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/independent-budget-office 2017-10-18T09:05:16+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Budget Watchdogs Question De Blasio’s 'Mansion Tax' 2017-03-23T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-23T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6830:budget-watchdogs-question-de-blasio-s-mansion-tax Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/32767734794_a0c5bd435f_z.jpg" alt="de blasio mansion tax" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio pitches his mansion tax (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Budget watchdogs have expressed concern that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “mansion tax” proposal, which would impose levies on real estate transactions above $2 million, may be misguided or even unnecessary.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio made a last-minute trip to Albany on Wednesday to rally with Democratic lawmakers and progressive advocates in favor of a number of proposals currently being considered in state budget negotiations. The mayor’s chief concern, however, was the mansion tax, a proposal he has floated for years and revived this budget season as a tool to subsidize affordable housing for seniors.</p> <p dir="ltr">The proposal would impose a 2.5 percent tax on buyers who purchase property in the city at more than $2 million, raising an estimated $336 million next year, according to the mayor. That funding would then be used for a new Elder Rent Assistance program to provide $1,300 in monthly assistance to 25,000 seniors, the mayor said at his State of the City speech in February. In order to implement the tax, the city needs state approval, which is unlikely given opposition to new taxes from the Republican majority in the state Senate as well as Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who is fiscally moderate and habitually opposed to de Blasio proposals.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Wednesday rally at the state Capitol was one stop in something of a barnstorm by de Blasio, who has been pushing the mansion tax plan among seniors, including at two senior center stops on Thursday. The mayor has cited the necessity of the tax revenue to provide the additional rent subsidies to older New Yorkers who fit certain age and income guidelines.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6826-in-albany-de-blasio-and-democrats-to-push-mansion-tax">In Albany, De Blasio and Democrats Push ‘Mansion Tax’</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">But fiscal experts question whether the city really needs a new tax to raise that revenue and, if so, whether a transactional tax is the best way to do it.</p> <p dir="ltr">“This could be a good idea in the context of general property tax reform and other tax reform,” said Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. “But it's not a good idea as a revenue raiser."</p> <p dir="ltr">Gelinas noted that the city already charges a mortgage tax, which she called “a tax on people who can't pay cash for an apartment.” “If we wanted to have a more progressive tax on just the purchase of more expensive properties, the money should go to reducing or eliminating mortgage taxes or other property taxes," she added.</p> <p dir="ltr">That’s not what the mayor is proposing. Instead, Gelinas pointed out, de Blasio is attempting to raise revenue for a new program through a new tax, something mayors don’t usually do unless they face a sharp revenue crunch. “The city is not exactly starved for revenue right now,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Although the city is feeling the early effects of an economic slowdown, revenues and reserves are still robust after years of sustained growth. Available monies could be used to prioritize affordable senior housing, Gelinas said. Yet, as he once did with his universal pre-kindergarten program, de Blasio is insisting that the way to fund his senior assistance program is through a new tax.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mansion tax also faces opposition at home from allies of de Blasio. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer told Gotham Gazette that she opposes the $2 million threshold for the tax since it would have an outsize impact in Manhattan, where property prices are far greater than the other boroughs. She would prefer a $5 million threshold. “Manhattan should not be the cash cow for the rest of the boroughs,” she said last month.</p> <p dir="ltr">A <a href="http://ibo.nyc.ny.us/cgi-park2/2017/02/how-many-homes-apartments-in-new-york-city-sold-in-recent-years-for-more-than-2-million/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> by the nonpartisan Independent Budget Office, prompted by Brewer, looked at property sales from the last three years and found that between 2014 and 2016, 8 percent of homes sold citywide were priced at $2 million or more. Of those, 86 percent were in Manhattan.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6773-de-blasio-faces-local-questions-about-mansion-tax-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">De Blasio Faces Local Questions About ‘Mansion Tax’ Plan</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">In response, the de Blasio administration points out that it is a “marginal tax for incremental sales price over $2 million,” meaning that only the price above the $2 million would be taxed at the 2.5 percent. Those purchasing homes closer to the $2 million threshold would be paying very little in added tax.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are also <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/de-blasios-mansion-tax-would-hit-humble-homesteads-1485816608" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">concerns</a> among the real estate industry about the proposal’s effect on sales, at a time when Brooklyn brownstones can cross the $2 million threshold. The de Blasio administration dismisses that concern due to the incremental nature of the tax.