Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/corey-johnson 2018-06-20T02:17:17+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com City Council Allocates Discretionary Funding, with Significant Increase for the Speaker 2018-06-14T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-14T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7739:city-council-allocates-discretionary-funding-with-significant-increase-for-the-speaker Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/council-meeting-cojo.jpg" alt="council meeting cojo" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Speaker Corey Johnson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>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 <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7731-de-blasio-and-city-council-agree-on-89-2-billion-budget-funding-key-council-priorities" target="_blank" rel="noopener">$89.2 billion budget deal reached between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Council</a>, which was announced on Monday.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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. &nbsp;</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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 <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/23/nyregion/railroad-bridge-over-kew-gardens-queens-mta.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">decaying</a> Lefferts Boulevard bridge in Queens.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7731-de-blasio-and-city-council-agree-on-89-2-billion-budget-funding-key-council-priorities" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Mayor, City Council Reach Agreement on $89.2 Billion Budget, Funding Key Council Priorities</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/council-meeting-cojo.jpg" alt="council meeting cojo" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Speaker Corey Johnson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>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 <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7731-de-blasio-and-city-council-agree-on-89-2-billion-budget-funding-key-council-priorities" target="_blank" rel="noopener">$89.2 billion budget deal reached between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Council</a>, which was announced on Monday.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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. &nbsp;</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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 <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/23/nyregion/railroad-bridge-over-kew-gardens-queens-mta.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">decaying</a> Lefferts Boulevard bridge in Queens.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7731-de-blasio-and-city-council-agree-on-89-2-billion-budget-funding-key-council-priorities" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Mayor, City Council Reach Agreement on $89.2 Billion Budget, Funding Key Council Priorities</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
De Blasio and City Council Agree on $89.2 Billion Budget, Funding Key Council Priorities 2018-06-11T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-11T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7731:de-blasio-and-city-council-agree-on-89-2-billion-budget-funding-key-council-priorities Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/42026176154_6c5b9671ec_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio Corey Johnson budget City Hall" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>De Blasio &amp; Johnson shake on it (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.</p> <p>“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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>The budget agreement announcement came hours after another, more tense news conference at City Hall where <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7730-city-agrees-to-federal-monitor-and-cash-infusion-for-nycha" target="_blank" rel="noopener">de Blasio addressed the city’s agreement, announced Monday morning, with federal prosecutors to accept a federal monitor for NYCHA</a>. 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.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/42026176154_6c5b9671ec_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio Corey Johnson budget City Hall" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>De Blasio &amp; Johnson shake on it (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.</p> <p>“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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>The budget agreement announcement came hours after another, more tense news conference at City Hall where <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7730-city-agrees-to-federal-monitor-and-cash-infusion-for-nycha" target="_blank" rel="noopener">de Blasio addressed the city’s agreement, announced Monday morning, with federal prosecutors to accept a federal monitor for NYCHA</a>. 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.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Johnson Makes Series of City Council Changes, But Sidelines Formal Rules Reforms 2018-06-08T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-08T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7726:johnson-makes-series-of-city-council-changes-but-sidelines-formal-rules-reforms Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/cojo-cm-team.jpg" alt="cojo cm team" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Speaker Johnson, middle, and Council members (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>In December, several City Council members jostling to become the powerful next speaker of the 51-member legislative body <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7378-rules-reform-package-supported-by-33-current-and-incoming-city-council-members" target="_blank" rel="noopener">signed on</a> to a broad platform of reforms to the Council’s rules and procedures, which can have a significant impact on city law-making and funding for communities. Both returning and newly-elected Council members, 33 of them in total, backed the proposals, which would make legislative drafting procedures more transparent, bolster staffing for prominent divisions such as land use, and tweak the Council’s internal culture in significant ways, among other more minor adjustments.</p> <p>But a deadline set in that platform for convening a public hearing on the proposals came and went as new Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who was among the signatories, has chosen instead to implement administrative changes in lieu of more formal reforms through the Council’s Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges. Several Council members who spoke with Gotham Gazette largely praised those measures but others expressed concern that important promises have been left unfulfilled.</p> <p>In a process somewhat similar to four years prior when Council members proposed changes ahead of the election of a new speaker, the document signed by the Council members in December of last year laid out broad areas where the Council could improve its functions, including in bill drafting, the role and operations of the 40-plus issue committees, the body’s oversight and investigations capacity, its budget negotiation process, its land use powers, and the quality of working life for members and their staff.</p> <p>“A hearing should be held in the Rules Committee on these reforms – as well as any others proposed by good government groups or members of the public – in the first quarter of 2018,” states the letter, signed by both Speaker Johnson and Council Member Karen Koslowitz, whom he appointed as chair of the rules committee. “The reforms should then be converted into a Rules Resolution, and adopted by the Council by March 2018, but no later than June 2018.”</p> <p>By this time in 2014, then-Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito had ushered in transformative rules changes that made the body more democratic, diluting some of the traditional powers of the speaker and empowering individual members. The changes were spearheaded along with Council Member Brad Lander, who she appointed to chair the rules committee and was instrumental in drafting the reforms.</p> <p>Discretionary funding -- also known as “member items” that are usually awarded by Council members to local nonprofits in their districts -- was equalized across Council districts, with additional resources allocated to poorer districts, and could no longer be a tool to punish members who might oppose the speaker, as Mark-Viverito’s predecessors had used it. A new bill drafting unit was created to aid Council members and speed up the legislative process, and other changes were made to how bills are introduced and heard in committees.</p> <p>Johnson has taken a different tack, making significant administrative changes that cover large parts of the rules reform package and were key pledges he made as he ran for speaker.</p> <p>The Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7559-fulfilling-johnson-promise-city-council-significantly-increases-its-operating-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">voted</a> to significantly increase its own annual budget to $81.3 million, up from $64 million, with the new funds pegged for staffing increases in the land use, legislative, and finance divisions. A dedicated 15-member oversight and investigations unit was created to conduct systemic analyses of city agencies and their functioning. According to a Council spokesperson, the central staff has also internally overseen improvements in bill drafting, no longer allowing indefinite delays on bill introductions and impressing on members to move their bills or release them for others. Members can now also electronically access the status of their bills in real time and there is a timely process for staff to express legal concerns with bill language. Members are provided legal memos on their bills on request, which is apparently rare. All moves meant to address major areas of frustration for some members, though key pieces of proposed changes to bill-drafting have not been implemented.</p> <p>In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the Council also moved rapidly to change its rules to mandate anti-sexual harassment trainings.</p> <p>“I am proud to have taken important steps on necessary reforms in my first months as speaker, including the creation of the new Oversight and Investigations Unit that will strengthen our capacity for monitoring city agencies as mandated by the charter,” Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “I will continue to discuss with members what reforms should be made in the future to help better serve the people of New York.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/photobyemily.jpg" alt="photobyemily" width="181" height="141" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />When asked for comment, a spokesperson for Council Member Koslowitz (pictured), chair of the rules committee, initially said the Council member was unfamiliar with the rules reform package that she had signed. When presented with the full list of proposals, the spokesperson declined to comment.</p> <p>By and large, Council members are appreciative of the steps Johnson has taken. Several members said their bills are moving faster and, without making any comparisons with Mark-Viverito, that Johnson is openly seeking member input on the budget and larger strategy. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The rules reform this time around, there were a lot of legitimate questions about whether or not these reforms needed to be put into the Council’s rules or they could just be effected,” said Council Member Rory Lancman, a member of the rules committee. “A lot of them had to do with resource allocation. So I don’t know if once Corey’s done with putting his administrative imprint on the body, how much of the rules reforms still need to get done. Maybe that’ll be something to assess once we get through the city budget.”</p> <p>At the same time, some members declined to comment, taking a wait-and-see approach before they evaluate Johnson’s commitment to rules reform. Others only agreed to speak anonymously, fearing what they say is increased scrutiny of public comments by the speaker’s office.</p> <p>Those members pointed out, for instance, that though there have been changes to bill drafting, the process still falls largely to the discretion of the speaker’s central staff. Under a long-standing process, Council members who made “first-in-time” legislative services requests -- Council speak for when a member asks for a bill to be drafted -- were given priority even if other members may have similar bill requests. Having a “first-in-time” request meant that members could sit on bills indefinitely, which the rules reforms would have amended with an official time-bound process.</p> <p>A Council spokesperson said that practice has ended and that members have offered positive feedback for the changes that have been made. Members are no longer allowed to sit on bills, and lose them to other members, the spokesperson said, without providing the details of how the new protocols work.</p> <p>Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a government reform group, said that is perhaps the most significant item in the rules reform package. “There’s no known criteria by which they’re making that decision and that needs to change,” he said in a phone interview. “At the very least, the speaker’s office ought to declare the criteria by which they decide which bills are moved.”</p> <p>Council members who spoke to Gotham Gazette seemed to be in the dark about whether rules reforms were even being discussed. The overarching platform hasn’t been discussed in hearings though some of the issues have been raised in the Democratic conference meetings, said one member who would only speak on the condition of anonymity. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The first-in-time issues have not been changed,” the member said. “They did update the database -- truthfully, this was mostly done last term -- you can find out more quickly whether you’re first-in-time or not, but the process itself is still exactly as it was. And the legal concerns issue,” about getting legal opinions on bills in a timely manner, “is still as it was...And some of the disability and accessibility investments [for Council hearings] still need to be advanced.”