Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/110 Wed, 19 Sep 2018 15:11:36 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) What's The [Data] Point? $225 million, with Comptroller Scott Stringer http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7755:what-s-the-data-point-225-million-with-comptroller-scott-stringer http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7755:what-s-the-data-point-225-million-with-comptroller-scott-stringer whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 44 -- $225 million, with Comptroller Scott Stringer [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

stringer wtdp

City Comptroller Scott Stringer is responsible for overseeing city finances and for managing the city's massive pension funds. He joined the podcast to discuss the newly-passed $89 billion city budget, the city's broader financial picture, whether the Mayor and City Council are putting enough money in reserves, the three city agencies on his new "watch list," how he approaches his role as an "activist-fiduciary" of the pension funds, and more.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
What's The [Data] Point? $225 million, with Comptroller Scott Stringer Thu, 21 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Push for Budget Transparency Falls Far Short http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7756:city-council-push-for-budget-transparency-falls-far-short http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7756:city-council-push-for-budget-transparency-falls-far-short De Blasio City Council members

Johnson, de Blasio, Dromm (l-r) (photo: John McCarten)


At several budget hearings earlier this year, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson took a hard line on transparency. He insisted that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration was being less than forthcoming on how money is spent and was hampering the Council’s charter-mandated authority to review and approve the city’s spending plan. To wit, in its official response to the mayor’s preliminary budget in April, the Council proposed adding 123 new units of appropriation -- budget lines that explain expenditures -- in order to more clearly and specifically show what the city is spending money on.

When the city’s new $89.2 billion budget was approved last week, however, the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget only added a total of five new units.

“We’re going to work with the Council,” de Blasio promised at at the release of his executive budget proposal in late April, two weeks after the Council’s response, when Gotham Gazette inquired about the push for more units of appropriations. “We have, over the years, been adding. We’re open to adding more. That’s an ongoing discussion, which we’ve had again today with the Council. Stay tuned.”

But there was little news to stay tuned for. The five new lines in the adopted budget include four under the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications -- two each for the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MoME) and the NYC Cyber Command office which both fall under DoITT’s purview. Those units are for personal services (PS) which covers salaries and wages of agency employees, and other than personal services (OTPS) which includes costs such as office supplies, equipment, maintenance, and the like. In total, those budget lines cover $25.2 million in expenditures for MoME and $65.8 million for the Cyber Command.

The fifth unit of appropriation was created under the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, to allow the Council to look at expense funding allocated for the New York City Housing Authority, about $255.4 million for the 2019 fiscal year, which begins July 1 of this year.

It should be noted that the separate capital budget, which outlines city spending on infrastructure,includes six new budget lines -- one for the Brooklyn Public Library and five within Parks Department expenditures.

In April, at a hearing on a mid-year modification to the current annual expense budget, the Council first showed indications that it wouldn’t approve OMB’s requests without greater disclosure from the administration. Then, at a May hearing on the executive budget, prior to the new units of appropriation being added, Council Member Daniel Dromm, the chair of the Council’s finance committee, which leads the budget process at the Council, excoriated OMB officials for their refusal to be more transparent, insisting that the administration “must discontinue the longstanding practice of using vague and overbroad units of appropriation” over more specific ones.

Dromm continued, “While such a shift is understandably resisted by the Mayor because it would restrict his ability to transfer funds between programs without oversight and to avoid seeking budget modification approval from the Council, it is necessary to facilitate the Council’s and the public’s understanding of agency spending and performance and to more transparently track the Administration’s priorities.”

But the Council’s response to Gotham Gazette’s queries about the units of appropriation were more tempered. “[The] Council is very pleased with the end results of this budget process and is committed to more transparency measures, including continuing the push for more lines of appropriation,” said Jennifer Fermino, a spokesperson for the speaker, in a statement.

A spokesperson for Council Member Dromm did not respond to a request for comment.

Maria Doulis, vice president of Citizens Budget Commission, an independent fiscal watchdog that advocates for increased budget transparency, among other changes, said the Council’s push for transparency likely fell by the wayside as it negotiated larger priorities such as discounted MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers.

“It might be best to come to some sort of agreement about this outside the budget because when you’re negotiating a budget, it’s all about the dollars and cents and not necessarily how the dollars and cents are presented,” Doulis said in a phone interview. She said the five new units are a “micro step forward” and that the Council must remain committed to a long-term approach, which could happen through a dedicated working group.

She also noted that the City Council has failed to push for transparency at crucial moments. She pointed out, for instance, that the mayor announced a new labor deal with the United Federation of Teachers on Wednesday but without details of how the spending will be reflected in the city budget. “So all these Council members are on this press release and they’re happy to laud and support this effort,” Doulis said, “but I didn’t hear any of them saying, ‘And we’d like to see a full accounting of what exactly the city will be paying for on this.’ So I don’t know that transparency is any better or worse than it was last year, or a couple of years ago under Mayor Bloomberg. In my mind it’s pretty much the same or marginally better.”

Although Doulis did say that the city’s budget is enormous and complex, and that the administration does publish more budget documents than other local governments, she said there should nonetheless be improvements. “The question is, can the average citizen ask a basic question about services that he or she cares about and their costs and look in the budget to find an answer fairly simply and easily,” she said, “and the answer to that is ‘no.’”

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
City Council Push for Budget Transparency Falls Far Short Wed, 20 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Added Scrutiny of City’s Delinquent Contracting Practices http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7748:added-scrutiny-of-city-s-delinquent-contracting-practices http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7748:added-scrutiny-of-city-s-delinquent-contracting-practices cm stephlevin ant reynoso

Council Member Levin (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


The new city budget does not do enough to address the tremendous backlog of city contracts with nonprofit groups that have been left languishing by city agencies, the groups say. This comes after a recent report from the city comptroller that shows 81 percent of new and renewed contracts were registered retroactively, meaning after their start date, last fiscal year. Human services were the most affected, with more than 90 percent of contracts in this category submitted retroactively to the comptroller’s office by city agencies, half of them late by six months or more.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council recently agreed to a $89.2 billion operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Though it continues to increase spending at various city agencies that rely on human services nonprofits, there is no accompanying deal to address the rampant contracting delays across city agencies.

The problem of contract delays affects cash flow and services to the public, and also compounds other issues, such as contracts not accounting enough for overhead expenses, that together contribute to a financial crisis for many organizations that the city contracts with to provide vital services from homeless shelters to after school programs.