</p> <p dir="ltr">Carol Kellerman, president of the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission, believes the mayor hasn’t made a clear case for the mansion tax. “If the goal is to impose higher taxes on people perceived to be wealthy, there are ways to do it through the income tax structure,” she said in a phone interview. “The mayor’s not proposing this as a form of budget relief or as necessary for budget needs.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Kellerman also emphasized the “volatile” nature of a transactional tax, which would depend on the ups and downs of the real estate industry and also have a “distortive impact” on the market and change behavior. “If there’s a need to raise that amount of revenue, a transfer tax of this nature is not a reliable source of revenue,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">She also pointed out that the mayor has already allocated billions in the city’s capital plan for affordable housing, so the need for a separate tax for senior housing doesn’t necessarily pass muster.</p> <p dir="ltr">Given opposition from state Senate Republicans, the mansion tax may be dead on arrival in Albany. De Blasio has argued, including in Albany Wednesday, that he’s heard that before about proposals, such as the $15 minimum wage. Gelinas was blunt about mansion tax prospects. "I don't think it's going to go anywhere," she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">A spokesperson for the de Blasio administration refuted both Gelinas and Kellerman’s concerns, stressing that property tax reform is a larger undertaking and that the mansion tax is necessary when considering how the proposed federal budget will impact affordable housing and seniors in particular.</p> <p dir="ltr">The spokesperson also pointed out New York’s existing state mansion tax, which is 1 percent for properties above $1 million, and cited jurisdictions around the world that have used similar taxes to fund policy goals from rising housing markets.</p> <p dir="ltr">A spokesperson for another budget watchdog, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, declined to comment on the mansion tax proposal. The comptroller has not released any fiscal analysis of the proposal.</p> <p>At the Wednesday rally in Albany, de Blasio reiterated the need for the mansion tax. “Here’s the bottom line, right now, there are seniors struggling to get by in New York City and all over New York State,” he said. “There are seniors struggling to get by because so many of them are on fixed incomes. So many of them don’t have a way to get more income but the cost of housing keeps going up...We owe it to them to get it right, and asking the wealthy to pay their fair share so our seniors can have decent life is a thing we call common sense.”</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/2017/32767734794_a0c5bd435f_z.jpg" alt="de blasio mansion tax" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio pitches his mansion tax (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Budget watchdogs have expressed concern that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “mansion tax” proposal, which would impose levies on real estate transactions above $2 million, may be misguided or even unnecessary.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio made a last-minute trip to Albany on Wednesday to rally with Democratic lawmakers and progressive advocates in favor of a number of proposals currently being considered in state budget negotiations. The mayor’s chief concern, however, was the mansion tax, a proposal he has floated for years and revived this budget season as a tool to subsidize affordable housing for seniors.</p> <p dir="ltr">The proposal would impose a 2.5 percent tax on buyers who purchase property in the city at more than $2 million, raising an estimated $336 million next year, according to the mayor. That funding would then be used for a new Elder Rent Assistance program to provide $1,300 in monthly assistance to 25,000 seniors, the mayor said at his State of the City speech in February. In order to implement the tax, the city needs state approval, which is unlikely given opposition to new taxes from the Republican majority in the state Senate as well as Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who is fiscally moderate and habitually opposed to de Blasio proposals.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Wednesday rally at the state Capitol was one stop in something of a barnstorm by de Blasio, who has been pushing the mansion tax plan among seniors, including at two senior center stops on Thursday. The mayor has cited the necessity of the tax revenue to provide the additional rent subsidies to older New Yorkers who fit certain age and income guidelines.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6826-in-albany-de-blasio-and-democrats-to-push-mansion-tax">In Albany, De Blasio and Democrats Push ‘Mansion Tax’</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">But fiscal experts question whether the city really needs a new tax to raise that revenue and, if so, whether a transactional tax is the best way to do it.</p> <p dir="ltr">“This could be a good idea in the context of general property tax reform and other tax reform,” said Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. “But it's not a good idea as a revenue raiser."</p> <p dir="ltr">Gelinas noted that the city already charges a mortgage tax, which she called “a tax on people who can't pay cash for an apartment.” “If we wanted to have a more progressive tax on just the purchase of more expensive properties, the money should go to reducing or eliminating mortgage taxes or other property taxes," she added.