A City Council hearing (photo: William Alatriste)
Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council appear to be on the verge of a budget agreement, establishing the city’s spending plan for fiscal year 2017, which begins July 1.
On May 24, the City Council held its final hearing on de Blasio’s $82.2 billion executive budget for fiscal 2017. The series of executive budget hearings was another step in the lengthy and detailed budget process that includes the mayor’s preliminary budget, a month of preliminary budget hearings, and the Council’s preliminary budget response. After executive budget hearings, final negotiations have been taking place between the de Blasio administration and Council leadership while Council members and advocates make their final public and private pitches for more funding.
During the budget process, though, there was one City Council committee with oversight of a city agency that did not hold either an executive budget hearing or a preliminary budget hearing, and six other Council committees held preliminary budget hearings, but did not have executive budget hearings. Declining to hold a hearing signals that there are no related budget issues to address.
The decision whether to hold an executive budget hearing is at the discretion of the City Council Speaker’s office and the Council Finance Division, which typically decide not to bring mayoral agencies back for an executive budget hearing if there were no major changes from the preliminary to the executive budget for those agencies. All agencies have preliminary budget hearings, a spokesperson for Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said.
Of the six committees that held a preliminary budget hearing but not an executive budget hearing, a few have oversight of agencies with budget issues. The Committee on Standards and Ethics, for example, has oversight of the Conflicts of Interest Board, which had three 2015 requests for additional funding denied by the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget (the requests were for about $200,000 in additional funding to hire more ethics trainers and give raises aimed at employee retention).
The unfulfilled requests were discussed at the March 8 preliminary budget hearing for COIB. After that hearing held by the Committee on Standards and Ethics, COIB sent a letter on March 10 to the city budget office requesting about $26,000 in additional funds for its most “critical budgetary needs,” which was met. However, COIB made it clear at the preliminary budget hearing that it was struggling to retain staff and to meet its charter-mandated role due to a lack of funding, and that senior management staff had even taken pay cuts in order to hire new staff. COIB settled for requesting what it saw as a minimum in additional funding after having several requests denied, something which could have been readdressed at an executive budget hearing.
When asked why the Committee on Standards and Ethics did not have an executive budget hearing, chair of the committee, Council Member Alan Maisel, told Gotham Gazette, “I can’t answer that…I have no idea, call the budget office.”
The City Council Committee on Contracts also did not hold an executive budget hearing. On May 26, after executive budget hearings had ended, 47 Council members signed a letter to the mayor asking the administration to fund a 2.5 percent increase for the administrative costs of nonprofits that contract with the city. Dozens of nonprofit workers and several Council members rallied on the steps of City Hall, raising the same issues that these nonprofits, like the Human Services Council and the New York Immigration Coalition, had brought up during the relevant preliminary budget hearing. The letter from nearly the entire City Council made it clear that the funding needs of nonprofits that contract with the city remained unaddressed.
Council Member Helen Rosenthal, chair of the contracts committee, said she believes that no executive budget hearing was held because “It’s not really for the director of the Office of Contracts to respond to this. It’s the OMB who is responsible for allocating these funds to the agencies. But I was asking and other Council members were asking at each of the agency hearings as well, what are we doing to cover these costs?”
Rosenthal did indeed raise the issue with OMB during the first executive budget hearing on May 6.
The Committee on Consumer Affairs, which oversees the Department of Consumer Affairs, also did not hold an executive budget hearing, despite the agency’s growth under the de Blasio administration. Chair of the committee, Council Member Rafael Espinal, said in a statement to Gotham Gazette that his committee did not have an executive budget hearing “because there was a very minimal change in the agency’s executive budget from the preliminary budget,” as “the agency’s only new need was for $180,000 in personnel services costs and other adjustments totaled less than $500,000.”
The mayor’s office did not respond for comment regarding those agencies not asked back to the Council for executive budget hearings.
The Committee on Oversight and Investigations, chaired by Council Member Vincent Gentile with oversight of the Department of Investigation, also did not hold an executive budget hearing, “because the DOI agency requests were unchanged from the Mayor’s preliminary budget and were fully met in the FY’17 executive budget,” said Travis Lamprecht, communications director for Gentile.
Neither the Committee on Civil Rights nor the Committee on Courts and Legal Services have direct oversight of specific city agencies, and neither held an executive budget hearing. Chair of the Committee on Courts and Legal Services, Council Member Rory Lancman, told Gotham Gazette, "There were no substantial changes in our area of jurisdiction between the preliminary and executive budget, so the Committee instead held an oversight hearing on court record accuracy."
One committee, the Committee on Civil Service and Labor, chaired by Council Member I. Daneek Miller, did not hold a preliminary or executive budget hearing, and has no hearings scheduled before a budget deal is due. A spokesperson for Miller said that his committee “does not have a preliminary budget hearing because it does not oversee a City Department or Agency. The closest one it oversees is the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, but that is only over City employees.”
DCAS is the principal administrative support agency for the city of New York and has been allocated $1.1 billion in this year’s executive budget. According to its website, DCAS “supports City agencies' workforce needs in recruiting, hiring and training City employees; provides overall facilities management for 55 public buildings; and purchases, sells and leases real property,” among other functions.
Four other committees (of the City Council’s 37) did not hold preliminary or executive budget hearings - those committees do not have direct oversight of any specific city agency.
The Committee on Recovery and Resiliency, chaired by Council Member Mark Treyger, has oversight of the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency, the Build it Back Program, and the Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability. All within the Mayor’s Office, none is an official city department.
Strangely, the recovery and resiliency committee twice had an executive budget hearing scheduled in May, but both were deferred, and no preliminary budget hearing took place. Instead, Treyger, told Gotham Gazette, the Committee on Recovery and Resiliency held an oversight hearing on June 6 on “budget items with regard to the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency, Build it Back, and all of the Sandy recovery applications, and whether there's equity on resiliency spending.”
“I was very insistent in making sure that my committee holds an oversight hearing with regard to budget matters before budget adoption,” Treyger added.
Another of those four is the Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections, which has oversight of Council structure and organization as well as appointments to city boards. The rules committee deleted a committee that the Council had deemed unnecessary during a March hearing, in part citing that it did not have oversight of a city agency. The Committee on State and Federal Legislation, which rarely meets and mainly does so to pass resolutions, also did not hold a budget hearing. And, the Committee on Waterfronts has met just once this year.