“It needs to be a priority of this administration to fix the backlog in contract registration and also the significant amount of contract amendments that are pending from investments the city made last year: money that was announced on July 1 of 2017 that providers still have not gotten in June of 2018,” said Michelle Jackson, spokesperson for the Human Services Advancement Strategy Group (HSASG), in an interview last week. The group, which consists of nine associations and represents some 2,000 human services provider organizations in New York City, will be testifying at a City Council oversight hearing on the issue at City Hall this Thursday, June 21. “There really needs to be a focus on getting all of those amendments and registrations up to date,” Jackson added.

The delay in the city’s procurement process means vendors -- predominately nonprofits in the human services sector -- are forced to either fund their own work while they wait for the city to register and approve their contracts, or delay starting operations entirely. For providers waiting to have their contracts renewed, Jackson said, “they have to just keep operating the service because you don’t just send all the kids home, you don’t kick everyone out of the shelter. It’s not like a construction project where you can just wait to get all your documents signed…Nonprofits are taking a real fiscal and legal liability by waiting for these contracts.”

It’s a system in “dire need of reform,” according to Comptroller Scott Stringer’s report. In a statement to Gotham Gazette last week, Stringer’s spokesperson added: “One of city government’s most important jobs is delivering services to New Yorkers in need – that’s why fixing the city procurement process is urgent and essential. Providing services to our most vulnerable residents depends on our ability to execute social service contracts expediently.”

The next step in addressing the issue is this week’s hearing of the City Council Committees on Contracts and General Welfare at City Hall, which will be co-chaired by Brooklyn Council Members Justin Brannan and Stephen Levin, the respective chairs of those committees. The “process has to be sped up,” Levin said.

“These providers are operating at significant deficit and often we engage with providers that are doing a lot of the work that we would like to see providers do, and they are doing it on their own fundraising,” Levin told Gotham Gazette.

The backlog is also putting pressure on the city’s Returnable Grant Fund, a revolving fund providing interest-free loans to nonprofits. February testimony from Acting Chair of the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, Dan Symon, to the City Council was referenced in the comptroller’s report, claiming the Fund processed 751 loans for nonprofits in fiscal year 2017 as a “direct result of delayed contract awards.” The combined total of these loans was $149.9 million.

“We need to make sure we are providing services equitably across the board,” Levin said. “That when you go to shelter you’re not just lucking out in getting into a good provider or a provider that’s has the ability to raise significant money versus a provider that can’t. That’s not an equitable system.”

Mayor de Blasio and his administration were widely criticized following the release of Stringer’s report, with questions raised about the progressive mayor’s commitment to human services organizations and their clients. The issues raised by the comptroller’s report are longstanding and nonprofits groups and their supporters have been lobbying city government to improve the process for sometime.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette last week, a City Hall spokesperson said the mayor’s office has been working to reduce contracting backlogs and that model budgets -- a system introduced this year designed to increase rates for providers funded below what is considered the ‘model’ to deliver appropriate service -- will help these departments fulfil their administrative duties to outside contractors.  

“We’ve invested more than a quarter-billion new dollars annually in our shelter provider partners to address decades of disinvestment and reform outdated rates they were paid for many years,” the spokesperson said. “We have also been working closely with these vital partners to resolve inherited contracting backlogs, implement model budgets for the first time ever, and address any outstanding challenges they may have to ensure they can deliver the services our neighbors in need deserve as they get back on their feet.”

 

Due to this work in resolving contracting issues, the City Hall spokesperson said this year is the first time in recent memory that providers will be operating with registered current contracts. As of May 2018, 97 percent of fiscal year 2018 contracts are registered and active, with only one contract still at the comptroller’s office and another contract pending provider budget submission.

According to the comptroller’s report, the seven city agencies that contract for the majority of human service programs are: the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), Department of Education (DOE), Department of Youth & Community Development (DYCD), Department for the Aging (DFTA), Department of Homeless Services (DHS), Human Resources Administration (HRA), and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH).

All of these departments submitted more than half of their registration and renewal contracts retroactively to the comptroller’s office last year. DHS and HRA submitted 100 percent of these contracts retroactively, and the DOE was at 99.8 percent of registration and renewal contracts submitted after their start date. In HRA’s case, more than 60 percent of retroactive contracts were submitted to the comptroller’s office more than six months after the contract was due to start.

Despite the backlog, some departments are set to receive less funding in fiscal year 2019 than in the current, soon-to-end fiscal year, according to the city budget that was released on Monday June 12.

DYCD, for example, is receiving about $121 million less in funding via the city budget this financial year, yet of 859 registered or renewed contracts it received last year, 795 (92.5 percent) were submitted retroactively, according to the comptroller’s report. Similarly, DOHMH is allocated $112 million less in fiscal 2019 than it was in 2018, and of 314 new and renewed contracts it handled last fiscal year, 265 (or 84.4 percent) were submitted after their start date.

When asked if the budget has allocated enough resources to these city agencies that are struggling with contracting, Council Member Brannan said: “This is something we intend to discuss at the hearing on the 21st, both from the administration side as well as what the providers think. I am committed to working with the Speaker, Administration, as well as the Comptroller, to ensure we are processing contracts in as swift a manner as possible so that vital services are not being jeopardized due to procedural snafus that can be remedied.”

“I hope that through our hearing we can shed light on the administration’s progress implementing model budgeting across different agencies as well as seeing how the providers are faring with model budgeting,” Brannan added.  

DHS and the DOE, which respectively submitted 100 percent and 99.8 percent of contracts retroactively to the comptroller’s office last year, are both receiving an increase in funding for the upcoming fiscal year. According to the city’s preliminary budget, DHS is receiving more than $183 million in additional funding compared to the current fiscal year and DOE is budgeted an additional $1.2 billion.

Speaking to Gotham Gazette, Council Member Levin said the Council’s preliminary budget hearing with DHS dealt largely with where the increased funding is going and he is confident the additional funding will help the agency in improving contract delays.

“In our preliminary budget hearing with DHS, we did talk a lot about where a lot of the increased funding is going and they spoke a lot about the model budget contract,” Levin said. “So we’re expecting that it should be able to be covered in the significant increases in budget year-over-year in DHS. I have every expectation that they’ll be able to be covered it for sure. And if they’re not, there’s opportunities to do budget modifications.”