</p> <p dir="ltr">That’s not what the mayor is proposing. Instead, Gelinas pointed out, de Blasio is attempting to raise revenue for a new program through a new tax, something mayors don’t usually do unless they face a sharp revenue crunch. “The city is not exactly starved for revenue right now,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Although the city is feeling the early effects of an economic slowdown, revenues and reserves are still robust after years of sustained growth. Available monies could be used to prioritize affordable senior housing, Gelinas said. Yet, as he once did with his universal pre-kindergarten program, de Blasio is insisting that the way to fund his senior assistance program is through a new tax.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mansion tax also faces opposition at home from allies of de Blasio. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer told Gotham Gazette that she opposes the $2 million threshold for the tax since it would have an outsize impact in Manhattan, where property prices are far greater than the other boroughs. She would prefer a $5 million threshold. “Manhattan should not be the cash cow for the rest of the boroughs,” she said last month.</p> <p dir="ltr">A <a href="http://ibo.nyc.ny.us/cgi-park2/2017/02/how-many-homes-apartments-in-new-york-city-sold-in-recent-years-for-more-than-2-million/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> by the nonpartisan Independent Budget Office, prompted by Brewer, looked at property sales from the last three years and found that between 2014 and 2016, 8 percent of homes sold citywide were priced at $2 million or more. Of those, 86 percent were in Manhattan.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6773-de-blasio-faces-local-questions-about-mansion-tax-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">De Blasio Faces Local Questions About ‘Mansion Tax’ Plan</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">In response, the de Blasio administration points out that it is a “marginal tax for incremental sales price over $2 million,” meaning that only the price above the $2 million would be taxed at the 2.5 percent. Those purchasing homes closer to the $2 million threshold would be paying very little in added tax.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are also <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/de-blasios-mansion-tax-would-hit-humble-homesteads-1485816608" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">concerns</a> among the real estate industry about the proposal’s effect on sales, at a time when Brooklyn brownstones can cross the $2 million threshold. The de Blasio administration dismisses that concern due to the incremental nature of the tax.</p> <p dir="ltr">Carol Kellerman, president of the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission, believes the mayor hasn’t made a clear case for the mansion tax. “If the goal is to impose higher taxes on people perceived to be wealthy, there are ways to do it through the income tax structure,” she said in a phone interview. “The mayor’s not proposing this as a form of budget relief or as necessary for budget needs.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Kellerman also emphasized the “volatile” nature of a transactional tax, which would depend on the ups and downs of the real estate industry and also have a “distortive impact” on the market and change behavior. “If there’s a need to raise that amount of revenue, a transfer tax of this nature is not a reliable source of revenue,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">She also pointed out that the mayor has already allocated billions in the city’s capital plan for affordable housing, so the need for a separate tax for senior housing doesn’t necessarily pass muster.</p> <p dir="ltr">Given opposition from state Senate Republicans, the mansion tax may be dead on arrival in Albany. De Blasio has argued, including in Albany Wednesday, that he’s heard that before about proposals, such as the $15 minimum wage. Gelinas was blunt about mansion tax prospects. "I don't think it's going to go anywhere," she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">A spokesperson for the de Blasio administration refuted both Gelinas and Kellerman’s concerns, stressing that property tax reform is a larger undertaking and that the mansion tax is necessary when considering how the proposed federal budget will impact affordable housing and seniors in particular.</p> <p dir="ltr">The spokesperson also pointed out New York’s existing state mansion tax, which is 1 percent for properties above $1 million, and cited jurisdictions around the world that have used similar taxes to fund policy goals from rising housing markets.</p> <p dir="ltr">A spokesperson for another budget watchdog, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, declined to comment on the mansion tax proposal. The comptroller has not released any fiscal analysis of the proposal.</p> <p>At the Wednesday rally in Albany, de Blasio reiterated the need for the mansion tax. “Here’s the bottom line, right now, there are seniors struggling to get by in New York City and all over New York State,” he said. “There are seniors struggling to get by because so many of them are on fixed incomes. So many of them don’t have a way to get more income but the cost of housing keeps going up...We owe it to them to get it right, and asking the wealthy to pay their fair share so our seniors can have decent life is a thing we call common sense.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio Faces Local Questions About ‘Mansion Tax’ Plan 2017-02-23T05:00:00+00:00 2017-02-23T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6773:de-blasio-faces-local-questions-about-mansion-tax-plan Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/32805723182_2f0ce1af02_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio speech dining room gracie" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/ Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>A report released by the city Independent Budget Office has raised questions about the potential effects of the so-called “mansion tax,” a proposed part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing strategy that would levy a 2.5 percent surcharge on the sale price over a threshold of $2 million for residential properties.