</p> <p>Though the Council allocated more money for pay raises for staffers, it hasn’t implemented pay parity with other city agencies where benefits are better and salaries are higher, despite that being a priority outlined in the draft of reforms. “Yeah, I would add that to the list,” the Council member said. Nor is childcare provided to members or staffers, as called for in the reform proposal.</p> <p>The Council spokesperson noted that audio induction loops for those with hearing impairments were added last year and that language accessibility can be requested. The spokesperson also said that pay parity has been discussed with members when the Council was deciding its own budget, and ultimately members get to decide how they will use the increased funds budgeted for their offices and staff. The spokesperson also acknowledged that the Council does not currently provide childcare options but insisted that the Council is always looking at ways to expand it for all New Yorkers.</p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine, one of Johnson’s chief rivals for the speakership, said the Council has made major improvements. “[The Speaker] has made progress on a lot of fronts,” he said, pointing to the uptick in the budget, the staffing increases, and more transparency and faster timelines on bill introductions. “It helps tremendously in managing your LS [legislative service] requests to have real-time access to that information. They’ve also staffed up pretty dramatically in the bill-drafting unit,” he said. “And it’s more equitable now. Everybody gets to identify 10 priority LSs which we want staff to work on and that evens it out a little bit more.”</p> <p>Echoing Lancman, Levine said a formal hearing wasn’t absolutely necessary. “These changes have been possible through a combination of changing internal procedure, through allocation of resources, and that really is a very big deal,” he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>Some members are waiting until after budget negotiations have concluded with the administration to see more changes go into effect, particularly with new funding at the Council’s disposal.</p> <p>“To date, the specifics of the rules reform stuff that we signed on to hasn’t been evidenced,” said Council Member Robert Cornegy, another current rules committee member and speaker candidate of last year. “There has been some efforts, especially in bill drafting, to make sure that bills move faster. But we’re so deep in the budget and I’m on the budget negotiation team, I can’t really see anything. I almost don’t know what’s going on around me as it relates to the legislation or the rules reform because we’re so deep in the budget.”</p> <p>Cornegy said he wants to see “a bit more latitude” for members in the drafting process so bills can move more quickly.</p> <p>Council Member Adrienne Adams, also a rules committee member, said very briefly before a Council hearing, “We’re still waiting. It’s been a while. We’re still waiting. I really don’t have anything to add right now.”</p> <p>Among other items that remain unfinished are changes to the functioning of the Council committees, which hear bills and hold oversight hearings.</p> <p>Despite being included in the proposed agenda, there’s still no protocol for committee hearing scheduling; there isn’t a standard process for members who want to switch committees midway through the term; hearings are not automatically triggered for bills with popular support; and committee staff aren’t publishing recaps of hearings that summarize testimony, requests made by members and promises made by the administration (though the full testimony from hearings continues to be readily available online.)</p> <p>It’s likely once the budget is decided, which could be as soon as the coming week, that the Council will ramp up some of the changes put in motion by Johnson and get to other delayed reforms. Yet, Council members and government reform groups say that needs to happen in a public, transparent way. “If the speaker and 32 members made a commitment to pass rules reforms,” said Camarda of Reinvent Albany, “they should honor that commitment and hold public hearings to solicit input and pass meaningful rules changes.”</p> <p>Camarda also pointed to a <a href="https://nypost.com/2018/05/12/city-council-speaker-breaks-transparency-promise-watchdog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Post report</a> from May that highlighted Johnson’s partial reversal on a promise to regularly publish his full public schedule and details of his contact with lobbyists. “We hope this isn’t the beginning of a trend that the speaker’s promises on good government issues go unfulfilled,” Camarda said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Inset Koslowitz photo by Emil Cohen</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/cojo-cm-team.jpg" alt="cojo cm team" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Speaker Johnson, middle, and Council members (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>In December, several City Council members jostling to become the powerful next speaker of the 51-member legislative body <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7378-rules-reform-package-supported-by-33-current-and-incoming-city-council-members" target="_blank" rel="noopener">signed on</a> to a broad platform of reforms to the Council’s rules and procedures, which can have a significant impact on city law-making and funding for communities. Both returning and newly-elected Council members, 33 of them in total, backed the proposals, which would make legislative drafting procedures more transparent, bolster staffing for prominent divisions such as land use, and tweak the Council’s internal culture in significant ways, among other more minor adjustments.</p> <p>But a deadline set in that platform for convening a public hearing on the proposals came and went as new Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who was among the signatories, has chosen instead to implement administrative changes in lieu of more formal reforms through the Council’s Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges. Several Council members who spoke with Gotham Gazette largely praised those measures but others expressed concern that important promises have been left unfulfilled.</p> <p>In a process somewhat similar to four years prior when Council members proposed changes ahead of the election of a new speaker, the document signed by the Council members in December of last year laid out broad areas where the Council could improve its functions, including in bill drafting, the role and operations of the 40-plus issue committees, the body’s oversight and investigations capacity, its budget negotiation process, its land use powers, and the quality of working life for members and their staff.</p> <p>“A hearing should be held in the Rules Committee on these reforms – as well as any others proposed by good government groups or members of the public – in the first quarter of 2018,” states the letter, signed by both Speaker Johnson and Council Member Karen Koslowitz, whom he appointed as chair of the rules committee. “The reforms should then be converted into a Rules Resolution, and adopted by the Council by March 2018, but no later than June 2018.”</p> <p>By this time in 2014, then-Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito had ushered in transformative rules changes that made the body more democratic, diluting some of the traditional powers of the speaker and empowering individual members. The changes were spearheaded along with Council Member Brad Lander, who she appointed to chair the rules committee and was instrumental in drafting the reforms.</p> <p>Discretionary funding -- also known as “member items” that are usually awarded by Council members to local nonprofits in their districts -- was equalized across Council districts, with additional resources allocated to poorer districts, and could no longer be a tool to punish members who might oppose the speaker, as Mark-Viverito’s predecessors had used it. A new bill drafting unit was created to aid Council members and speed up the legislative process, and other changes were made to how bills are introduced and heard in committees.</p> <p>Johnson has taken a different tack, making significant administrative changes that cover large parts of the rules reform package and were key pledges he made as he ran for speaker.</p> <p>The Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7559-fulfilling-johnson-promise-city-council-significantly-increases-its-operating-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">voted</a> to significantly increase its own annual budget to $81.3 million, up from $64 million, with the new funds pegged for staffing increases in the land use, legislative, and finance divisions. A dedicated 15-member oversight and investigations unit was created to conduct systemic analyses of city agencies and their functioning. According to a Council spokesperson, the central staff has also internally overseen improvements in bill drafting, no longer allowing indefinite delays on bill introductions and impressing on members to move their bills or release them for others. Members can now also electronically access the status of their bills in real time and there is a timely process for staff to express legal concerns with bill language. Members are provided legal memos on their bills on request, which is apparently rare. All moves meant to address major areas of frustration for some members, though key pieces of proposed changes to bill-drafting have not been implemented.</p> <p>In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the Council also moved rapidly to change its rules to mandate anti-sexual harassment trainings.</p> <p>“I am proud to have taken important steps on necessary reforms in my first months as speaker, including the creation of the new Oversight and Investigations Unit that will strengthen our capacity for monitoring city agencies as mandated by the charter,” Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “I will continue to discuss with members what reforms should be made in the future to help better serve the people of New York.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/photobyemily.jpg" alt="photobyemily" width="181" height="141" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />When asked for comment, a spokesperson for Council Member Koslowitz (pictured), chair of the rules committee, initially said the Council member was unfamiliar with the rules reform package that she had signed. When presented with the full list of proposals, the spokesperson declined to comment.</p> <p>By and large, Council members are appreciative of the steps Johnson has taken. Several members said their bills are moving faster and, without making any comparisons with Mark-Viverito, that Johnson is openly seeking member input on the budget and larger strategy. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The rules reform this time around, there were a lot of legitimate questions about whether or not these reforms needed to be put into the Council’s rules or they could just be effected,” said Council Member Rory Lancman, a member of the rules committee. “A lot of them had to do with resource allocation. So I don’t know if once Corey’s done with putting his administrative imprint on the body, how much of the rules reforms still need to get done. Maybe that’ll be something to assess once we get through the city budget.”</p> <p>At the same time, some members declined to comment, taking a wait-and-see approach before they evaluate Johnson’s commitment to rules reform. Others only agreed to speak anonymously, fearing what they say is increased scrutiny of public comments by the speaker’s office.</p> <p>Those members pointed out, for instance, that though there have been changes to bill drafting, the process still falls largely to the discretion of the speaker’s central staff. Under a long-standing process, Council members who made “first-in-time” legislative services requests -- Council speak for when a member asks for a bill to be drafted -- were given priority even if other members may have similar bill requests. Having a “first-in-time” request meant that members could sit on bills indefinitely, which the rules reforms would have amended with an official time-bound process.</p> <p>A Council spokesperson said that practice has ended and that members have offered positive feedback for the changes that have been made. Members are no longer allowed to sit on bills, and lose them to other members, the spokesperson said, without providing the details of how the new protocols work.</p> <p>Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a government reform group, said that is perhaps the most significant item in the rules reform package. “There’s no known criteria by which they’re making that decision and that needs to change,” he said in a phone interview. “At the very least, the speaker’s office ought to declare the criteria by which they decide which bills are moved.”</p> <p>Council members who spoke to Gotham Gazette seemed to be in the dark about whether rules reforms were even being discussed. The overarching platform hasn’t been discussed in hearings though some of the issues have been raised in the Democratic conference meetings, said one member who would only speak on the condition of anonymity. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The first-in-time issues have not been changed,” the member said. “They did update the database -- truthfully, this was mostly done last term -- you can find out more quickly whether you’re first-in-time or not, but the process itself is still exactly as it was. And the legal concerns issue,” about getting legal opinions on bills in a timely manner, “is still as it was...And some of the disability and accessibility investments [for Council hearings] still need to be advanced.”</p> <p>Though the Council allocated more money for pay raises for staffers, it hasn’t implemented pay parity with other city agencies where benefits are better and salaries are higher, despite that being a priority outlined in the draft of reforms. “Yeah, I would add that to the list,” the Council member said. Nor is childcare provided to members or staffers, as called for in the reform proposal.