“We need a system that’s set up that can afford the services that we need to provide for over 60,000 people in shelter ...” Levin continued. “We need to make sure that the providers are funded enough so that they can provide adequate services.”

Comptroller Stringer's report makes two recommendations for improving the processing of contracts within city agencies: to stipulate deadlines for every agency that handles contract applications and to implement a transparent tracking system for vendors to follow their applications through the process. But the report also describes an extremely cumbersome system, weighed down in bureaucracy, in which up to five departments sometimes will handle a contract before it reaches the comptroller’s office -- the only agency with a deadline, which is 30 days -- where it is ultimately approved or kicked back to city agencies for more processing.

“What we’re looking at now is 100 percent late registration [from some departments] and what’s going to happen today and tomorrow to get that fixed?” Jackson, of the Human Services Advancement Strategy Group, said, adding that while she “absolutely agrees” with the comptroller’s recommendations, “a tracking system and a timeline are not going to fix the backlog” already in existence.

The HSASG is calling for a “SWAT Team” to immediately help clear the backlog, as well as allocation and recognition of this in the budget. Jackson said the group is asking for an additional $200 million to human services, not only to fix the contracting delays, but to also go to areas such as benefits, insurance, and occupancy costs.

“A lot of these contracts don’t have cost escalators, and obviously in New York City rent goes up every year (a lot of expenses go up), and there’s not a way to capture that,” Jackson said. “Of course we were disappointed to not see further investment in the sector but we appreciate it’s a long-term investment that needs to be made.”

Brannan said he “supports the recommendations” laid out in the comptroller’s report and that he is “working with the Comptroller’s office to come up with potential legislative fixes that would provide for agencies to process city contracts within a much more reasonable period of time.” He said he’s spoken to the Mayor's Office of Contract Services about next phases in rolling out the city’s Procurement and Sourcing Solutions Portal (PASSPort), saying it “in theory should significantly reduce procurement delays.”

The spokesperson from City Hall also said the planned updates to PASSport will “make it easier for agencies to order and pay for goods off centralized contracts.” The system, which was initially launched in August 2017, will be updated with “phase two” in 2019 and “phase three” will launch approximately one year later to “enable online bidding and invoice management for all agencies,” the spokesperson said.  

New York City isn’t the first city to require urgent and comprehensive procurement reform. A 2005 report by the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) on fixing that city’s similarly “slow and burdensome” contracting system provided the administration with a range of recommendations that might be applicable in New York City today. These included, not only fixed deadlines for every department and a transparent tracking system, but also recommendations to increase public information and awareness of the city’s contracting system; allow simultaneous review by agencies; develop clear and explicit procedures for fast-tracking contracts; and use a post-audit approach to test compliance by departments, instead of every single contract moving through the comptroller’s office.

There is no indication of any other measures being taken to address the contracting backlog in New York City, though the City Hall spokesperson said: “We are continuously looking to improve our practices to also realize timely procurement.”

More ideas will likely be raised at Thursday’s Council hearing, but for those in the nonprofit sector, the fiscal year 2019 budget was the perfect place for the city to demonstrate its understanding of, and commitment to solving, the problem. “We would have liked to see it in the budget, even if it was just a statement about how to get all this money out the door,” Jackson said. “I think there needs to be a real recognition that this is a priority to fix the registration process and it needs to happen right away.”

***
by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Added Scrutiny of City’s Delinquent Contracting Practices Tue, 19 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
A Supportive Housing Victory, and Much More To Do http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7743:a-supportive-housing-victory-and-much-more-to-do http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7743:a-supportive-housing-victory-and-much-more-to-do salamanca levin 2

Council Members Levin & Salamanca, the authors, foreground (photo: Jeff Reed)


New York City is facing a crisis. There are more than 60,000 homeless individuals living in the city shelter system daily, and thousands more in shelters for survivors of domestic violence, youth, and those living with HIV/AIDS. An additional estimated 4,000 New Yorkers sleep on the streets each night. And according to the Coalition for the Homeless, the number of homeless New Yorkers sleeping each night in municipal shelters is 83 percent higher than it was a decade ago.

These numbers are staggering. We, as elected leaders have a responsibility to do better and fully invest in solutions that work.

That is why, as moderators at this year’s New York State Supportive Housing Conference, we are proud to champion the city’s efforts to build more supportive housing -- a critical component of the City’s efforts to combat the homelessness crisis. We’re proud that the new city budget recently agreed upon by the Mayor and City Council, which we are members of, increased from 500 to 700 the supportive housing units that will become available in the next fiscal year. There is still much more to do.

Supportive housing is permanent affordable housing paired with wrap-around services designed to help people maintain their homes for the long-term. All tenants have a lease, and are provided with individualized on-site care, including case management, job training, and mental health and substance abuse counseling. Supportive housing developments are run by non-profit organizations that typically provide both support services and management.

Last year, the City Council General Welfare Committee held a hearing in The Schermerhorn, a supportive housing building that also contains affordable housing units for community members and artists, along with a theater for the public. It is a good example of how these developments create jobs and contribute to the growth and well-being of a neighborhood.

Supportive housing’s track record has shown its effectiveness in ending homelessness, and  improving neighborhoods, creating much-needed affordable housing and saving taxpayer dollars. Simply put, it is housing for those most in need. Residents have a place to call home in an environment that provides direct case management and access to mental health providers. We know all too well how vital mental health care is to a person’s wellbeing, and is that much more critical for individuals who are unstably housed and have often faced significant trauma. The integrated service model enables people to connect to the programs that are right for them, helping them to lead their best lives.

Organizations like the Supportive Housing Network of New York, comprised of more than 200 nonprofit organizations, link the 50,000 units of supportive housing they’ve created with critical services and programs that give New Yorkers a jumpstart on advancing the lives they want to lead through a more holistic approach.

Supportive housing has made a world of difference to New Yorkers:

Like Robert, who struggled with mental illness and addiction most of his life, living in Madison Square Park for ten years. After a health emergency, Urban Pathways’ outreach team helped him move into a beautiful new apartment in his native Bronx. He’s an active participant in his building and in client advocacy groups, regularly visits with his mother and grandchildren, and is beloved by residents and staff alike.

And like Shannon, who has dealt with undiagnosed bipolar disorder and PTSD from a lifetime of sexual assault and domestic abuse. When she became a tenant at Community Access’ Gouverneur Court, things started to change: she fell in love with her current life partner, fellow resident Kenny, and overcame addiction with the support of the staff at Community Access. She now has full time work at the Social Security Administration and recently graduated with a master’s degree.