</p> <p>De Blasio put forward a version of the mansion tax proposal, which requires approval by the State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo, in mid-2015. It failed to gain traction then. The mayor presented the current updated form at an Albany legislative state budget hearing in late January and reiterated it at his State of the City address February 13.</p> <p>The mayor has said that he hopes the revenues from the tax, estimated by his Office of Management and Budget at $336 million in fiscal year 2018, will be used to subsidize rents for seniors.</p> <p><a href="http://ibo.nyc.ny.us/cgi-park2/2017/02/how-many-homes-apartments-in-new-york-city-sold-in-recent-years-for-more-than-2-million/" target="_blank">The IBO report</a> shows that about 8 percent of citywide home sales between 2014 and 2016 carried price tags of $2 million or more; and of those sales, 86 percent were for properties in Manhattan.</p> <p>Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer had requested that IBO examine the impact the tax would have on her constituency. Often in agreement with de Blasio, a fellow Democrat, Brewer told Gotham Gazette that she is opposed to the mayor’s mansion tax proposal.</p> <p>“Manhattan should not be the cash cow for the rest of the boroughs,” Brewer said during a phone interview, adding that she would be “much more comfortable with [a threshold of] $5 million and not $2 million.”</p> <p>At the State of the City speech, the mayor told his constituents to “ask [state legislators] if you think someone selling a home for more than $2 million can afford a little bit for senior citizens.” The tax would be paid by the buyer, according to de Blasio’s plan.</p> <p>Brewer also raised concerns that mansion tax revenues would not be guaranteed to go to rent subsidies. “Any tax that has been enacted then has to be allocated. It could go to seniors, or it could go to homeless services, or it could go to anything,” she said.</p> <p>Asked if she would publicly oppose and testify against the tax if given the opportunity, Brewer said she would. She said she had not been in touch with the mayor or his staff about the mansion tax specifically, but had heard from constituents concerned about the measure’s effects.</p> <p>In emailed comments expanding on the report, IBO Chief of Staff Doug Turetsky said there were arguments for and against the tax. A possible issue is the specter of a price cliff: “suddenly you will probably have a lot of sales priced just under the threshold for the mansion tax.”</p> <p>However, he touted the proposal’s potential to level the playing field, as both co-ops and high-end residential sales paid in cash or with foreign financing are not subject to the city’s existing mortgage recording tax. “As a result, purchasers of a comparatively moderate priced home will likely pay both the city’s mortgage recording tax and real property transfer tax, while many buyers of the city’s most expensive residential properties will only pay the transfer tax,” he said.</p> <p>Along with skepticism from Brewer, de Blasio is facing a long road to mansion tax passage in Albany, where both Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, and the state Senate Republican majority are philosophically opposed to new taxes. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has said his conference is interested in cutting taxes, and he is facing a Cuomo proposal to extend the state’s “millionaire’s tax.”</p> <p>De Blasio has said that recent progressive victories indicate nothing is impossible to see through Albany if there is enough support. The mayor also argues the city needs the mansion tax revenue to bolster his affordable housing plan, especially for seniors, though the city has been rapidly adding to its budget under the mayor without additional taxes, given revenues have been strong amid a booming city economy.</p> <p>“I don’t think the mayor has thus far made the case why the tax is needed for any particular agenda he wants to pursue,” said Carol Kellerman, president of the Citizens Budget Commission, adding that “it would seem to us that the mayor and the [City] Council are able to fund anything they need $330 million for” out of the already expanded, $84.7 billion budget the mayor has proposed for fiscal year 2018.</p> <p>Melissa Grace, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office, dismissed the idea of a price cliff, arguing that, since the tax would only apply for the price over $2 million, “that’s not going to affect any buyer or seller’s behavior.” She also pointed out that the average home purchase affected by the tax would be $4.5 million, an argument the mayor also raised at an unrelated press conference this week when Gotham Gazette asked about his tax plan.</p> <p>In response to Brewer’s concern of the money being used for other purposes, Grace said that according to the city’s proposal, the funds would go specifically to the recently announced Elder Rent Assistance program and could not be used for anything else.</p> <p>Asked at a Tuesday press conference about previous statements that the mansion tax was justifiable given tax cuts for the wealthy the mayor is anticipating from Washington, D.C., the mayor said that President Donald Trump “has been salivating for the opportunity to reduce corporate taxes and taxes on the wealthy...So I think it’s a really, really good betting assumption there will be tax cuts for the wealthy and the corporations.”</p> <p>The mayor added that, even if a federal tax cut does not materialize, “I still think the mansion tax makes sense...Someone who’s buying a $4.5 million home can afford to spend a little bit more.”</p> <p>