</p> <p>The Council spokesperson noted that audio induction loops for those with hearing impairments were added last year and that language accessibility can be requested. The spokesperson also said that pay parity has been discussed with members when the Council was deciding its own budget, and ultimately members get to decide how they will use the increased funds budgeted for their offices and staff. The spokesperson also acknowledged that the Council does not currently provide childcare options but insisted that the Council is always looking at ways to expand it for all New Yorkers.</p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine, one of Johnson’s chief rivals for the speakership, said the Council has made major improvements. “[The Speaker] has made progress on a lot of fronts,” he said, pointing to the uptick in the budget, the staffing increases, and more transparency and faster timelines on bill introductions. “It helps tremendously in managing your LS [legislative service] requests to have real-time access to that information. They’ve also staffed up pretty dramatically in the bill-drafting unit,” he said. “And it’s more equitable now. Everybody gets to identify 10 priority LSs which we want staff to work on and that evens it out a little bit more.”</p> <p>Echoing Lancman, Levine said a formal hearing wasn’t absolutely necessary. “These changes have been possible through a combination of changing internal procedure, through allocation of resources, and that really is a very big deal,” he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>Some members are waiting until after budget negotiations have concluded with the administration to see more changes go into effect, particularly with new funding at the Council’s disposal.</p> <p>“To date, the specifics of the rules reform stuff that we signed on to hasn’t been evidenced,” said Council Member Robert Cornegy, another current rules committee member and speaker candidate of last year. “There has been some efforts, especially in bill drafting, to make sure that bills move faster. But we’re so deep in the budget and I’m on the budget negotiation team, I can’t really see anything. I almost don’t know what’s going on around me as it relates to the legislation or the rules reform because we’re so deep in the budget.”</p> <p>Cornegy said he wants to see “a bit more latitude” for members in the drafting process so bills can move more quickly.</p> <p>Council Member Adrienne Adams, also a rules committee member, said very briefly before a Council hearing, “We’re still waiting. It’s been a while. We’re still waiting. I really don’t have anything to add right now.”</p> <p>Among other items that remain unfinished are changes to the functioning of the Council committees, which hear bills and hold oversight hearings.</p> <p>Despite being included in the proposed agenda, there’s still no protocol for committee hearing scheduling; there isn’t a standard process for members who want to switch committees midway through the term; hearings are not automatically triggered for bills with popular support; and committee staff aren’t publishing recaps of hearings that summarize testimony, requests made by members and promises made by the administration (though the full testimony from hearings continues to be readily available online.)</p> <p>It’s likely once the budget is decided, which could be as soon as the coming week, that the Council will ramp up some of the changes put in motion by Johnson and get to other delayed reforms. Yet, Council members and government reform groups say that needs to happen in a public, transparent way. “If the speaker and 32 members made a commitment to pass rules reforms,” said Camarda of Reinvent Albany, “they should honor that commitment and hold public hearings to solicit input and pass meaningful rules changes.”</p> <p>Camarda also pointed to a <a href="https://nypost.com/2018/05/12/city-council-speaker-breaks-transparency-promise-watchdog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Post report</a> from May that highlighted Johnson’s partial reversal on a promise to regularly publish his full public schedule and details of his contact with lobbyists. “We hope this isn’t the beginning of a trend that the speaker’s promises on good government issues go unfulfilled,” Camarda said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Inset Koslowitz photo by Emil Cohen</p>
Three City Council Members Don't Support 'Fair Fares' 2018-06-07T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-07T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7722:three-city-council-members-don-t-support-fair-fares Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/citycouncil-cojo.jpg" alt="citycouncil cojo" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Speaker Johnson on the subway (photo via City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>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 href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7671-city-council-pushes-property-tax-rebate-as-de-blasio-continues-to-stall-on-broader-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a $400 property tax rebate</a> to homeowners with household incomes under $150,000, another initiative the mayor has thus far spurned.</p> <p>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.”</p> <p>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?”</p> <p><a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2018/05/16/johnson-proposes-cutting-council-initiatives-in-search-for-fair-fares-cash-424197" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Politico New York reported</a> 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 href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2018/06/06/sources-council-de-blasio-close-to-budget-deal-452657" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a new report</a> 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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>When asked to elaborate on his concerns, Diaz Sr. refused. “I’m telling you as much as I can tell you,” he said.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7671-city-council-pushes-property-tax-rebate-as-de-blasio-continues-to-stall-on-broader-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener">City Council Pushes Property Tax Rebate as De Blasio Stalls Broader Reform</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/citycouncil-cojo.jpg" alt="citycouncil cojo" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Speaker Johnson on the subway (photo via City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>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 href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7671-city-council-pushes-property-tax-rebate-as-de-blasio-continues-to-stall-on-broader-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a $400 property tax rebate</a> to homeowners with household incomes under $150,000, another initiative the mayor has thus far spurned.</p> <p>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.”</p> <p>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?”</p> <p><a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2018/05/16/johnson-proposes-cutting-council-initiatives-in-search-for-fair-fares-cash-424197" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Politico New York reported</a> 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 href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2018/06/06/sources-council-de-blasio-close-to-budget-deal-452657" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a new report</a> 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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>When asked to elaborate on his concerns, Diaz Sr. refused. “I’m telling you as much as I can tell you,” he said.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7671-city-council-pushes-property-tax-rebate-as-de-blasio-continues-to-stall-on-broader-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener">City Council Pushes Property Tax Rebate as De Blasio Stalls Broader Reform</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Council Pushes Property Tax Rebate as De Blasio Continues Stall on Broader Reform 2018-05-14T04:00:00+00:00 2018-05-14T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7671:city-council-pushes-property-tax-rebate-as-de-blasio-continues-to-stall-on-broader-reform Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/41058180115_2ea1821e0a_z.jpg" alt="Corey Johnson City Council hearing" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Speaker Johnson &amp; Council members (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7234-city-council-members-still-navigating-outside-income-divestment-ahead-of-deadline" target="_blank" rel="noopener">City Council Members Still Navigating Outside Income Divestment Ahead of Deadline</a>]</p> <p>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.”</p> <p>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.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Listen: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7659-max-murphy-podcast-city-council-member-joe-borelli" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Max &amp; Murphy Podcat: City Council Member Joe Borelli</a>]</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.</p> <p>“[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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“It’s best to do it with a circuit breaker rather than a flat rebate,” she said, referring to <a href="https://itep.org/wp-content/uploads/pb10cb.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">an industry term</a> 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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.)</p> <p>Other homeowners identified in COIB disclosures include Council Members Peter Koo, Jumaane Williams, and Fernando Cabrera.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.”</p> <p>What if he qualified for the Council’s proposed rebate? “I won’t take it,” he said.</p> <p>The City Council is in the midst of weeks of hearings on de Blasio’s executive budget, while Johnson and others <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7658-de-blasio-and-city-council-tangle-over-how-to-spend-1-billion" target="_blank" rel="noopener">continue to push their top priorities</a> -- 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.</p> <p>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.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7658-de-blasio-and-city-council-tangle-over-how-to-spend-1-billion" target="_blank" rel="noopener">De Blasio, City Council Tangle Over How to Spend $1 Billion</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/41058180115_2ea1821e0a_z.jpg" alt="Corey Johnson City Council hearing" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Speaker Johnson &amp; Council members (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7234-city-council-members-still-navigating-outside-income-divestment-ahead-of-deadline" target="_blank" rel="noopener">City Council Members Still Navigating Outside Income Divestment Ahead of Deadline</a>]</p> <p>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.”</p> <p>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.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Listen: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7659-max-murphy-podcast-city-council-member-joe-borelli" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Max &amp; Murphy Podcat: City Council Member Joe Borelli</a>]</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.</p> <p>“[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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“It’s best to do it with a circuit breaker rather than a flat rebate,” she said, referring to <a href="https://itep.org/wp-content/uploads/pb10cb.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">an industry term</a> 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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.)</p> <p>Other homeowners identified in COIB disclosures include Council Members Peter Koo, Jumaane Williams, and Fernando Cabrera.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.”</p> <p>What if he qualified for the Council’s proposed rebate? “I won’t take it,” he said.</p> <p>The City Council is in the midst of weeks of hearings on de Blasio’s executive budget, while Johnson and others <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7658-de-blasio-and-city-council-tangle-over-how-to-spend-1-billion" target="_blank" rel="noopener">continue to push their top priorities</a> -- 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.</p> <p>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.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7658-de-blasio-and-city-council-tangle-over-how-to-spend-1-billion" target="_blank" rel="noopener">De Blasio, City Council Tangle Over How to Spend $1 Billion</a>]</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio and City Council Tangle Over How to Spend $1 Billion 2018-05-06T04:00:00+00:00 2018-05-06T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7658:de-blasio-and-city-council-tangle-over-how-to-spend-1-billion Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/41717885171_50b403aec4_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio corey johnson meeting" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo:&nbsp;Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio says he doesn’t have the money. The City Council says it is very much there.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>About $900 million in total -- nothing to sniff at, even amidst plans to spend $89 billion.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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?</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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].</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/city_council_projections_fy18_fy19.png" alt="city council projections fy18 fy19" width="400" height="383" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />In 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).</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.</p> <p>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.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7641-de-blasio-presents-89-billion-executive-budget-plan" target="_blank">De Blasio Presents $89 Billion Executive Budget Plan</a>]</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7604-in-response-to-de-blasio-proposal-city-council-sets-stage-for-tense-budget-negotiations" target="_blank">In Response to De Blasio Proposal, City Council Sets Stage for Tense Budget Negotiations</a>]</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this story has been updated with details from Monday's initial executive budget hearing at the City Council.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/41717885171_50b403aec4_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio corey johnson meeting" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo:&nbsp;Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio says he doesn’t have the money. The City Council says it is very much there.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>About $900 million in total -- nothing to sniff at, even amidst plans to spend $89 billion.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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?</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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].</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/city_council_projections_fy18_fy19.png" alt="city council projections fy18 fy19" width="400" height="383" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />In 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).</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.</p> <p>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.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7641-de-blasio-presents-89-billion-executive-budget-plan" target="_blank">De Blasio Presents $89 Billion Executive Budget Plan</a>]</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7604-in-response-to-de-blasio-proposal-city-council-sets-stage-for-tense-budget-negotiations" target="_blank">In Response to De Blasio Proposal, City Council Sets Stage for Tense Budget Negotiations</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this story has been updated with details from Monday's initial executive budget hearing at the City Council.</p>