These stories show firsthand that supportive housing works. It’s why the Mayor proposed a plan in 2015 to build an additional 15,000 supportive housing apartments over 15 years through the city’s new NYC 15/15 program. We applaud the administration for this plan, yet we also know the need is immediate. We need to do more to bring units online today.

As Chairs of the City Council’s Land Use and General Welfare Committees, we’re working collaboratively with our fellow Council Members to help speed the creation of the Mayor’s promised 15,000 supportive apartments over the next several years so that all New Yorkers will have a place to call home.

We need a bold vision to end homelessness. Supportive housing is the key.

***
Stephen Levin represents the 33rd City Council District, including parts of Brooklyn, and Rafael Salamanca, Jr. represents the 17th District, including parts of the South Bronx. On Twitter @StephenLevin33 and @Salamancajr80.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

]]>
A Supportive Housing Victory, and Much More To Do Mon, 18 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Allocates Discretionary Funding, with Significant Increase for the Speaker http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7739:city-council-allocates-discretionary-funding-with-significant-increase-for-the-speaker http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7739:city-council-allocates-discretionary-funding-with-significant-increase-for-the-speaker council meeting cojo

Speaker Corey Johnson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


The New York City Council increased the funding it distributes to local nonprofits and for Council members’ favored projects in their districts to $66.4 million for next fiscal year, which begins July 1, an increase of about $5 million, which largely went to initiatives sponsored by Speaker Corey Johnson. The money is part of the larger $89.2 billion budget deal reached between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Council, which was announced on Monday.

The Council on Wednesday released details of its “Schedule C” discretionary funding, allocated annually to support nonprofits across the city and provide services where city agencies do not meet the need. Members items, as they are known, are meant to allow local elected officials to disburse funding to organizations that they know in their communities and help their constituents, especially the young, the old, and those living in or near poverty.

Discretionary allocations in broad categories remained unchanged this year. The Council is spending $5.6 million on programs providing services for the elderly, through the Department for the Aging; initiatives under the Department of Youth and Community Development will receive $7.7 million; anti-poverty initiatives received a $2.8 million allocation.

About $20.4 million will go to various local initiatives on what is called the “Speaker’s List,” sponsored by individual members, while local initiatives sponsored by the speaker himself will get $16.1 million in funding. A separate “Speaker’s Initiative” pot of funding saw the $5 million increase, to $11.9 million. Another $2 million was allocated to borough-wide needs.  

Johnson’s predecessor, former Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, reformed the discretionary funding process when she took the Council’s top office in 2014, adding equalizing measures to the formula by which funding is allocated to members while providing certain bumps to less well-off districts using objective measures. Speakers that came before her had used Schedule C to reward allies and to punish individual members when they spoke out or opposed them. Each member, including the speaker, received about $660,000 each to dole out to local, youth and aging initiatives this year. Additional allocations based on district poverty rates ranged from $25,000 to $100,000 depending on the members’ districts.

The discretionary grants range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands. In a twist, the largest single grant of $500,000 was made by Johnson to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to fund a study on the decaying Lefferts Boulevard bridge in Queens.

Certain boroughs were clear winners. Of the $2 million for borough-wide initiatives, the Brooklyn delegation received the most, a total of $620,000. Queens came in second with $540,000. Manhattan received $380,000 while the Bronx was allocated $340,000, and Staten Island received $120,000.

[Read: Mayor, City Council Reach Agreement on $89.2 Billion Budget, Funding Key Council Priorities]

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
City Council Allocates Discretionary Funding, with Significant Increase for the Speaker Thu, 14 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio and City Council Agree on $89.2 Billion Budget, Funding Key Council Priorities http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7731:de-blasio-and-city-council-agree-on-89-2-billion-budget-funding-key-council-priorities http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7731:de-blasio-and-city-council-agree-on-89-2-billion-budget-funding-key-council-priorities de Blasio Corey Johnson budget City Hall

De Blasio & Johnson shake on it (photo: William Alatriste)


Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Monday announced an agreement on an $89.15 billion budget for the 2019 fiscal year that includes key Council priorities that the mayor had been hesitant to fund for months.

“This budget is profoundly responsible, it is balanced, it is progressive and it is early,” de Blasio said at the ceremonial budget handshake with Johnson and other Council members at City Hall on Monday evening, about three weeks before the July 1 deadline that is the start of next fiscal year.

The latest spending plan is a slight uptick from the mayor’s $89.06 billion executive budget proposal released in April, and a total $480 million increase from the $88.67 billion preliminary proposal put forward by the administration in February. Overall, it reflects a $16.45 billion increase from the $72.7 billion budget that de Blasio inherited when he took office in 2014. Asked about that significant growth, de Blasio said on Monday, “It’s an investment model, it’s a strategic investment concept,” insisting that much of the city’s prosperity over the last few years stemmed from his administration’s responsible spending and fiscal management.

The money has certainly been there to spend, even as the budget has grown so large, the city has put record sums in reserves, though watchdogs do warn of long-term fiscal impacts of the large growth in public sector headcount de Blasio has overseen.

It was Johnson’s first budget as speaker and he notched a massive victory, convincing an initially reluctant de Blasio to provide $106 million to partially fund the ‘Fair Fares’ program that will provide half-priced MetroCards to New Yorkers that live below the federal poverty line. The Council members in attendance struck an especially celebratory tone.

“I believe that Speaker Johnson said the words ‘Fair Fares’ to me an unfair number of times,” de Blasio mused of Johnson’s almost single-minded focus on the issue in the lead up to the budget deal. The speaker headed a concerted campaign for the program, using digital and social media and grassroots advocacy. All but three members of the City Council had expressed their support for it by this week; it was clearly the speaker’s top priority in negotiations with the mayor.

De Blasio said Monday that the program will launch in January 2019 and run through the rest of the fiscal year, and will be implemented by the city rather than the MTA, in a similar fashion to the Human Resource Administration’s cash assistance and food stamp programs. Following the six-month rollout, the city will evaluate participation and cost to decide on future funding, Johnson later said as he insisted that both he and the mayor will continue to push for an additional millionaires tax approved in Albany to fully fund the program.