***
by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/32805723182_2f0ce1af02_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio speech dining room gracie" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/ Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>A report released by the city Independent Budget Office has raised questions about the potential effects of the so-called “mansion tax,” a proposed part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing strategy that would levy a 2.5 percent surcharge on the sale price over a threshold of $2 million for residential properties.</p> <p>De Blasio put forward a version of the mansion tax proposal, which requires approval by the State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo, in mid-2015. It failed to gain traction then. The mayor presented the current updated form at an Albany legislative state budget hearing in late January and reiterated it at his State of the City address February 13.</p> <p>The mayor has said that he hopes the revenues from the tax, estimated by his Office of Management and Budget at $336 million in fiscal year 2018, will be used to subsidize rents for seniors.</p> <p><a href="http://ibo.nyc.ny.us/cgi-park2/2017/02/how-many-homes-apartments-in-new-york-city-sold-in-recent-years-for-more-than-2-million/" target="_blank">The IBO report</a> shows that about 8 percent of citywide home sales between 2014 and 2016 carried price tags of $2 million or more; and of those sales, 86 percent were for properties in Manhattan.</p> <p>Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer had requested that IBO examine the impact the tax would have on her constituency. Often in agreement with de Blasio, a fellow Democrat, Brewer told Gotham Gazette that she is opposed to the mayor’s mansion tax proposal.</p> <p>“Manhattan should not be the cash cow for the rest of the boroughs,” Brewer said during a phone interview, adding that she would be “much more comfortable with [a threshold of] $5 million and not $2 million.”</p> <p>At the State of the City speech, the mayor told his constituents to “ask [state legislators] if you think someone selling a home for more than $2 million can afford a little bit for senior citizens.” The tax would be paid by the buyer, according to de Blasio’s plan.</p> <p>Brewer also raised concerns that mansion tax revenues would not be guaranteed to go to rent subsidies. “Any tax that has been enacted then has to be allocated. It could go to seniors, or it could go to homeless services, or it could go to anything,” she said.</p> <p>Asked if she would publicly oppose and testify against the tax if given the opportunity, Brewer said she would. She said she had not been in touch with the mayor or his staff about the mansion tax specifically, but had heard from constituents concerned about the measure’s effects.</p> <p>In emailed comments expanding on the report, IBO Chief of Staff Doug Turetsky said there were arguments for and against the tax. A possible issue is the specter of a price cliff: “suddenly you will probably have a lot of sales priced just under the threshold for the mansion tax.”</p> <p>However, he touted the proposal’s potential to level the playing field, as both co-ops and high-end residential sales paid in cash or with foreign financing are not subject to the city’s existing mortgage recording tax. “As a result, purchasers of a comparatively moderate priced home will likely pay both the city’s mortgage recording tax and real property transfer tax, while many buyers of the city’s most expensive residential properties will only pay the transfer tax,” he said.</p> <p>Along with skepticism from Brewer, de Blasio is facing a long road to mansion tax passage in Albany, where both Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, and the state Senate Republican majority are philosophically opposed to new taxes. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has said his conference is interested in cutting taxes, and he is facing a Cuomo proposal to extend the state’s “millionaire’s tax.”</p> <p>De Blasio has said that recent progressive victories indicate nothing is impossible to see through Albany if there is enough support. The mayor also argues the city needs the mansion tax revenue to bolster his affordable housing plan, especially for seniors, though the city has been rapidly adding to its budget under the mayor without additional taxes, given revenues have been strong amid a booming city economy.</p> <p>“I don’t think the mayor has thus far made the case why the tax is needed for any particular agenda he wants to pursue,” said Carol Kellerman, president of the Citizens Budget Commission, adding that “it would seem to us that the mayor and the [City] Council are able to fund anything they need $330 million for” out of the already expanded, $84.7 billion budget the mayor has proposed for fiscal year 2018.</p> <p>Melissa Grace, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office, dismissed the idea of a price cliff, arguing that, since the tax would only apply for the price over $2 million, “that’s not going to affect any buyer or seller’s behavior.” She also pointed out that the average home purchase affected by the tax would be $4.5 million, an argument the mayor also raised at an unrelated press conference this week when Gotham Gazette asked about his tax plan.</p> <p>In response to Brewer’s concern of the money being used for other purposes, Grace said that according to the city’s proposal, the funds would go specifically to the recently announced Elder Rent Assistance program and could not be used for anything else.</p> <p>Asked at a Tuesday press conference about previous statements that the mansion tax was justifiable given tax cuts for the wealthy the mayor is anticipating from Washington, D.C., the mayor said that President Donald Trump “has been salivating for the opportunity to reduce corporate taxes and taxes on the wealthy...So I think it’s a really, really good betting assumption there will be tax cuts for the wealthy and the corporations.”</p> <p>The mayor added that, even if a federal tax cut does not materialize, “I still think the mansion tax makes sense...Someone who’s buying a $4.5 million home can afford to spend a little bit more.”</p> <p>