City Council Takes Harder Line on Mid-Year Budget Modifications 2018-05-02T04:00:00+00:00 2018-05-02T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7651:city-council-takes-harder-line-on-mid-year-budget-modifications Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/speaker-corey-johnson-council-members.jpg" alt="speaker corey johnson council members" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Speaker Johnson, center, CM Dromm, and Finance Director McKinney, background (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Last month, before the New York City Council issued its budget demands for next fiscal year to Mayor Bill de Blasio and before the mayor eventually ignored nearly all of them in his Executive Budget plan, the Council called in administration budget officials to testify on a modification to the current year’s budget.</p> <p>In past years, budget modifications have been subject to the same perfunctory hearing. Budget officials present a quick overview of proposed mid-year changes in spending and revenue estimates, and the Council briefly reviews and approves them, allowing the administration to divert additional resources to agencies that need them and to cut back in other areas. More often than not, the modification is presented to the Council as a fait accompli.</p> <p>This year, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and finance committee chair Council Member Daniel Dromm took a different tack. Officials from the Office of Management and Budget sat as several Council members took them to task, critiquing everything from the substantial uptick in spending on homelessness to their consistently low projections of the city’s revenues. And instead of voting on the modification there and then, the Council held another hearing the next day to approve it, with no changes.</p> <p>What seemed to be mostly a performative power play, however, was a preview of things to come. In the vein of increased independence from the administration and a refusal to rubberstamp the mayor’s budget dictates, the Council speaker made clear he was establishing a new status quo.</p> <p>Going forward, a spokesperson for Johnson explained, the Council will take a stronger stance on proposed budget modifications, pressing the administration ahead of time on anticipated and proposed changes to see if the Council should even move forward with receiving a modification request. Hearings on budget modifications will no longer be cursory, the spokesperson said, and the administration will have to work harder to justify requests.</p> <p>"This is about budget transparency, which is what I promised before becoming speaker and which remains a priority,” Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “This is taxpayer money, and it’s important that we know as much as possible so we can make the right decisions when it comes to funding, and so we can keep the public informed.”</p> <p>The new approach comes as the administration and Council are amid negotiations on the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, with the Council pushing harder for cuts to spending, increased reserves, and more transparency by way of adding additional units of appropriation to break up large lump-sum pots of money. “The Council has made its position clear. More units of appropriation will help us make more informed decisions when it comes to funding, and will give the public the ability to see where their money is going,” Johnson said in a separate statement.</p> <p>Freddi Goldstein, a mayoral spokesperson on budget matters, noted that the administration gives the Council enough time to review the budget modifications, which usually accompany the preliminary budget for the next fiscal year. The most significant budget modification takes place in November, four months into the fiscal year. The budget itself is subject to weeks of hearings where the Council hears testimony from budget officials and agency heads, affording them the opportunity to examine modifications as well.</p> <p>“OMB is focused on transparency, which is why we already provide the City Council with any budget modifications with ample time for review and have always welcomed any and all questions the Council may have,” Goldstein said in an email.</p> <p>Last week, in presenting his $89 billion Executive Budget proposal, de Blasio also insisted that negotiations with the Council have been “collegial and productive” and that the administration was working on adding the transparency that the Council has requested. “We’re going to work with the Council,” he said, when Gotham Gazette inquired about units of appropriation being added to the budget, though indicating none had been added in this new round of updates. “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.”</p> <p>For budget watchdogs, the Council’s new strategy is promising, if not limited.</p> <p>“It’s clear the Council is trying to assert itself in budgeting,” said Maria Doulis, vice president of Citizens Budget Commission, an independent fiscal watchdog. “But nothing they do is going to change the fact that it is an executive-centered budget process. It’s driven by the mayor.”</p> <p>Indeed, since de Blasio took office, the budget has steadily risen by billions each year. The Council has repeatedly called for more agency efficiencies and savings but has largely capitulated as they also advocate for funding their own priorities worth hundreds of millions, which is happening again this year, highlighted by Johnson’s push for both Metrocard subsidies for low-income New Yorkers and property tax rebates for middle-class homeowners (while de Blasio has been resistant to both).</p> <p>“It’s good that the Council wants to increase its scrutiny of the budget,” Doulis added. “But it should remain focused on the big picture issues and topics that affect the long-term fiscal health of the city.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/speaker-corey-johnson-council-members.jpg" alt="speaker corey johnson council members" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Speaker Johnson, center, CM Dromm, and Finance Director McKinney, background (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Last month, before the New York City Council issued its budget demands for next fiscal year to Mayor Bill de Blasio and before the mayor eventually ignored nearly all of them in his Executive Budget plan, the Council called in administration budget officials to testify on a modification to the current year’s budget.</p> <p>In past years, budget modifications have been subject to the same perfunctory hearing. Budget officials present a quick overview of proposed mid-year changes in spending and revenue estimates, and the Council briefly reviews and approves them, allowing the administration to divert additional resources to agencies that need them and to cut back in other areas. More often than not, the modification is presented to the Council as a fait accompli.</p> <p>This year, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and finance committee chair Council Member Daniel Dromm took a different tack. Officials from the Office of Management and Budget sat as several Council members took them to task, critiquing everything from the substantial uptick in spending on homelessness to their consistently low projections of the city’s revenues. And instead of voting on the modification there and then, the Council held another hearing the next day to approve it, with no changes.</p> <p>What seemed to be mostly a performative power play, however, was a preview of things to come. In the vein of increased independence from the administration and a refusal to rubberstamp the mayor’s budget dictates, the Council speaker made clear he was establishing a new status quo.</p> <p>Going forward, a spokesperson for Johnson explained, the Council will take a stronger stance on proposed budget modifications, pressing the administration ahead of time on anticipated and proposed changes to see if the Council should even move forward with receiving a modification request. Hearings on budget modifications will no longer be cursory, the spokesperson said, and the administration will have to work harder to justify requests.</p> <p>"This is about budget transparency, which is what I promised before becoming speaker and which remains a priority,” Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “This is taxpayer money, and it’s important that we know as much as possible so we can make the right decisions when it comes to funding, and so we can keep the public informed.”</p> <p>The new approach comes as the administration and Council are amid negotiations on the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, with the Council pushing harder for cuts to spending, increased reserves, and more transparency by way of adding additional units of appropriation to break up large lump-sum pots of money. “The Council has made its position clear. More units of appropriation will help us make more informed decisions when it comes to funding, and will give the public the ability to see where their money is going,” Johnson said in a separate statement.</p> <p>Freddi Goldstein, a mayoral spokesperson on budget matters, noted that the administration gives the Council enough time to review the budget modifications, which usually accompany the preliminary budget for the next fiscal year. The most significant budget modification takes place in November, four months into the fiscal year. The budget itself is subject to weeks of hearings where the Council hears testimony from budget officials and agency heads, affording them the opportunity to examine modifications as well.</p> <p>“OMB is focused on transparency, which is why we already provide the City Council with any budget modifications with ample time for review and have always welcomed any and all questions the Council may have,” Goldstein said in an email.</p> <p>Last week, in presenting his $89 billion Executive Budget proposal, de Blasio also insisted that negotiations with the Council have been “collegial and productive” and that the administration was working on adding the transparency that the Council has requested. “We’re going to work with the Council,” he said, when Gotham Gazette inquired about units of appropriation being added to the budget, though indicating none had been added in this new round of updates. “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.”</p> <p>For budget watchdogs, the Council’s new strategy is promising, if not limited.</p> <p>“It’s clear the Council is trying to assert itself in budgeting,” said Maria Doulis, vice president of Citizens Budget Commission, an independent fiscal watchdog. “But nothing they do is going to change the fact that it is an executive-centered budget process. It’s driven by the mayor.”</p> <p>Indeed, since de Blasio took office, the budget has steadily risen by billions each year. The Council has repeatedly called for more agency efficiencies and savings but has largely capitulated as they also advocate for funding their own priorities worth hundreds of millions, which is happening again this year, highlighted by Johnson’s push for both Metrocard subsidies for low-income New Yorkers and property tax rebates for middle-class homeowners (while de Blasio has been resistant to both).</p> <p>“It’s good that the Council wants to increase its scrutiny of the budget,” Doulis added. “But it should remain focused on the big picture issues and topics that affect the long-term fiscal health of the city.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio Points to Cuomo’s NYCHA Order as ‘Potentially Dangerous’ to City Budget 2018-04-27T04:00:00+00:00 2018-04-27T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7644:de-blasio-points-to-cuomo-s-nycha-order-as-potentially-dangerous-to-city-budget Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/guvandrcuomo-comm-center.jpg" alt="guvandrcuomo comm center" width="640" height="427" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo with top NYC officials and others (photo: Governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order earlier this month to impose an external monitor on the crisis-plagued New York City Housing Authority has turned into a potential budget boondoggle for the city, with Mayor Bill de Blasio warning on Thursday of the “unforeseen consequences” the order could have on the city’s fiscal future.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/EO_180.