The mayor also added $225 million in funding to reserves, conceding nearly half of the Council’s $500 million demand for more rainy day funds. About $125 million was added to the general reserve, bringing it to $1.25 billion each year, and $100 million to the Retiree Health Benefits Trust Fund, increasing it to $4.35 billion, while the capital stabilization reserve remained static at $250 million.

De Blasio also touted other top items that had been outlined in earlier iterations of the budget, namely $125 million in increased fair school funding, added resources for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), an expansion of 3-K for all, and funding for police body cameras.

“This spending plan will strengthen our social safety net and do more for New Yorkers who are struggling to get by on less,” Johnson said as he thanked the mayor for “good faith” negotiations over the last few months.

“We are taking a sharp-eyed, sober approach to the future,” he added, detailing a few of the initiatives funded in the budget, including $150 million in additional capital funding over three years to improve accessibility for the disabled at city schools and an expansion of of the summer youth employment program from 70,000 to 75,000 slots.

Johnson also highlighted the hundreds of millions of dollars that the city previously committed to the MTA Subway Action Plan, as Johnson had wanted it to but de Blasio did not, after the state budget forced the city's hand. He also stressed additional investment in supportive housing, to accelerate the pace of units opening.

The deal, according to a press release from the mayor's office, also increases and baselines funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program "to $20 million annually" and adds $3.5 million "for additional litter basket pickup" to avoid trash can overflow on street corners.

The final budget does not include a $400 property tax rebate for thousands of homeowners -- another key Council priority -- since the administration and Council announced late last month that they would convene a property tax commission to review the system and propose reforms. The commission is expected to begin its work with the July 1 start of the new fiscal year and will hold ten hearings to seek public input.

The budget agreement announcement came hours after another, more tense news conference at City Hall where de Blasio addressed the city’s agreement, announced Monday morning, with federal prosecutors to accept a federal monitor for NYCHA. The deal also requires the city to provide billions more in funding for the ailing housing authority over the several years, and that funding will be reflected in the capital budget when it passes the City Council later this month, de Blasio said.

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
De Blasio and City Council Agree on $89.2 Billion Budget, Funding Key Council Priorities Mon, 11 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Three City Council Members Don't Support 'Fair Fares' http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7722:three-city-council-members-don-t-support-fair-fares http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7722:three-city-council-members-don-t-support-fair-fares citycouncil cojo

Speaker Johnson on the subway (photo via City Council)


A budget proposal to provide half-priced MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers has the New York City Council’s full weight this year. Well, almost.

Only three City Council Members -- Joe Borelli, Steven Matteo, and Ruben Diaz, Sr. -- in the 51-member body have so far declined to support Fair Fares, the proposal that would cost the city about $212 million to offer discounted fares to nearly 800,000 city residents living below the federal poverty line.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has made an unprecedented push for the proposal to be funded in the next city budget, due by July 1, which will outline roughly $90 billion in spending. Johnson, his Council colleagues, and his aides have employed social media campaigns and on-the-ground outreach to convince Mayor Bill de Blasio to agree to the necessary funding. The mayor has shown nominal support for the idea but has insisted that it should be funded by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which is controlled by the state and effectively answers to Governor Andrew Cuomo, or through an added tax on high income earners.

“The Fair Fares proposal is not a representation of the needs of my constituents, who continually face the longest and costliest commutes in the city,” said Council Member Matteo from Staten Island, one of three Republicans in the Council and the minority leader, in a statement. “It is certainly not a budget priority for me.”

Matteo and fellow Staten Island Republican Council Member Joe Borelli, who is also unsupportive of Fair Fares, are among those behind a Council push -- supported by Johnson -- to convince de Blasio to fund a $400 property tax rebate to homeowners with household incomes under $150,000, another initiative the mayor has thus far spurned.

Last month, the Council organized a digital Day of Action, followed the next week with a street-level effort at subway stations across the city, to build a crescendo around Fair Fares targeted largely at an audience of one: the mayor. Of the 51 members, 47 had signalled their support for the proposal. Since then, Council Member Chaim Deutsch from Brooklyn has also signed on. In a brief phone interview, he told Gotham Gazette, “I support it 100 percent.”

Borelli was less enthused. “Where have all these ‘Fair Fares’ supporters been while my constituents pay $6.50 for a bus to Manhattan, or shell out $15 tolls to subsidize a subway system we don’t have access to?,” he said in a text message. “Do they not understand that the middle class will be on the line to pay for this subsidy?”

Politico New York reported last month that Speaker Johnson was considering cutting certain Council initiatives from the budget to fund Fair Fares, which could mean that individual members may see some of their own priorities unfunded in the final budget if the mayor doesn’t concede to the Council’s demand. Johnson has declined to confirm the report, and a new report by Politico indicated on Wednesday that the speaker appeared to be close to getting de Blasio to agree to some initial version of a Fair Fares program in an imminent budget deal.

“I’m still undecided,” said Council Member Ruben Diaz Sr., a Democrat from the Bronx and the fourth of the four Council members who didn’t sign the Fair Fares letter, when reached by phone on Wednesday. “I’m inclined to support it but I’m looking at other things to see what happens.”

When asked to elaborate on his concerns, Diaz Sr. refused. “I’m telling you as much as I can tell you,” he said.

[Read: City Council Pushes Property Tax Rebate as De Blasio Stalls Broader Reform]

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Three City Council Members Don't Support 'Fair Fares' Thu, 07 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
For 34,000 Children and Their Parents, A Summer of Uncertainty and More At Stake http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7685:for-34-000-children-and-their-parents-a-summer-of-uncertainty-and-more-at-stake http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7685:for-34-000-children-and-their-parents-a-summer-of-uncertainty-and-more-at-stake mayorsoffice young leaders

(photo via the Mayor's Office)


In the Fall of 2014, New York City took an important step forward with the rollout of universal after-school for all public middle school students. SONYC, or School’s Out NYC, provides 6th, 7th and 8th graders with a foundation for success by offering opportunities, beyond the traditional learning settings of a classroom, that allow them to explore their interests and abilities in sports and arts and youth leadership and more.

Mayor de Blasio said in his announcement at the time that “Middle school is often a make-or-break time in an adolescent's life—and we're determined to use all tools at our disposal to expand learning opportunities for the future shapers of our city."