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Could CUNY Be Tuition-Free Again? 2016-07-19T04:00:00+00:00 2016-07-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6444:could-cuny-be-tuition-free-again Amanda Sherwin <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/huntercollege.jpg" alt="hunter college graduation" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo via Hunter College)</p> <hr /> <p>Members of the New York City Council want the City University of New York (CUNY) to return to providing a virtually tuition-free college education to local students, but major issues stand in the way.</p> <p>For years, students, teachers, elected officials and education activists have led an on-and-off crusade to reduce tuition at CUNY and reinvest in higher education. CUNY was free for qualifying city students from its inception in 1847 until 1976, when a city fiscal crisis led to change. Recently, these efforts were reignited through a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2683840&amp;GUID=15960A94-33D2-4841-897B-B38B3F3F7F59&amp;Options=ID%7C&amp;Search=" target="_blank">City Council bill</a> that would establish a task force to propose ways to eliminate tuition at CUNY.</p> <p>Brooklyn Council Member Inez Barron, chair of the Council&rsquo;s higher education committee, introduced the bill in April. The committee held a preliminary hearing on the bill on June 16, during which Barron said, &ldquo;College should be a right that is part and parcel of a commitment we make to provide free public education in grades K to 12.&rdquo;</p> <p>It is a &ldquo;commitment&rdquo; that was, in fact, extended to college for the majority of CUNY&rsquo;s history - more than 150 years where the city university system has been an engine of opportunity for city residents, especially those from modest socioeconomic backgrounds.</p> <p>Since 1976 and the institution of tuition at all CUNY colleges, CUNY has depended on a constantly shifting balance of state, city, and tuition funds to operate. Over the years, however, the state&rsquo;s contribution has steadily decreased, tipping more of the financial burden to its 270,000 degree-seeking students in the form of rising tuition costs.</p> <p>According to the city&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.educationnewyork.com/files/CUNY_FBjul2006.pdf" target="_blank">Independent Budget Office</a>, state aid accounted for 68% of total CUNY funding in 1989, but only 48% by 2006. Conversely, tuition funding rose by 20% during the same time period. Today, tuition revenue accounts for 45% of CUNY&rsquo;s funding - a far cry from the university&rsquo;s original namesake, the &ldquo;Free Academy.&rdquo; As of Fall 2016, full-time annual tuition rates are set at $6,330 for CUNY&rsquo;s 11 senior colleges and $4,800 at it&rsquo;s seven community colleges.</p> <p>Elected officials have made intermittent attempts to reverse the trend of state disinvestment, including a City Council <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2352226&amp;GUID=4576BE49-4116-46A2-9B35-8F81536E943A" target="_blank">resolution</a> calling for increased state funding and a state Maintenance of Effort (MOE) <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s7648/amendment/a" target="_blank">bill</a> to baseline CUNY financial support. These calls have gone largely unanswered, as CUNY&rsquo;s resources have become more and more strained. Gov. Andrew Cuomo attempted to shift more CUNY costs to the city in his last budget proposal, but was unsuccessful in the final agreement with legislative leaders. The governor is insisting on reductions in administrative costs, which he says are out of control.</p> <p>Now, Council Member Barron has introduced the ambitious notion of eliminating tuition entirely. Her task force bill has a total of ten sponsors in the 51-member Council. If passed and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a 13-member group would take on the challenge.</p> <p>Financially, free tuition at CUNY may not be entirely out of reach.</p> <p>According to University Executive Budget Director Catherine Abata, who also testified at the initial Council hearing on the bill, tuition revenue made up $1.5 billion of CUNY&rsquo;s $3.2 billion 2015-2016 budget. Abata said that excluding state and federal financial aid (which includes loans), students end up paying $784 million of that amount in out-of-pocket tuition expenses. This includes both undergraduate and graduate students. Eliminating tuition at CUNY would essentially necessitate at least $784 million in additional annual CUNY funding from other sources.</p> <p>At the hearing, City Council Member Jumaane Williams expressed frustration with the reluctance of city and state budget-makers to provide this amount, saying, &ldquo;look at our budget, and it shows you what&rsquo;s important. Basically for the city and the state and the federal government, $800 million is not important enough for everybody to have free access to education.&rdquo;</p> <p>One reason for the government&rsquo;s reluctance could be that despite CUNY&rsquo;s lack of funding, affordability is still a major point of pride for the university. In fact, 66% of full-time CUNY undergraduate students <em>already</em> attend tuition-free, thanks to a combination of financial aid and scholarships, according to CUNY&rsquo;s <a href="http://www1.cuny.edu/sites/value/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/page-assets/global/CUNY-VALUE-PLUS-2016-BROCHURE-FINAL.pdf" target="_blank">website.