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">governor’s order</a> came after months of escalating problems at NYCHA developments that highlighted the decades-long financial struggles and mismanagement at the city-run agency. NYCHA was also sued by a group of tenants and advocates citing the harsh living conditions in NYCHA apartments, including issues with mold, lead paint, and dramatic failures in heat and hot water systems this past winter during extreme cold spells. That led Cuomo to declare in his order that the conditions at NYCHA “constitute a public nuisance affecting the security of life and health in the city of New York” and that the city could not adequately respond to an imminent disaster.</p> <p>The emergency declaration ordered the selection of an “Independent Emergency Manager” to oversee repairs to mitigate harmful conditions and to create a plan to utilize $550 million in state funding pegged for NYCHA. The order also eased procurement rules to speed up the pace of repair and maintenance work.</p> <p>But the order also notes that any repairs ordered by the emergency manager must be paid by the city, as per the state Public Health Law, which Mayor de Blasio took issue with on Thursday during his Executive Budget presentation as he spoke of other “unfunded mandates,” cuts, and cost-shifts that the city was saddled with under the latest state budget.</p> <p>“The more we and other analysts have looked at that executive order, the more we see a very challenging and potentially dangerous element of it in terms of our budget,” de Blasio said at City Hall. He said that “open-ended language” in the order could mean millions in cost for the city, which would not be approved through the city’s budget process, and therefore would not allow the City Council, the mayor, or comptroller any control over spending.</p> <p>“We are concerned that that creates a very problematic precedent and in addition could have many unforeseen consequences for next year’s budget,” he added.</p> <p>De Blasio has repeatedly touted investments he has made in NYCHA since taking office, including $1.6 billion in operating funds and $2.1 billion in capital money. Under his <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/nycha/about/nextgen-nycha.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NextGeneration NYCHA plan</a> to get the struggling agency back on its feet, NYCHA has managed to turn around its operating finances, no longer running an annual deficit, though it still faces many billions in capital repair and construction needs.</p> <p>On Thursday, de Blasio announced an added $20 million investment over the next two fiscal years to further reduce the backlog of repairs at NYCHA by 50,000 cases. But the massive capital need remains, estimated at $25 billion, and growing. The City Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7604-in-response-to-de-blasio-proposal-city-council-sets-stage-for-tense-budget-negotiations" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recently called</a> on the mayor to add another $2.45 billion in NYCHA capital funding to the budget (the city has separate operating and capital spending plans). Though no additional capital funding was added in the executive budget, the city has already allocated $423 million in capital for fiscal year 2019, according to Freddi Goldstein, a mayoral spokesperson.</p> <p>But for all the potential burden that de Blasio spoke of, the actual effect of Cuomo’s order is unclear and the mayor is not entirely helpless in the process. Budget watchdogs also currently have no idea how much money it could cost the city. “That’s a total unknown at this point,” said Doug Turetsky, communications director for the Independent Budget Office, a city-funded monitor.</p> <p>Sean Campion, senior research associate at Citizens Budget Commission, an independent nonprofit, said the governor’s order is a “good first step” to chip away at the housing authority’s massive needs, but he acknowledged that the order is “somewhat vague” about the city’s responsibilities. “It definitely sets a new precedent. The impact is yet to be determined. There’s obviously some benefits to having this monitor come in and develop a plan for spending the state money and whatever city money the city wants to chip in as well,” he said.</p> <p>He also noted that, as per the order, the emergency manager will have to be chosen “unanimously” by the mayor, the City Council speaker, and the president of the NYCHA Citywide Council of Presidents. If they fail to do so within the mandated time frame, the decision falls to Comptroller Scott Stringer. “So whoever’s going to be appointed to this position is in some ways going to be appointed by city elected officials, none of whom really have an incentive to essentially give the monitor a blank check for funding all of NYCHA’s repair needs. All that’s sort of tempered the risk,” Campion said.</p> <p>Several elected officials stood with Cuomo when he signed the order -- including Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and City Council Member Ritchie Torres, former chair of the Council’s public housing committee -- and heaped praise on the governor for taking action, though most had not read the language contained in the order. The officials posed with Cuomo for celebratory photos, behind a banner reading “Standing with NY Tenants.”</p> <p>After the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/23/nyregion/nycha-cuomo-monitor-cost-city.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Times first pointed out</a> the potential costs the city would have to bear, some of the same officials demurred.</p> <p>“We have concerns about some of the ramifications of the order, but we are still reviewing it and discussing our options and potential costs,” said Speaker Johnson, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “NYCHA is in crisis and the situation required swift action. We will work with the governor, the mayor and the tenants to find solutions to the worst problems affecting the residents. We are all in agreement that they have suffered for too long.”</p> <p>Stringer, the city’s chief financial officer, declined to comment through a spokesperson. Public Advocate Letitia James’ office did not provide a comment for this article. She told the Times that the order was an unfunded mandate and that the state should consider taking on the costs of implementing it rather than the city. &nbsp;</p> <p>Among the group of city officials, the order’s fiercest defender is Torres, who has in recent weeks positioned himself in close proximity to Cuomo in pushing for NYCHA’s interests and castigating the mayor’s perceived failures. “I think the mayor would be wise to view the executive order as an opportunity to improve public housing rather than a challenge,” he said in a phone interview Friday. “[T]he notion that more funding for public housing is a problem is as insulting as it is idiotic.”</p> <p>Torres echoed Campion’s point that the city, not the state, will pick the emergency manager, and said it was “disingenuous” for the mayor to claim he has no role. “So I presume he would select someone who would work with the city to develop a financially feasible plan. Even if the mayor has political objections to the executive order, leadership often means making the best of a bad situation, but there’s no evidence that the administration’s even attempting to do so. It’s simply whining, rather than problem-solving,” he said.</p> <p>He also brushed aside concerns that the city will have to bear more costs, insisting that activists have long pushed for $1 billion annually in funding for NYCHA and that no officials or activists have suggested using the emergency manager to fund NYCHA’s full $25 billion need. “But can the city play a greater role in addressing the most critical infrastructure needs of public housing? I would submit to you that the answer’s ‘yes’ and the executive order creates an opportunity to do so,” Torres said. “The administration has often made piecemeal investments in public housing in response to crises. The executive order forces the city to take a more systematic, a more planned approach to addressing the longer term critical infrastructure needs of public housing.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s latest expense budget plan, presented Thursday, is for $89 billion for next fiscal year, while the updated five-year capital commitment plan is for $82 billion. The mayor has regularly reminded audiences, though, that NYCHA is its own authority, not a mayoral or city agency, and has its own budget plans, which the city has continued to contribute to under his watch.</p> <p>De Blasio hopes to quell some of the overarching concerns about Cuomo’s executive order and optimistically said Thursday that he has had conversations with the governor to modify it.</p> <p>“Even though the Governor and I have disagreements we still talk regularly. I talked to him earlier in the week,” he explained to reporters. “We still attempt to reason together...I don’t think he necessarily intended a massive unfunded mandate on New York City. I think he – I certainly don’t think he intended to interfere with day-to-day operations of NYCHA. We need to have that conversation and work it through...because the last thing you’d want is to have the state issue an executive order that backfires for the people it’s supposed to serve.”</p> <p>Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesperson, <a href="https://twitter.com/RichAzzopardi/status/989874940156563457" target="_blank" rel="noopener">tweeted Friday</a> that the executive order would be adjusted once an ongoing federal investigation into NYCHA’s handling of lead paint concludes and “determines de Blasio’s liability” for what he called a debacle. Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for additional comment or offer further clarity.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/guvandrcuomo-comm-center.jpg" alt="guvandrcuomo comm center" width="640" height="427" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo with top NYC officials and others (photo: Governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order earlier this month to impose an external monitor on the crisis-plagued New York City Housing Authority has turned into a potential budget boondoggle for the city, with Mayor Bill de Blasio warning on Thursday of the “unforeseen consequences” the order could have on the city’s fiscal future.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/EO_180.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">governor’s order</a> came after months of escalating problems at NYCHA developments that highlighted the decades-long financial struggles and mismanagement at the city-run agency. NYCHA was also sued by a group of tenants and advocates citing the harsh living conditions in NYCHA apartments, including issues with mold, lead paint, and dramatic failures in heat and hot water systems this past winter during extreme cold spells. That led Cuomo to declare in his order that the conditions at NYCHA “constitute a public nuisance affecting the security of life and health in the city of New York” and that the city could not adequately respond to an imminent disaster.</p> <p>The emergency declaration ordered the selection of an “Independent Emergency Manager” to oversee repairs to mitigate harmful conditions and to create a plan to utilize $550 million in state funding pegged for NYCHA. The order also eased procurement rules to speed up the pace of repair and maintenance work.</p> <p>But the order also notes that any repairs ordered by the emergency manager must be paid by the city, as per the state Public Health Law, which Mayor de Blasio took issue with on Thursday during his Executive Budget presentation as he spoke of other “unfunded mandates,” cuts, and cost-shifts that the city was saddled with under the latest state budget.</p> <p>“The more we and other analysts have looked at that executive order, the more we see a very challenging and potentially dangerous element of it in terms of our budget,” de Blasio said at City Hall. He said that “open-ended language” in the order could mean millions in cost for the city, which would not be approved through the city’s budget process, and therefore would not allow the City Council, the mayor, or comptroller any control over spending.</p> <p>“We are concerned that that creates a very problematic precedent and in addition could have many unforeseen consequences for next year’s budget,” he added.</p> <p>De Blasio has repeatedly touted investments he has made in NYCHA since taking office, including $1.6 billion in operating funds and $2.1 billion in capital money. Under his <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/nycha/about/nextgen-nycha.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NextGeneration NYCHA plan</a> to get the struggling agency back on its feet, NYCHA has managed to turn around its operating finances, no longer running an annual deficit, though it still faces many billions in capital repair and construction needs.</p> <p>On Thursday, de Blasio announced an added $20 million investment over the next two fiscal years to further reduce the backlog of repairs at NYCHA by 50,000 cases. But the massive capital need remains, estimated at $25 billion, and growing. The City Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7604-in-response-to-de-blasio-proposal-city-council-sets-stage-for-tense-budget-negotiations" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recently called</a> on the mayor to add another $2.45 billion in NYCHA capital funding to the budget (the city has separate operating and capital spending plans). Though no additional capital funding was added in the executive budget, the city has already allocated $423 million in capital for fiscal year 2019, according to Freddi Goldstein, a mayoral spokesperson.</p> <p>But for all the potential burden that de Blasio spoke of, the actual effect of Cuomo’s order is unclear and the mayor is not entirely helpless in the process. Budget watchdogs also currently have no idea how much money it could cost the city. “That’s a total unknown at this point,” said Doug Turetsky, communications director for the Independent Budget Office, a city-funded monitor.