In the first year of implementation, the SONYC after-school program offered a summer component, mirroring all after-school programs established during the Bloomberg administration. This was a positive step as research has proven summer camp programming is a critical component of child well-being and academic success. Among the tremendous benefits of summer programs, they help to close the achievement gap and aid with preventing “summer slide” learning losses. According to the National Summer Learning Association, summer learning loss accounts for two-thirds of the ninth-grade achievements gap in reading, and low-income youth lose two to three months of achievement each year.

However, since the summer of 2015, the de Blasio administration has annually threatened to cut more than $20 million for summer camp programming from the students enrolled in the after-school programs of the mayor’s creation. This money, or a portion of it, usually gets restored after negotiations with the City Council; however, this back-and-forth “budget dance” process leaves parents and programs scrambling at the last minute and anxiety-ridden until budget adoption. And as the budget is adopted in late June, these restorations naturally result in a smaller and smaller number of program slots, as ramping up a program, hiring staff, engaging parents, and enrolling students all takes time. The beginning of the summer is not the time to make these crucial funding decisions.

Once again, the de Blasio administration is planning to cut summer programs for over 34,000 middle-school students. Those most at risk of losing programming are the low-income working parents and families who are already facing many stressors in trying to make ends meet. Keeping their children safe during the summer months should not be one of them.

The proposed cut impacts children and families in every corner of the city but is particularly drastic in communities with the greatest needs. The community district of Brownsville is facing the biggest cut of nearly 1,600 slots despite having the highest child poverty rate in the city. Other hard-hit communities include East Harlem (1,281 slots), East New York (1,219 slots), the Rockaways (1,137 slots), East Tremont (1,097), Central Harlem (1,087 slots), and the Lower East Side (1,030 slots). Each slot represents a child who will not have an enriching and stable location to learn and grow this summer.

The budget dance for summer camp must come to an end! We must return to the original model that recognized that the families whose children engaged in after-school programming during the school year need summer camp opportunities that allow children to explore cultural and recreational interests and abilities and offer academic components that prevent summer learning loss.

We agree with Mayor de Blasio when he says New York City must become the fairest big city in America. Threatening to cut summer camp from 34,000 children, with a profound negative impact on the poorest communities of this city, is not fair! Playing the budget dance with funding for summer camp programs is not fair! Fairness demands that the de Blasio administration restore and baseline this funding - 34,000 children and their families are counting on it!

***
Jennifer March is executive director of Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York and a leader of the Campaign for Children. On Twitter @CCCNewYork.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

]]>
For 34,000 Children and Their Parents, A Summer of Uncertainty and More At Stake Tue, 22 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Pushes Property Tax Rebate as De Blasio Continues Stall on Broader Reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7671:city-council-pushes-property-tax-rebate-as-de-blasio-continues-to-stall-on-broader-reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7671:city-council-pushes-property-tax-rebate-as-de-blasio-continues-to-stall-on-broader-reform Corey Johnson City Council hearing

Speaker Johnson & Council members (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


The New York City Council has been pushing for temporary relief for lower- and middle-class homeowners in this year’s budget, calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to fund a one-time $400 property tax rebate that would cost about $187 million in total. Council Members, some of whom are homeowners themselves and could potentially qualify for the rebate, say it’s a much needed measure that could help thousands of New Yorkers reduce their annual tax burden.

The Council’s proposal set a $150,000 threshold for households to qualify for the $400 rebate, which would reach roughly 467,000 homeowners, according to the Council’s finance division. The proposal is merely a stop-gap, in lieu of broader reform of the city’s property tax system, which the mayor has promised but has been slow to act on.

At least a few Council members themselves stand to benefit from the rebate, given that the City Council voted in 2016 to increase members’ salaries from $112,500 to $148,500, while at the same time limiting the outside income they can earn, meaning that individual members fall just under the Council’s income threshold for the rebate. Most Council members, like most residents of the city, are renters, but a few do own property according to the latest available disclosures filed with the city Conflicts of Interest Board.

A Council spokesperson said member income was not part of the discussion on the rebate, which would reach about 75 percent of home, coop, and condo owners.

“Middle class homeowners deserve a break, which is why the City Council proposed a $400 refund for them in this year’s budget response,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in a statement. “We know that every little bit counts and felt this refund could help people while we work on the bigger issue - reforming the broken system.”

Council Member Joseph Borelli, a Republican from Staten Island and a homeowner, says he wouldn’t qualify for the rebate since he earns about $6,000 from teaching at College of Staten Island, which he’s allowed to do under the Council’s rule change, which includes exceptions for forms of passive income and a few activities like teaching. That extra income puts him just over the top.

[Related: City Council Members Still Navigating Outside Income Divestment Ahead of Deadline]

Borelli, whose district is largely homeowners and is one of the main proponents of the rebate, isn’t concerned about the optics of Council members potentially benefiting from a rebate that they’re pushing so hard, though he conceded that members could be forthcoming about qualifying for it. “It’s like saying we all receive the public benefit of a new stop sign or a new highway,” he said. “If there’s something that’s done as a public benefit to all taxpayers, if you wanna require people to disclose that they’re going to get a check for 400 bucks in the mail, I’m certainly happy to do that. Also saying I won’t qualify myself.”

He rightly predicted that even members who own property will likely pass the threshold since many file their tax returns jointly with their spouses. “It’s an interesting question, I just don’t have the answer. But it sucks that I won’t be getting it,” he half-joked. “That’s on record, too.”

[Listen: Max & Murphy Podcat: City Council Member Joe Borelli]

Borelli is among the members who were particularly disappointed by the mayor’s refusal to address property taxes in his $89 billion executive budget proposal, released late last month. A joint statement from Borelli and Council Members Justin Brannan, Steven Matteo, Paul Vallone, Barry Grodenchik, and Mark Gjonaj noted that the administration had yet to address “the glaring inequities of a property tax system that charges the owner of a modest home in our districts more than the owner of a multi-million dollar brownstone in Park Slope,” a clear reference to de Blasio’s Brooklyn homeownership, which includes two houses that he currently rents out. De Blasio would not be eligible for the rebate given his $258,750 salary.

“I know we speak for just about every property owner in the five boroughs when we say, ‘C’mon man, give us a break!,’” the Council members concluded.

“[L]ike many of his constituents, Councilman Matteo owns a home,” said Peter Spencer, a spokesperson for the minority leader, also a Staten Island Republican, in an email. “His household income fluctuates, so it would depend on the tax filing year as to whether he would meet the $150,000 threshold. He has been advocating for a property tax rebate for years for all homeowners, to alleviate the financial burden skyrocketing property taxes are having on so many families and seniors.”