</a> Some policy experts warn that a free-tuition policy would only benefit the remaining percentage of students that don&rsquo;t receive any aid; presumably, students who are able to afford their tuition out-of-pocket, though there are several other factors that could disqualify students from financial aid.</p> <p>Since President Obama first announced <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/01/09/fact-sheet-white-house-unveils-america-s-college-promise-proposal-tuitio" target="_blank">&ldquo;America&rsquo;s College Promise&rdquo;</a> early last year, the free higher-education movement has gained momentum on a national scale. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders made free public college one of his campaign pledges when he was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, outlining on his website how the initiative could be funded by imposing a tax on Wall Street speculation.</p> <p>Sanders even compared his plan to CUNY&rsquo;s historic period of free tuition. It is unlikely, however, that a tax like Sanders eyed will be used to fund CUNY tuition in New York City, given de Blasio&rsquo;s failure at securing Albany passage of a tax on upper income earners to fund his universal pre-kindergarten program. Eliminating tuition would likely require a budget commitment from the city and the state. To fund pre-K in New York City and around the state, Gov. Cuomo and legislators allocated the money without raising taxes. To fund the MTA capital plan, both the city and the state recently agreed to kick in billions of dollars more than previously planned.</p> <p>According to Kevin Stump, Northeast Director of Young Invincibles, a national nonprofit focused on empowering young people, &ldquo;This last [legislative] session made very clear that Governor Cuomo isn't really interested in maintaining his support and investing in CUNY. He doesn&rsquo;t really see it as an anti-poverty tool and an economic opportunity tool, like some of us do."</p> <p>In early January, Cuomo outlined his Executive Budget plan, which showed that the city was to now cover 30% of CUNY&rsquo;s senior college operating costs, totalling $485 million, with the rationale that city representatives currently make up 30% of the CUNY Board of Trustees (he also said that the city is doing much better financially than it was decades ago). After significant public pushback, Cuomo stated in <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6243-confusion-concern-remain-as-cuomo-promises-full-cuny-funding" target="_blank">March</a> that he would work with the city to find &ldquo;efficiencies&rdquo; in the budget that would account for the $485 million and &ldquo;not cost CUNY a penny.&rdquo;</p> <p>The state has provided the majority of CUNY&rsquo;s senior college funding since 1976. On March 16, Director of State Operations Jim Malatras essentially withdrew Cuomo&rsquo;s budget proposal, saying in a <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/statement-jim-malatras-director-state-operations" target="_blank">statement</a> that &ldquo;the $1.6 billion in aid [CUNY] receives has not changed, and will not change under this budget.&rdquo; Nevertheless, Cuomo&rsquo;s shake-up, which many viewed as an effort to hurt de Blasio, left doubts about the state&rsquo;s future commitment to CUNY.</p> <p>While several hundred million dollars per year is not that significant a portion of the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6257-state-budget-agreement-by-the-numbers" target="_blank">state</a> ($147 billion) or <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6304-de-blasio-releases-new-82b-budget-with-targeted-investments-and-additional-savings" target="_blank">city</a> ($82 billion) budget, the task force established by Barron&rsquo;s bill, should it pass, would face a number of obstacles in restoring free tuition. Any path returning to a tuition-free CUNY would likely be a long one.</p> <p><strong>History</strong><br />Since its establishment as the &ldquo;Free Academy&rdquo; in 1847, CUNY has strived to achieve its mission of providing all New Yorkers with accessible and affordable higher education. For almost 130 years, CUNY provided full-time students with qualifying academic merit the opportunity to study tuition-free at any of its institutions. At first, CUNY mainly consisted of four-year colleges like Hunter, Baruch, and City College. In 1957, CUNY established its first community college in the Bronx, and continued expanding from there.</p> <p>Historically, economically disadvantaged New Yorkers, especially those from communities of color, have viewed a degree from CUNY as a tool toward advancement. A college education means career options, higher lifetime wages, and opportunity for socioeconomic mobility. CUNY is home to thousands of first-generation college students; 42% of the student population according to a 2014 CUNY <a href="https://cuny.edu/about/administration/offices/ira/ir/surveys/student/SES_2014_Report_Final.pdf" target="_blank">survey.</a></p> <p>After multiple student uprisings calling for increased diversity in the CUNY system in 1969, CUNY officially instated an Open Admissions policy, meaning that any student who graduated from a New York City public high school could matriculate for free. This led to a dramatic rise in attendance, coupled with a shift in student demographics that made it more closely reflect New York City&rsquo;s diverse population. This period was short-lived, however, as seven years later, in 1976, the city experienced a major fiscal crisis. After being bailed out by the state, CUNY instituted tuition for all students for the first time, and enrollment slowed.