</p> <p>Sean Campion, senior research associate at Citizens Budget Commission, an independent nonprofit, said the governor’s order is a “good first step” to chip away at the housing authority’s massive needs, but he acknowledged that the order is “somewhat vague” about the city’s responsibilities. “It definitely sets a new precedent. The impact is yet to be determined. There’s obviously some benefits to having this monitor come in and develop a plan for spending the state money and whatever city money the city wants to chip in as well,” he said.</p> <p>He also noted that, as per the order, the emergency manager will have to be chosen “unanimously” by the mayor, the City Council speaker, and the president of the NYCHA Citywide Council of Presidents. If they fail to do so within the mandated time frame, the decision falls to Comptroller Scott Stringer. “So whoever’s going to be appointed to this position is in some ways going to be appointed by city elected officials, none of whom really have an incentive to essentially give the monitor a blank check for funding all of NYCHA’s repair needs. All that’s sort of tempered the risk,” Campion said.</p> <p>Several elected officials stood with Cuomo when he signed the order -- including Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and City Council Member Ritchie Torres, former chair of the Council’s public housing committee -- and heaped praise on the governor for taking action, though most had not read the language contained in the order. The officials posed with Cuomo for celebratory photos, behind a banner reading “Standing with NY Tenants.”</p> <p>After the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/23/nyregion/nycha-cuomo-monitor-cost-city.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Times first pointed out</a> the potential costs the city would have to bear, some of the same officials demurred.</p> <p>“We have concerns about some of the ramifications of the order, but we are still reviewing it and discussing our options and potential costs,” said Speaker Johnson, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “NYCHA is in crisis and the situation required swift action. We will work with the governor, the mayor and the tenants to find solutions to the worst problems affecting the residents. We are all in agreement that they have suffered for too long.”</p> <p>Stringer, the city’s chief financial officer, declined to comment through a spokesperson. Public Advocate Letitia James’ office did not provide a comment for this article. She told the Times that the order was an unfunded mandate and that the state should consider taking on the costs of implementing it rather than the city. &nbsp;</p> <p>Among the group of city officials, the order’s fiercest defender is Torres, who has in recent weeks positioned himself in close proximity to Cuomo in pushing for NYCHA’s interests and castigating the mayor’s perceived failures. “I think the mayor would be wise to view the executive order as an opportunity to improve public housing rather than a challenge,” he said in a phone interview Friday. “[T]he notion that more funding for public housing is a problem is as insulting as it is idiotic.”</p> <p>Torres echoed Campion’s point that the city, not the state, will pick the emergency manager, and said it was “disingenuous” for the mayor to claim he has no role. “So I presume he would select someone who would work with the city to develop a financially feasible plan. Even if the mayor has political objections to the executive order, leadership often means making the best of a bad situation, but there’s no evidence that the administration’s even attempting to do so. It’s simply whining, rather than problem-solving,” he said.</p> <p>He also brushed aside concerns that the city will have to bear more costs, insisting that activists have long pushed for $1 billion annually in funding for NYCHA and that no officials or activists have suggested using the emergency manager to fund NYCHA’s full $25 billion need. “But can the city play a greater role in addressing the most critical infrastructure needs of public housing? I would submit to you that the answer’s ‘yes’ and the executive order creates an opportunity to do so,” Torres said. “The administration has often made piecemeal investments in public housing in response to crises. The executive order forces the city to take a more systematic, a more planned approach to addressing the longer term critical infrastructure needs of public housing.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s latest expense budget plan, presented Thursday, is for $89 billion for next fiscal year, while the updated five-year capital commitment plan is for $82 billion. The mayor has regularly reminded audiences, though, that NYCHA is its own authority, not a mayoral or city agency, and has its own budget plans, which the city has continued to contribute to under his watch.</p> <p>De Blasio hopes to quell some of the overarching concerns about Cuomo’s executive order and optimistically said Thursday that he has had conversations with the governor to modify it.</p> <p>“Even though the Governor and I have disagreements we still talk regularly. I talked to him earlier in the week,” he explained to reporters. “We still attempt to reason together...I don’t think he necessarily intended a massive unfunded mandate on New York City. I think he – I certainly don’t think he intended to interfere with day-to-day operations of NYCHA. We need to have that conversation and work it through...because the last thing you’d want is to have the state issue an executive order that backfires for the people it’s supposed to serve.”</p> <p>Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesperson, <a href="https://twitter.com/RichAzzopardi/status/989874940156563457" target="_blank" rel="noopener">tweeted Friday</a> that the executive order would be adjusted once an ongoing federal investigation into NYCHA’s handling of lead paint concludes and “determines de Blasio’s liability” for what he called a debacle. Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for additional comment or offer further clarity.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio Presents $89 Billion Executive Budget Plan 2018-04-26T04:00:00+00:00 2018-04-26T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7641:de-blasio-presents-89-billion-executive-budget-plan Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/28250598809_83ac2949a7_z_1.jpg" alt="de Blasio budget presentation" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio presents a budget (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled an $89.06 billion executive budget proposal for the 2019 fiscal year on Thursday, decrying new spending that the city must undertake to meet shortfalls and unfunded mandates imposed by the new state budget approved last month, and cautioning of federal actions that could affect the city’s fiscal future.</p> <p>The latest budget proposal reflects a net spending increase of about $390 million from the mayor’s preliminary budget released in February. Back then, the mayor had promised to find $500 million in additional savings, and his new budget over-delivered by finding about $754 million through efficiencies at city agencies, implementing a partial hiring freeze for managerial positions, and reevaluating the city’s debts payments, he explained at City Hall on Thursday.</p> <p>In total, the proposed budget is $3.82 billion more than the budget adopted last year in June. Much of the uptick is organic, stemming from increased labor costs and a massive headcount of city employees, which, like the overall budget, has increased significantly under de Blasio. The city is able to pay for the state “hits,” as de Blasio called them, and other elements of added spending in part through nearly $1 billion in new revenue at the city’s disposal.</p> <p>On Thursday, de Blasio invoked his oft-stated goal of making New York City the “fairest big city in America” as he explained the proposed budget, though it is still unclear how he will measure whether that mission is being accomplished relative to other cities. Particulars of how New York is approaching that goal, according to the mayor, were evident in this and other budget presentations.</p> <p>“All of the things that we’ve done and all the things we hope to do revolve around a simple principle...that progressives need to be fiscally responsible,” de Blasio said, repeating what has become a refrain of his budget talks. He argued that his approach contrasts with previous administrations that failed to create the savings and reserves that his administration has put away each year, and he defended the increases in city spending he has overseen.</p> <p>“This is a downpayment on a more fair future for New Yorkers,” he said at one point.</p> <p>The biggest new investment for the executive budget from prior spending plans, which the mayor had announced at City Hall on Wednesday at a celebratory press conference, is a $125 million infusion towards ensuring that city schools receive adequate “Fair Student Funding,” increasing the funding floor from 87 percent to 90 percent of what schools need citywide.</p> <p>The executive budget -- which will now form the basis for the next round of negotiations with the City Council before a deal is due by July 1 -- also targets other specific areas for more funding: $41 million for cybersecurity; $103 million for 3,000 security barriers; $30.5 million to expand child literacy programs; $12 million to hire social workers for students in homeless shelters; and $20 million over the next two fiscal years to reduce the backlog of repair and maintenance work at public housing developments.</p> <p>The city is also funding a $1.2 million study to assess the ThriveNYC mental health program and creating an online parking permit system for $2 million. Another $1.8 million will help provide a Mobile Trauma Response Unit to every borough and $7.1 million will go to workforce development initiatives.</p> <p>The major areas where the city had to shell out funding related to the “hits from Albany.” The recent state budget foisted about $530 million in added costs on the city, about 25 percent of all new spending in the executive budget, but only 0.6 percent of the total spending plan put forth by the mayor.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>De Blasio was at pains to point out that the city would have to spend $254 million in operating costs to help address the “mismanagement of State-run subways,” a requirement that Governor Cuomo and the state Legislature forced on the city through the state budget after the mayor had refused to fund half of the MTA’s $836 million Subway Action Plan. (The city will also have to spend another $164 million for capital expenditure under the plan).</p> <p>The mayor also pointed to a $140 million shortfall in state education aid, which prompted the funding he announced on Wednesday. De Blasio later noted in response to a question from Gotham Gazette that the shortfall was based on the amount of funding the city projected it would receive from the state, following the pattern of state aid from the last few years. He said multiple times that the city had expected more education funding from Albany in part because it is a state election year, implying lawmakers would want to be able to boast to constituents in their districts about the school money they delivered.</p> <p>One key unfunded mandate highlighted by de Blasio will cost $108 million to meet the requirements of the state’s “Raise the Age” law passed last year, under which 16- and 17-year-olds are no longer treated as adults in the criminal justice system and are instead brought under the juvenile justice system and housed in differently facilities from older detainees. The law will partially go into effect in October. The state also cut $31 million to the “Close to Home” juvenile justice program that the city is making up.</p> <p>The budget also reflects a $159 million increase in spending on homeless services, as part of the mayor’s revamped plan to tackle the crisis. De Blasio defended the spending, which is forecasted to reach $2.1 billion for the 2019 fiscal year, insisting that the city is beginning to “turn the tide.”</p> <p>“The new approach required opening a lot more shelters...That is a substantial cost and, as with many other things, the cost has grown but it will eventually help us save money,” he said, citing the planned closures of cluster sites and emergency hotel shelters under the approach.</p> <p>Perhaps the most significant omission from the mayor’s latest budget plan is funding for the Fair Fares proposal, to provide half-price MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers. The City Council, in its <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7604-in-response-to-de-blasio-proposal-city-council-sets-stage-for-tense-budget-negotiations">official response to the mayor’s preliminary budget</a>, made Fair Fares its top priority and Council Speaker Corey Johnson has vowed to push for it in budget negotiations. De Blasio insists it should be the responsibility of the MTA, but that he is also happy to have it paid for through a tax increase on the city’s highest earners.</p> <p>Another Council ask that the mayor has so far refused to fund is a $400 property tax rebate for homeowners that make less than $150,000 a year, which would cost roughly $187 million.</p> <p>The city also maintains its current level of reserves though the Council called for another $500 million in rainy day funds and the city comptroller, Scott Stringer, has also called for increases in the “budget cushion” of savings. De Blasio’s administration has already put away about $5.5 billion in different pots of reserves, including billions in recurring set-asides each year.</p> <p>The mayor indicated that he was open to negotiating all three items. “We will talk about each of those. We’re going to be really concerned about the pricetag and the impact on our future of each of those choices. But we have not concluded anything on any of them yet,” he said.</p> <p>Speaker Johnson and Council Members Daniel Dromm and Vanessa Gibson, who respectively chair the finance committee and the capital budget subcommittee, said in a statement that they were “disappointed” that all the Council’s priorities were not funded, but “encouraged” that the city found nearly $1 billion in new revenue.</p> <p>“The administration should use this additional revenue to institute Fair Fares to help our most vulnerable neighbors, fund a $400 property tax rebate for middle class homeowners, and put away $500 million in reserves to strengthen our financial position moving forward and increase our ability to weather future shocks,” they said.