The other members on the statement are all Democrats, as are de Blasio and Speaker Johnson, but they represent areas of the city with higher home ownership rates than most other Council members. Grodenchik and Vallone’s offices did not respond to voicemails requesting comment. Reginald Johnson, Gjonaj’s chief of staff, said the Council member owns property but files a joint tax return with his wife, who is a nurse, and would not qualify for the rebate.

De Blasio has repeatedly said that he would launch a commission to look at the city’s property tax system and to recommend fundamental change in how taxes are assessed. Unlike other taxes, the city does not need approval from the state Legislature to amend its property tax rates, which have remained flat over the last few years but have been evenly applied across the city with no accounting for varying property values, while assessments continue to rise, increasing tax bills virtually across the board.

“We’re going to...go at the heart of the property tax problem and have a commission, working closely with the Council to try and reform fundamentally the property tax to be more fair for everyone,” de Blasio told reporters at his executive budget presentation on April 26. “So, I would argue the best way to address the property tax question is the fix the whole system. Everyone loves a rebate, but it doesn’t fix the root cause, and most rebates are pretty small and then you never see them again. We want to get at the root cause.”

Maria Doulis, vice-president of Citizens Budget Commission, an independent fiscal watchdog, echoed that position while also pointing out that the Council’s interim approach may be flawed. “It’s a well-intentioned proposal,” she said of the rebate, “but it’s too broad a measure to address their concerns.” An umbrella threshold, she said, doesn’t capture the differences in households and property values across the city, so those with a high property tax burden would stand to receive the same benefit as those with a negligible one.

“It’s best to do it with a circuit breaker rather than a flat rebate,” she said, referring to an industry term for targeted property tax breaks based on a percentage of income. “Circuit breakers take into account your income as well as your burden. That’s a better way to do it. Given the complexity and problems with the property tax, I’m not sure adding another wrinkle is the best thing to do.”

Council Member Brannan, who has been advocating for property tax reform since his campaign for office, is a renter but he understands the effect a rebate could have. “I’m a renter, but my landlord certainly would factor that into my rent,” he said.

“Obviously it doesn’t benefit me because I’m a renter but because when I was knocking on doors for nine months in my campaign, that was one of the top things I heard about, was people getting squeezed -- renters too. It all trickles down. Coops, condos, homeowners, everything. It’s a big deal for me. I’m not gonna benefit from it but it’s a big deal,” he added. (CBC’s Doulis said it’s unclear that a temporary rebate would get passed down to renters but that wholesale reform was more likely to have that effect.)

Other homeowners identified in COIB disclosures include Council Members Peter Koo, Jumaane Williams, and Fernando Cabrera.

Cabrera and Williams did not respond to requests for comment. Scott Sieber, a spokesperson for Koo told Gotham Gazette the Council member files taxes jointly with his wife and would not qualify for the rebate. “The rebate is good for all our constituents in the city,” Koo said at City Hall last week.

Council Member Ruben Diaz Sr., a former state senator, said that he has qualified for state property tax credits in the past but has refused to apply for them. “When I was in Albany, they gave credits to property owners and I never took one and I would never apply for it until I retire,” he told Gotham Gazette in the Council chambers last week. “But there are people in the City of New York, homeowners that deserve to take a break on those things. I support the speaker.”

What if he qualified for the Council’s proposed rebate? “I won’t take it,” he said.

The City Council is in the midst of weeks of hearings on de Blasio’s executive budget, while Johnson and others continue to push their top priorities -- the property tax rebate, reduced price MetroCards for people living in poverty, and an added $500 million into reserves -- for inclusion in the adopted budget, which the two sides must agree on by the July 1 start to the new fiscal year.

On the steps of City Hall, Council Member Chaim Deutsch brushed aside any concerns about personal conflicts in pushing for a rebate. “When we’re fighting for issues, a lot of the time we fight for issues that affect us because that’s where we get the experience from, and that’s how we know sometimes how to fight for things,” he said. “Because we as New Yorkers understand sometimes when it’s difficult for a Council member to make ends meet, that we know how difficult it may be for others. So we fight for issues. So you can’t single out one thing over another.”

[Related: De Blasio, City Council Tangle Over How to Spend $1 Billion]

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
City Council Pushes Property Tax Rebate as De Blasio Continues Stall on Broader Reform Mon, 14 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio and City Council Tangle Over How to Spend $1 Billion http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7658:de-blasio-and-city-council-tangle-over-how-to-spend-1-billion http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7658:de-blasio-and-city-council-tangle-over-how-to-spend-1-billion de Blasio corey johnson meeting

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio says he doesn’t have the money. The City Council says it is very much there.

On April 26, the mayor released his executive budget proposal for the 2019 fiscal year, an $89.06 billion spending plan that he called “a downpayment on a more fair future for New Yorkers.” But the plan didn’t include major priorities previously outlined by the City Council, namely $212 million to fund half-priced MetroCards for thousands of low-income New Yorkers, a one-time $400 property tax rebate for middle-income homeowners that would cost $187 million, and a $500 million infusion of funds towards the city’s reserves.

About $900 million in total -- nothing to sniff at, even amidst plans to spend $89 billion.

While maintaining that “progressives need to be fiscally responsible,” de Blasio explained to reporters at City Hall why he’d chosen instead to fund other items, including additional money toward city schools that the state had refused to provide in its recently passed budget, a new cybersecurity initiative, pedestrian safety infrastructure, childhood literacy programs, social services at homeless shelters, and repairs in public housing. He said that due to more revenue than projected, the city was able to cover several “hits from Albany,” including less school aid than expected, and still have money for new spending from prior budget outlines, while maintaining strong reserves.

City Council members, led by Speaker Corey Johnson, swiftly pushed back, saying that the mayor was being short-sighted in not funding those three Council priorities and continuing its counteroffensive as negotiations head into their next phase ahead of the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.

But are the mayor and the Council really talking about the same pool of money? Does de Blasio’s spending plan really fund his priorities while leaving the Council’s off the ledger unless he agrees to make cuts?

At the crux of the difference between the mayor and the Council are differing estimates of revenue projections, savings, and efficiencies put forward by the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget and the Council’s finance division.

