight hearings, Council members typically question the relevant top officials in the mayoral administration about the topic at hand, before testimony from other stakeholders, like advocates, non-governmental experts, or members of the public. While the hearings can be informative to Council members, journalists, advocates, and the broader public, further Council action will likely be taken in the next session, when many committee chair positions will have changed hands.

Along with the oversight hearings on the NYCHA lead controversy and initial steps being taken toward closing Rikers jails, some of the scheduled oversight hearings deal with fighting homelessness, the NYPD’s role in school safety, mental health services for military veterans, evaluating workforce development programs, “the feasibility of microgrids,” and more.

The oversight hearing scheduled to discuss closing Rikers, set for December 4, comes on the heels of the de Blasio administration’s release of a request for proposals to assess existing jails as potential sites to accommodate additional inmates and the overall need for space across the boroughs other than State Island, where Mayor Bill de Blasio has said no new jail will be opened.

A 10-year plan issued by the mayor’s office in June committed to reducing the city’s jail population from the now roughly 9,500 to 5,000 within this time frame, while ensuring space in four borough jails for that smaller number of detainees.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is term-limited out of office at the end of the year, has been a driving force behind the mission to close Rikers jails. At a press conference on Thursday, she told Gotham Gazette that the hearing will be important in terms of examining progress on several fronts important to the larger goal.

“There’s already sites that exist and what we have to do is look at how we can create a modern day facility that really addresses some of the concerns that were raised and the recommendations made in the independent commission report,” she said, referring to the issue of identifying space and the RFP being put out by the city whereby a consultant will be hired to study resources and need. She also referred to the report put forth by a commission she empaneled led by former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, which crafted its own 10-year plan for closing Rikers jails. "There’s stuff to talk about, there’s other recommendations and action items that have to be taken, action that has to be taken and we can’t do that alone so it’s a matter of figuring out, where do we stand, what’s next to do, how quickly can we get it done,” Mark-Viverito said.

The timeline for closing Rikers, the designation of responsibility, locations for housing detainees, the rate of population decline within the correctional facility, and a number of recent bail reform laws are topics of interest for the oversight hearing according to Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, chair of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice, which will host the hearing. Crowley will lead it, likely along with Mark-Viverito.

“This would be the most ideal way of wrapping up the session because it’s an immense endeavor and one that clearly the Department of Corrections doesn’t have the talents right now and the ability to address,” Crowley told Gotham Gazette in an interview. “I’m hoping that we can put together recommendations for the mayor’s office to help make this plan more of a reality.”

The NYCHA lead hearing was a recent addition to the slate, called by City Council Member Ritchie Torres, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Public Housing, in light of a Department of Investigations report revealing that NYCHA submitted false documentation of lead paint safety inspections never completed. Torres said there will be a December oversight hearing to discuss the practice and steps being taken to make things right. According to the report, NYCHA failed to perform apartment inspections in 2013, 2014 and 2015 despite not having conducted the approximate 55,000 annual inspections required to satisfy the federal rule.

The DOI report asserted that false paperwork was submitted even after NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye learned of the department’s non-compliance with city and federal rules. Olatoye is expected to appear before the committee during the oversight hearing next month. “I want to ask the chairperson about the agency’s practice of misleading the federal government about conducting lead paint inspections. Why did those practices transpire? When did she find out those practices were happening? How long did it take her before she revealed it to the general public and revealed it to DOI?” Torres told Gotham Gazette in an interview.

On Friday, NYCHA announced personnel and programmatic changes in response to the scandal. Meanwhile, Mayor de Blasio has stated his support for Olatoye, whose departure has been called for by several people, most notably Public Advocate Letitia James.

The Department of Investigation, Council Member Torres, and Public Advocate James, among others, have called for an independent monitor to oversee NYCHA inspections in the future. “NYCHA no longer has the credibility to monitor its own lead paint inspections. The only hope for restoring public confidence is an independent monitor,” Torres said.

On December 7, the Council's education committee will hold an oversight hearing on "diversity in New York City schools," whereby the Council will check in on progress in reports from the Department of Education mandated by legislation co-sponsored by Council Members Brad Lander and Ritchie Torres.

"This hearing will begin with testimony from the NYC Department of Education (DOE) about the plan they released in the spring (“Equity and Excellence for All: Diversity in New York City Public Schools”), the third-annual “School Diversity Accountability Act” report (just released last week), and other efforts such as their recently-announced plan for District 1 and the work they are beginning for District 15 middle-schools," according to an announcemnt from Lander's office.

"After that -- and just as important -- the hearing will also provide an opportunity for the City Council to hear public testimony from students, parents, educators, and advocates working to combat school segregation and create truly integrated schools," the Lander announcement adds.