</p> <p>Notably, de Blasio said the administration could not account for the budgetary effects of a recent executive order signed by the governor to appoint an independent monitor at the New York City Housing Authority. The order requires the city to fund any repair work mandated by the monitor, a currently indeterminable cost that could be in the millions, as first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/23/nyregion/nycha-cuomo-monitor-cost-city.html">reported by the New York Times</a>. “We are concerned that creates a very problematic precedent and in addition could have many unforeseen consequences for next year's budget,” de Blasio said.</p> <p>The monitor should soon be chosen by a consensus of de Blasio, Johnson, and a NYCHA tennt leader, as dictated in the Cuomo order.</p> <p>On the bright side, though the Trump administration seemed to threaten large budgetary cuts that would have affected New York City, major reductions in federal funding have not come to pass. “The negative impact on New York City has been much less than expected,” de Blasio said, though warning of the unpredictability of the winds in Washington D.C. “The federal context shifts not weekly, not daily, but hourly nowadays. We’re all a little thrown by that,” he said.</p> <p>And the city has not experienced an economic slowdown that was widely expected in the last few years, even as the mayor admitted that wild fluctuations in the stock market continue to confound the city’s observers. Recent economic trends led to the increased revenue the city is using to offset the state maneuvers, and unemployment remains at or near record lows across the five boroughs. Still, some question whether de Blasio’s overall fiscal approach will lead to significant pain down the road, given the large increase in government headcount and associated pension and health care costs.</p> <p>In a statement reacting to the executive budget, Comptroller Stringer praised de Blasio for the areas in which he is adding targeted spending, but also said reserves need to be boosted.&nbsp;</p> <p>"While our economy is in a solid position, with continued hostility from Washington, it is critical that we harness this year’s extraordinary inflow of one-time, non-recurring revenue to bolster City reserves," Stringer said.</p> <p>"We must continue to vigorously scrub City agencies for savings and I urge the Administration to shine a bright light on the effectiveness of agency spending," the comptroller continued. "We will continue to closely monitor the progress of City agencies toward achieving their goals in the most cost-effective manner possible, particularly those highlighted on our Agency Watch List: the Department of Correction, the Department of Education, and the Department of Homeless Services."</p> <p>Similarly, watchdog organization Citizens Budget Commission took issue with the mayor's budget plan, with a statement saying that&nbsp;it "increases operating spending at more than twice the rate of inflation and misses an opportunity to bolster reserves as strong tax revenue growth continues." CBC pointed to rising spending and headcount, and ballooning costs of homeless shelters and overtime pay. It also pointed out that the Citywide Savings Plan does not include much by way of new agency savings. CBC did give de Blasio credit for taking "some prudent steps," such as more money to account for pension costs and removal of aniticpated revenue from taxi medallion sales that are unlikely to occur.</p> <p>“No one sees storm clouds on the horizon,” de Blasio said, noting that the country is experiencing the second largest economic expansion in history. “It can’t go on forever. When it ends, we are going to have serious consequences here in the city. We don’t see it right now.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/28250598809_83ac2949a7_z_1.jpg" alt="de Blasio budget presentation" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio presents a budget (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled an $89.06 billion executive budget proposal for the 2019 fiscal year on Thursday, decrying new spending that the city must undertake to meet shortfalls and unfunded mandates imposed by the new state budget approved last month, and cautioning of federal actions that could affect the city’s fiscal future.</p> <p>The latest budget proposal reflects a net spending increase of about $390 million from the mayor’s preliminary budget released in February. Back then, the mayor had promised to find $500 million in additional savings, and his new budget over-delivered by finding about $754 million through efficiencies at city agencies, implementing a partial hiring freeze for managerial positions, and reevaluating the city’s debts payments, he explained at City Hall on Thursday.</p> <p>In total, the proposed budget is $3.82 billion more than the budget adopted last year in June. Much of the uptick is organic, stemming from increased labor costs and a massive headcount of city employees, which, like the overall budget, has increased significantly under de Blasio. The city is able to pay for the state “hits,” as de Blasio called them, and other elements of added spending in part through nearly $1 billion in new revenue at the city’s disposal.</p> <p>On Thursday, de Blasio invoked his oft-stated goal of making New York City the “fairest big city in America” as he explained the proposed budget, though it is still unclear how he will measure whether that mission is being accomplished relative to other cities. Particulars of how New York is approaching that goal, according to the mayor, were evident in this and other budget presentations.</p> <p>“All of the things that we’ve done and all the things we hope to do revolve around a simple principle...that progressives need to be fiscally responsible,” de Blasio said, repeating what has become a refrain of his budget talks. He argued that his approach contrasts with previous administrations that failed to create the savings and reserves that his administration has put away each year, and he defended the increases in city spending he has overseen.</p> <p>“This is a downpayment on a more fair future for New Yorkers,” he said at one point.</p> <p>The biggest new investment for the executive budget from prior spending plans, which the mayor had announced at City Hall on Wednesday at a celebratory press conference, is a $125 million infusion towards ensuring that city schools receive adequate “Fair Student Funding,” increasing the funding floor from 87 percent to 90 percent of what schools need citywide.</p> <p>The executive budget -- which will now form the basis for the next round of negotiations with the City Council before a deal is due by July 1 -- also targets other specific areas for more funding: $41 million for cybersecurity; $103 million for 3,000 security barriers; $30.5 million to expand child literacy programs; $12 million to hire social workers for students in homeless shelters; and $20 million over the next two fiscal years to reduce the backlog of repair and maintenance work at public housing developments.</p> <p>The city is also funding a $1.2 million study to assess the ThriveNYC mental health program and creating an online parking permit system for $2 million. Another $1.8 million will help provide a Mobile Trauma Response Unit to every borough and $7.1 million will go to workforce development initiatives.</p> <p>The major areas where the city had to shell out funding related to the “hits from Albany.” The recent state budget foisted about $530 million in added costs on the city, about 25 percent of all new spending in the executive budget, but only 0.6 percent of the total spending plan put forth by the mayor.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>De Blasio was at pains to point out that the city would have to spend $254 million in operating costs to help address the “mismanagement of State-run subways,” a requirement that Governor Cuomo and the state Legislature forced on the city through the state budget after the mayor had refused to fund half of the MTA’s $836 million Subway Action Plan. (The city will also have to spend another $164 million for capital expenditure under the plan).</p> <p>The mayor also pointed to a $140 million shortfall in state education aid, which prompted the funding he announced on Wednesday. De Blasio later noted in response to a question from Gotham Gazette that the shortfall was based on the amount of funding the city projected it would receive from the state, following the pattern of state aid from the last few years. He said multiple times that the city had expected more education funding from Albany in part because it is a state election year, implying lawmakers would want to be able to boast to constituents in their districts about the school money they delivered.</p> <p>One key unfunded mandate highlighted by de Blasio will cost $108 million to meet the requirements of the state’s “Raise the Age” law passed last year, under which 16- and 17-year-olds are no longer treated as adults in the criminal justice system and are instead brought under the juvenile justice system and housed in differently facilities from older detainees. The law will partially go into effect in October. The state also cut $31 million to the “Close to Home” juvenile justice program that the city is making up.</p> <p>The budget also reflects a $159 million increase in spending on homeless services, as part of the mayor’s revamped plan to tackle the crisis. De Blasio defended the spending, which is forecasted to reach $2.1 billion for the 2019 fiscal year, insisting that the city is beginning to “turn the tide.”</p> <p>“The new approach required opening a lot more shelters...That is a substantial cost and, as with many other things, the cost has grown but it will eventually help us save money,” he said, citing the planned closures of cluster sites and emergency hotel shelters under the approach.</p> <p>Perhaps the most significant omission from the mayor’s latest budget plan is funding for the Fair Fares proposal, to provide half-price MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers. The City Council, in its <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7604-in-response-to-de-blasio-proposal-city-council-sets-stage-for-tense-budget-negotiations">official response to the mayor’s preliminary budget</a>, made Fair Fares its top priority and Council Speaker Corey Johnson has vowed to push for it in budget negotiations. De Blasio insists it should be the responsibility of the MTA, but that he is also happy to have it paid for through a tax increase on the city’s highest earners.</p> <p>Another Council ask that the mayor has so far refused to fund is a $400 property tax rebate for homeowners that make less than $150,000 a year, which would cost roughly $187 million.</p> <p>The city also maintains its current level of reserves though the Council called for another $500 million in rainy day funds and the city comptroller, Scott Stringer, has also called for increases in the “budget cushion” of savings. De Blasio’s administration has already put away about $5.5 billion in different pots of reserves, including billions in recurring set-asides each year.</p> <p>The mayor indicated that he was open to negotiating all three items. “We will talk about each of those. We’re going to be really concerned about the pricetag and the impact on our future of each of those choices. But we have not concluded anything on any of them yet,” he said.</p> <p>Speaker Johnson and Council Members Daniel Dromm and Vanessa Gibson, who respectively chair the finance committee and the capital budget subcommittee, said in a statement that they were “disappointed” that all the Council’s priorities were not funded, but “encouraged” that the city found nearly $1 billion in new revenue.</p> <p>“The administration should use this additional revenue to institute Fair Fares to help our most vulnerable neighbors, fund a $400 property tax rebate for middle class homeowners, and put away $500 million in reserves to strengthen our financial position moving forward and increase our ability to weather future shocks,” they said.</p> <p>Notably, de Blasio said the administration could not account for the budgetary effects of a recent executive order signed by the governor to appoint an independent monitor at the New York City Housing Authority. The order requires the city to fund any repair work mandated by the monitor, a currently indeterminable cost that could be in the millions, as first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/23/nyregion/nycha-cuomo-monitor-cost-city.html">reported by the New York Times</a>. “We are concerned that creates a very problematic precedent and in addition could have many unforeseen consequences for next year's budget,” de Blasio said.</p> <p>The monitor should soon be chosen by a consensus of de Blasio, Johnson, and a NYCHA tennt leader, as dictated in the Cuomo order.</p> <p>On the bright side, though the Trump administration seemed to threaten large budgetary cuts that would have affected New York City, major reductions in federal funding have not come to pass. “The negative impact on New York City has been much less than expected,” de Blasio said, though warning of the unpredictability of the winds in Washington D.C. “The federal context shifts not weekly, not daily, but hourly nowadays. We’re all a little thrown by that,” he said.</p> <p>And the city has not experienced an economic slowdown that was widely expected in the last few years, even as the mayor admitted that wild fluctuations in the stock market continue to confound the city’s observers. Recent economic trends led to the increased revenue the city is using to offset the state maneuvers, and unemployment remains at or near record lows across the five boroughs. Still, some question whether de Blasio’s overall fiscal approach will lead to significant pain down the road, given the large increase in government headcount and associated pension and health care costs.</p> <p>In a statement reacting to the executive budget, Comptroller Stringer praised de Blasio for the areas in which he is adding targeted spending, but also said reserves need to be boosted.&nbsp;</p> <p>"While our economy is in a solid position, with continued hostility from Washington, it is critical that we harness this year’s extraordinary inflow of one-time, non-recurring revenue to bolster City reserves," Stringer said.