In its official response to the mayor’s preliminary budget, his first spending plan for next fiscal year, the City Council found roughly $1.82 billion in additional resources to expend between the current fiscal year (FY18) and next (FY19) -- including reestimates of spending, savings and agency efficiencies, and a more generous tax revenue forecast than the administration’s. And Speaker Johnson called for spending about $1.61 billion of that amount over the two fiscal years on the Council’s priorities and unfunded state mandates -- including funding the MTA’s Subway Action Plan, implementing raising in the age of adult criminal responsibility, and funding a juvenile justice program that lost state funds -- leaving $211 million on the table for the 2020 fiscal year.

An economist in the City Council’s finance division explained to Gotham Gazette that OMB’s tax forecast tends to be far more conservative than the Council’s. For instance, OMB overestimates how much money to set aside to account for people not paying their taxes, the economist said. Lower forecasts of revenue also give the administration more flexibility for mid-year budget modifications, which often increase spending by hundreds of millions. Downplaying possible, even expected, revenue is a common, and in some ways prudent, budgeting tactic.

After the release of the preliminary budget in January, the Council predicted about $652 million in additional tax revenue in 2018 and $599 million in 2019, for a total of $1.25 billion. The Council also found $528 million in agency efficiencies and savings, rolled over $300 million from the general reserve from 2018, and accounted for $257 million in lost revenue from taxi medallion sales and state sales taxes. The result: the aforementioned $1.82 billion in new resources. Of that, $899 was pegged for the three main demands in the upcoming budget (discounted Metrocards, property tax rebates, more into reserves), $227 for other agency spending, and $485 for unfunded state mandates [see table below].

city council projections fy18 fy19In total, after adjusting spending -- by largely prepaying next year’s expenses in the current budget -- and new revenue, the Council’s plan would bring the 2018 budget up by $727 million (from recent prior adjustments to the current year's plan) and the projected 2019 budget up by $230 million (from the mayor's preliminary spending plan).

The de Blasio administration clearly has different plans. OMB’s latest forecast, included in the mayor’s executive budget, found $973 million more in city tax revenue in 2018 and $77 million in 2019, totalling $1.05 billion (while accounting for the lost sales tax and medallion revenue.) They also found $754 million in savings and efficiencies, surpassing the Council’s numbers. And the $300 million general reserve was available to them as well. In total, for an apples-to-apples comparison with the Council’s projections, the administration had about $2.1 billion at its disposal.

But the mayor directed large amounts of funding to various agencies, increasing new agency spending across both fiscal years by $1.48 billion, and directing $530 million towards the unfunded state mandates, leaving little funding from that same pot of resources to spend on the Council’s priorities.

Johnson and Council Member Daniel Dromm, the finance committee chair, said in a statement that they were “disappointed” with the mayor’s executive budget. But they were optimistic that new revenue combined with savings and efficiencies, “has the potential to go a long way towards our goals of strengthening the social safety net, fighting for the middle class, and being responsible with taxpayer money.”

Johnson has been especially vocal about the “Fair Fares” Metrocard initiative, arguing that it is a matter of equity and opportunity that would clearly help de Blasio reach his goal of making New York “the fairest big city in the country.” The speaker, a Democrat like the mayor, has also stressed the property tax rebate, though other Council members have made it more of a priority in their public statements.

The Council has also pushed for more transparency in the mayor’s budget and has been critical of the administration’s most recent budget modification request, which was approved in April. It has urged de Blasio to find more savings, but hasn't necessarily advocated to spend fewer dollars, but rather to spend the money available better, with greater efficiency across city agencies.

OMB’s tax revenue predictions are likely to be revised further upwards, more accurately reflecting projected revenue through June, by the time the budget is adopted. On Monday, the Council will began hearings on the executive budget, with OMB officials testifying on the latest updates to the administration's spending plan, including defending priorities and explaining where the money is coming from and how much is available. Commissioners from the more than 40 mayoral and city agencies will also appear before the Council in the coming weeks, then negotiations move almost exclusively behind closed doors.

On Monday several Council members harshly criticized officials from OMB on the administration’s refusal to fund the three big Council priorities. Speaker Johnson expressed “deep disappointment and frustration with what is contained in this executive budget, or more accurately what is excluded from this budget.”

Johnson repeatedly emphasized the lack of respect with which the mayor was treating him and his colleagues. “[W]ith the release of the executive budget, it is not clear that [Mayor de Blasio] wants to work with us to collaborate on a budget that embodies the priorities of both the administration and the Council,” he said.

Johnson noted with derision that the lack of funding for the Council’s priorities was clearly because of a lack of political will on the part of the mayor. Of the 50 proposals in the Council’s budget calling for new expenditure, the administration funded, partially and fully, only 11, Johnson said. At the same time, the administration added $965 million in new spending for the 2019 fiscal year alone after the preliminary budget was released three months ago. “I really do not want to hear this morning that there’s no new money,” Johnson said. “You all found plenty of money for what was important to you.”

Fair Fares occupied much of the hearing, with several Council members flabbergasted by the mayor’s steadfast refusal to fund what would seem to be a no-brainer for a progressive. De Blasio has insisted on a state-approved tax on the wealthy to fund the proposal, and OMB Director Melanie Hartzog reiterated that argument for each member that inquired, insisting that the mayor does support the proposal but does not want to send more city funds towards the state-run MTA and instead wants “a dedicated funding source” for Fair Fares.

“It’s not subsidizing the MTA, it’s helping poor people,” Johnson retorted, noting that the mayor had chosen to subsidize the city’s ferry service, at $6.50 for each ride, in a system that carried fewer than 4 million passengers last year, compared with nearly 6 million daily riders on the subways.

As was also expected, Council members at the hearing pushed for the property tax rebate and for adding more funding to reserves. And they took issue with the fact that other programs and initiatives -- including NYCHA senior centers, after-school programs and summer youth programs -- were also left underfunded in the mayor’s budget plan, while spending in certain areas like homelessness was skyrocketing with few concrete results. Council Member Mark Gjonaj said the administration was “spending like drunken sailors” while the city continued to become more unaffordable for everyday New Yorkers. Without significant changes to the budget, he said, “I don’t see how I can support this budget plan and will work to encourage my colleagues to reject it.”

[Read: De Blasio Presents $89 Billion Executive Budget Plan]

[Read: In Response to De Blasio Proposal, City Council Sets Stage for Tense Budget Negotiations]

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this story has been updated with details from Monday's initial executive budget hearing at the City Council.

]]>
De Blasio and City Council Tangle Over How to Spend $1 Billion Sun, 06 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000