An oversight hearing to discuss career pathways and workforce development systems is also scheduled, for November 27. New York City’s population is notably underprepared for the workforce, with more than 3.3 million residents over the age of 25 lacking an associate’s degree or other level of college education, according to July 2016 Census data estimates. Those with degrees are concentrated largely within Manhattan. The city’s launch of the Career Pathways program in 2014 was an initial step in addressing the issue; committed to improving working conditions for lower-wage workers emphasizing training and education and creating connections with city employers. While the program has shown some promise in reforming and overhauling the city’s approach to skill-building programs, Career Pathways still lacks permanent funding and has yet to establish the necessary system of referrals and partnerships, according to report released by Center for an Urban Future in 2016.

The oversight hearing will likely include an update on the status of the Career Pathways program from the city’s Department of Small Business Services and testimony from Stacy Woodruff of the Workforce Professionals Training Institute on changes within the job market, according to Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr., chair of the Committee on Small Business.

“November’s small business committee hearing will be geared towards gaining a better understanding of the progress of the Career Pathways program announced in 2014. As New York’s economy continues to evolve, it is essential we understand the ways in which we can anticipate that evolution and ensure we prepare New Yorkers for the jobs that will come along with it,” said Cornegy, whose committee will co-host the hearing with the Committee on Civil Service and Labor, chaired by Council Member Daneek Miller.

Earlier this year, Mayor de Blasio announced a new plan to use city resources to spur 100,000 new, good-paying jobs, with an emphasis on making sure that current city residents and those who have long-lived in the city are able to fill the new jobs. The Career Pathways program is seen by many in economic development and job training circles as key to this effort, but experts say that it has been underfunded by the de Blasio administration.

Under this City Council, a bill was passed and signed by the mayor in 2016 to establish a separate Department of Veterans Affairs, outside of the Mayor’s Office. The new department has a much bigger staff and budget than the old Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs, and works to place veterans in jobs through Workforce1 centers, reduce homelessness among military veterans, connect veterans to benefits and services, including mental health care. An oversight meeting on Monday, November 20 will see discussion of the city’s progress in providing mental health services for veterans.

The hearing will be co-hosted by the Committee on Mental Health, chaired by Council Member Andrew Cohen, and the Committee on Veterans, chaired by Council Member Eric Ulrich.

“This is the end of the City Council session so it’s the last opportunity to check in here on the status of the newly created Department of Veterans, the overall services available to veterans. I’d like to make an inquiry into the nexus between Thrive[NYC] and our veterans, the number of veterans being serviced through Thrive and just kind of an overall taking the temperature of where we’re at in terms of connecting veterans with mental health services,” said Cohen, referring to the de Blasio administration’s large mental health care program spearheaded by First Lady Chirlane McCray.

Also slated for the City Council calendar is an oversight meeting on Tuesday, November 21 to discuss “the feasibility of microgrids.” Local energy grids capable of disconnecting from central power sources and operating autonomously, microgrids are used to provide power when the traditional grid has been compromised by an emergency or major power outage. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which left 800,000 city residents without power, microgrids could offer an important alternative in helping deal with future storms.

Such grids also enable greater use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, potentially allowing city residents more flexibility in their energy sources. “These types of small electricity grids have the potential to change the way we generate and consume power “ said Council Member Costa Constantinides, chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, in a statement to Gotham Gazette about the hearing, which his committee will host in conjunction with the Committee on Consumer Affairs, chaired by Council Member Rafael Espinal. “We hope to learn more about how microgrids could be implemented in our city, how consumers could save money on utility bills, and hear feedback from environmental advocacy groups,” said Constantinides.

On Monday, November 20, the committees on housing and on general welfare will hold an oversight hearing on how the city’s housing department coordinates with the city’s homeless services department and its welfare agency “to address the homelessness crisis.”

Other scheduled oversight hearings include: a public safety committee hearing on “NYPD’s School Safety’s Role and Efforts to Improve School Climate”; the committees on transportation and sanitation on “Private Sanitation Fleet Safety”; the committees on higher education and technology on “CUNY Tech Incubators”; the committees on health and immigration on “Immigrant Access to Healthcare”; the governmental operations committee on “DCAS’s Energy Management and Energy Efficiency Initiatives”; the economic development committee on “NYC’s Sagging Air Cargo Industry”; the recovery and resiliency committee on “Update on assisting vulnerable populations in emergency evacuations”; the juvenile justice committee on “Trauma-Informed Services in the Juvenile Justice System”; the contracts committee on “Examining Existing Supports and Needs of Underrepresented Business Owners in City Procurement”; and the aging committee on “Supporting Unpaid Caregivers.”

(Note: be sure to re-check the Council calendar as hearings are often postponed or canceled.)

(Note: this article has been updated with information about an additional hearing.)

***
by Grace Dixon for Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

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