</p> <p>"We must continue to vigorously scrub City agencies for savings and I urge the Administration to shine a bright light on the effectiveness of agency spending," the comptroller continued. "We will continue to closely monitor the progress of City agencies toward achieving their goals in the most cost-effective manner possible, particularly those highlighted on our Agency Watch List: the Department of Correction, the Department of Education, and the Department of Homeless Services."</p> <p>Similarly, watchdog organization Citizens Budget Commission took issue with the mayor's budget plan, with a statement saying that&nbsp;it "increases operating spending at more than twice the rate of inflation and misses an opportunity to bolster reserves as strong tax revenue growth continues." CBC pointed to rising spending and headcount, and ballooning costs of homeless shelters and overtime pay. It also pointed out that the Citywide Savings Plan does not include much by way of new agency savings. CBC did give de Blasio credit for taking "some prudent steps," such as more money to account for pension costs and removal of aniticpated revenue from taxi medallion sales that are unlikely to occur.</p> <p>“No one sees storm clouds on the horizon,” de Blasio said, noting that the country is experiencing the second largest economic expansion in history. “It can’t go on forever. When it ends, we are going to have serious consequences here in the city. We don’t see it right now.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio Downplays Placing Donors on Charter Revision Commission 2018-04-25T04:00:00+00:00 2018-04-25T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7639:de-blasio-downplays-placing-donors-on-charter-revision-commission Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/40849457604_a35a96d5f0_z.jpg" alt="De Blasio town hall smile" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo: Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday denied any real or perceived conflicts of interest arising from his choice of appointments to his Charter Revision Commission, which includes individuals who have donated to his past campaigns for elected office.</p> <p>“Of course, whether someone was a supporter or donor was not a factor,” <a href="https://youtu.be/d0UrgkAz4oo?t=1h28m46s" target="_blank" rel="noopener">de Blasio said</a> at an unrelated news conference at City Hall, when asked by Gotham Gazette whether he gave any consideration to campaign donations when choosing the 15 members of his commission, tasked with reevaluating the city’s central governing document. “We looked for people who we thought could bring a lot to the process: diverse perspectives by geography and demographic background, diverse perspectives by profession and area of focus in terms of life of the city, folks who have achieved a lot and brought something to the discussion about the civic needs of the city, some people who have directly focused on the democracy issues that are central to the mandate.”</p> <p>De Blasio created the commission, which began its work last week, to focus on issues around campaign finance reform and voter participation, though it can consider any and all issues related to the functions and structure of city government. Of the 15 members named by the mayor, seven donated a total of $10,220 to de Blasio’s various campaigns dating back to his first run for City Council in 2001. The <a href="https://nypost.com/2018/04/21/de-blasio-puts-donors-in-charge-of-campaign-finance-reform/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Post also reported</a> that three commission members in total held six fundraisers for the mayor in his first mayoral race in 2013.</p> <p>Asked if he’d thought about excluding all his campaign donors from consideration, de Blasio refuted the relevance of the question. “I just don’t even get that theory. It’s like, the campaigns happen, they’re all over. Some people gave money, some people didn’t. I don’t even understand where that line of reasoning goes. I want people who I think are good publicly-minded people, who bring perspectives to the process, who are willing to put in a lot of hard work, who clearly share the aspirations of improving the democratic process in the city. If they were involved in political campaigns for me or anyone else is not relevant.”</p> <p>Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a government reform group, said in an email, “When fundraisers are chosen for appointments, it can be perceived as rewarding donors instead of a decision strictly on qualifications."</p> <p>For much of his first term, de Blasio and his administration were dogged by allegations that the mayor bent the city’s campaign finance laws to the point of breaking and that he did favors for donors. Multiple law enforcement investigations took place and no charges were ultimately filed, though state and federal prosecutors criticized de Blasio’s practices, as did the city’s Campaign Finance Board and a variety of other entities, including government reform groups and newspaper editorial boards. Throughout the scandal and after, de Blasio continued to maintain that his decisions are made on merit and not based on favoritism.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>He offered a similar defense on Wednesday. Noting that some of the donations from his commission members go back years, he said, “I mean it’s getting a little silly.”</p> <p>“No,” it doesn’t create a conflict, he continued. “If they’re people who have an independent profile of important public work, I don’t care if they gave to me or they gave to someone else or they gave to multiple people. I don’t care. It’s not pertinent to the decision.”</p> <p>There is a difference of opinion on the other side of City Hall, however.</p> <p>The New York City Council recently passed a bill to create a different Charter Revision Commission, with members appointed by several elected officials, including the mayor, and with a longer runway to complete its work. Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who, like the mayor, will appoint four members of that commission, indicated Wednesday that he’d avoid the pitfalls of picking donors.</p> <p>“My plan is to ensure that any of the four Council appointments are not people that have any conflict of interest,” he said in response to a question from Gotham Gazette at an unrelated news conference shortly after the mayor’s. Johnson will get to select the chair of the Council-created commission, which was in the works before de Blasio’s through a bill originally sponsored by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Public Advocate Letitia James.</p> <p>The Council’s bill was voted through earlier this month and will automatically age into law by May 11 if the mayor does not sign it. Mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein said in an email that “signing is driven by schedule, but he won't veto.” The Council’s commission will comprise of one member each chosen by the public advocate, the comptroller, and the five borough presidents. The mayor does plan to appoint his four members, according to Goldstein.</p> <p>Johnson said Wednesday that the membership of the Council-led commission is far from decided but they are looking at “substantive, well-respected people who have a lot to bring in looking at the structure of city government.” The appointments will likely be made by the end of May, he said.</p> <p>“We will of course vet as we do on every nomination that comes to the City Council. We’re gonna thoroughly vet every single person from the Council side,” Johnson said. “I would hope that the other folks that have appointments to the commission will do the same exact thing. I hope that they similarly live up to that standard. I think the initial names that people have talked about internally, none of them are people that have ever given me money in my campaigns for office and I expect that to be the case when we make final appointments.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7625-mayoral-charter-revision-commission-starts-its-work">Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Starts Its Work</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/40849457604_a35a96d5f0_z.jpg" alt="De Blasio town hall smile" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo: Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday denied any real or perceived conflicts of interest arising from his choice of appointments to his Charter Revision Commission, which includes individuals who have donated to his past campaigns for elected office.</p> <p>“Of course, whether someone was a supporter or donor was not a factor,” <a href="https://youtu.be/d0UrgkAz4oo?t=1h28m46s" target="_blank" rel="noopener">de Blasio said</a> at an unrelated news conference at City Hall, when asked by Gotham Gazette whether he gave any consideration to campaign donations when choosing the 15 members of his commission, tasked with reevaluating the city’s central governing document. “We looked for people who we thought could bring a lot to the process: diverse perspectives by geography and demographic background, diverse perspectives by profession and area of focus in terms of life of the city, folks who have achieved a lot and brought something to the discussion about the civic needs of the city, some people who have directly focused on the democracy issues that are central to the mandate.”</p> <p>De Blasio created the commission, which began its work last week, to focus on issues around campaign finance reform and voter participation, though it can consider any and all issues related to the functions and structure of city government. Of the 15 members named by the mayor, seven donated a total of $10,220 to de Blasio’s various campaigns dating back to his first run for City Council in 2001. The <a href="https://nypost.com/2018/04/21/de-blasio-puts-donors-in-charge-of-campaign-finance-reform/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Post also reported</a> that three commission members in total held six fundraisers for the mayor in his first mayoral race in 2013.</p> <p>Asked if he’d thought about excluding all his campaign donors from consideration, de Blasio refuted the relevance of the question. “I just don’t even get that theory. It’s like, the campaigns happen, they’re all over. Some people gave money, some people didn’t. I don’t even understand where that line of reasoning goes. I want people who I think are good publicly-minded people, who bring perspectives to the process, who are willing to put in a lot of hard work, who clearly share the aspirations of improving the democratic process in the city. If they were involved in political campaigns for me or anyone else is not relevant.”</p> <p>Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a government reform group, said in an email, “When fundraisers are chosen for appointments, it can be perceived as rewarding donors instead of a decision strictly on qualifications."</p> <p>For much of his first term, de Blasio and his administration were dogged by allegations that the mayor bent the city’s campaign finance laws to the point of breaking and that he did favors for donors. Multiple law enforcement investigations took place and no charges were ultimately filed, though state and federal prosecutors criticized de Blasio’s practices, as did the city’s Campaign Finance Board and a variety of other entities, including government reform groups and newspaper editorial boards. Throughout the scandal and after, de Blasio continued to maintain that his decisions are made on merit and not based on favoritism.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>He offered a similar defense on Wednesday. Noting that some of the donations from his commission members go back years, he said, “I mean it’s getting a little silly.”</p> <p>“No,” it doesn’t create a conflict, he continued. “If they’re people who have an independent profile of important public work, I don’t care if they gave to me or they gave to someone else or they gave to multiple people. I don’t care. It’s not pertinent to the decision.”</p> <p>There is a difference of opinion on the other side of City Hall, however.</p> <p>The New York City Council recently passed a bill to create a different Charter Revision Commission, with members appointed by several elected officials, including the mayor, and with a longer runway to complete its work. Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who, like the mayor, will appoint four members of that commission, indicated Wednesday that he’d avoid the pitfalls of picking donors.</p> <p>“My plan is to ensure that any of the four Council appointments are not people that have any conflict of interest,” he said in response to a question from Gotham Gazette at an unrelated news conference shortly after the mayor’s. Johnson will get to select the chair of the Council-created commission, which was in the works before de Blasio’s through a bill originally sponsored by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Public Advocate Letitia James.</p> <p>The Council’s bill was voted through earlier this month and will automatically age into law by May 11 if the mayor does not sign it. Mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein said in an email that “signing is driven by schedule, but he won't veto.” The Council’s commission will comprise of one member each chosen by the public advocate, the comptroller, and the five borough presidents. The mayor does plan to appoint his four members, according to Goldstein.</p> <p>Johnson said Wednesday that the membership of the Council-led commission is far from decided but they are looking at “substantive, well-respected people who have a lot to bring in looking at the structure of city government.” The appointments will likely be made by the end of May, he said.</p> <p>“We will of course vet as we do on every nomination that comes to the City Council. We’re gonna thoroughly vet every single person from the Council side,” Johnson said. “I would hope that the other folks that have appointments to the commission will do the same exact thing. I hope that they similarly live up to that standard. I think the initial names that people have talked about internally, none of them are people that have ever given me money in my campaigns for office and I expect that to be the case when we make final appointments.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7625-mayoral-charter-revision-commission-starts-its-work">Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Starts Its Work</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>