</p> <p><strong>Tuition Today</strong><br />According to the <a href="http://www.educationnewyork.com/files/CUNY_FBjul2006.pdf" target="_blank">Independent Budget Office</a>, &ldquo;While tuition charges at private institutions generally rise each year, tuition levels at CUNY have followed a less regular pattern, with a sharp increase often followed by several years with no change.&rdquo; In 2011, the New York State Legislature attempted to remedy this situation by passing a <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2011/S5855" target="_blank">bill </a>known as SUNY 2020, which authorized both SUNY (the larger statewide public college system) and CUNY schools to increase tuition by $300 annually for the next five years, while the state guaranteed not to reduce funding for baseline operating costs from the prior fiscal year.</p> <p>The bill was not renewed during this past state legislative session, expiring July 1 and resulting in a welcome one-year tuition freeze at CUNY, but leaving ambiguity in the state&rsquo;s future level of financial commitment. Currently, annual tuition for those enrolled for Fall of 2016 will remain at $4,800 for CUNY community colleges and $6,330 at senior colleges, according to the university&rsquo;s website. These costs can be mitigated by financial aid.</p> <p>On top of tuition, there are a variety of additional expenses incurred by students when pursuing a college degree, of course.</p> <p>Students who attend college full-time, or even part-time, must account for food, books, transportation, and housing. According to the CUNY website, these additional expenses amount to $9,592 for CUNY in-state students living at home, and $20,295 for in-state students not living at home. Federal Pell grants and the State&rsquo;s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) provide aid to needy students, but they often fall short of covering every necessary expense. Currently, the maximum annual TAP award is $5,165, and maximum Pell Grant is $5,915. While Pell Grants can be used to cover additional expenses, TAP exclusively covers tuition, and is heavily guarded by a host of recipient qualifications.</p> <p>According to Amanda Roman, a political science major at College of Staten Island, a CUNY school, and member of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), &ldquo;Programs like TAP don&rsquo;t cover full college costs for many, and have not kept up with the needs of all student types, beyond just the straight-from-high-school-to-college full-time student.&rdquo;</p> <p>Stump explained further, &ldquo;While TAP does need serious dollar investment, it also needs some serious structural changes to it as well.&rdquo; For many categories of students, TAP aid is virtually out of reach. This includes undocumented students, which legislation known as the DREAM Act is aimed at reversing - it would allow financial aid to all students. Gov. Cuomo has expressed support for the DREAM Act and the Democrat-controlled <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/Press/20160606/" target="_blank">Assembly</a> has passed it multiple times, but the Republican-controlled Senate <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6421-assessing-the-aftermath-top-takeaways-for-nyc-from-2016-albany-session" target="_blank">has not consented.</a></p> <p>TAP is also withheld from most part-time students, who made up over 100,000 of CUNY enrollment as of <a href="http://www.cuny.edu/irdatabook/rpts2_AY_current/ENRL_0001_UGGR_FTPT.rpt.pdf" target="_blank">Fall 2015</a>. Part-time students must first attend school full-time for one year before being TAP eligible; an often implausible requirement, considering many part-time students are older and returning to school while working.</p> <p>Significantly, TAP has not kept up with the annual increases in tuition laid out by SUNY 2020, creating what stakeholders refer to as the &ldquo;TAP gap&rdquo;: the difference between the tuition rate and the maximum amount of TAP aid provided to the neediest students. CUNY has been required to cover this gap, draining its resources even further.</p> <p>According to Stump, &ldquo;Last year alone, CUNY lost nearly $50 million because they had to fill the TAP gap,&rdquo; using money that was supposed to be allocated for new programs and academic initiatives at the university.</p> <p>Along with state and federal grants, students rely on loans and income to cover education expenses. In the Fall of 2014, CUNY reported that 30% of students in both senior and community colleges work more than 20 hours a week to afford school.</p> <p>James Hoff, professor of English at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, testified at the June 16 hearing that many of his students &ldquo;struggle to find time to study for my classes because they are forced to work 30 to 40 hours a week at minimum wage jobs just to pay for tuition and books. I have watched students take on huge course loads that they were unable to handle because they could not afford to pay for additional semesters.&rdquo;</p> <p>As the national student debt bill approaches the trillions, CUNY boasts that 80% of its students graduate debt-free. Council Member Barron, however, argues that the assertion of graduating debt-free &ldquo;raises the question of what percentage of students never graduate, but nonetheless leave CUNY burdened by student loans.&rdquo; According to an IBO <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/free-cuny-community-college-tuition.pdf" target="_blank">report</a>, &ldquo;slightly less than a third of students don&rsquo;t enroll in the fall after their first year.&rdquo; Many students either drop out, or at the least, take much longer than expected to complete their degree.</p> <p>In the Fall of 2015, CUNY <a href="http://www1.cuny.edu/sites/value/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/page-assets/global/Fact-Book-and-News-Release.pdf" target="_blank">reported</a> that students were taking out $202 million in federal student loans. A proposal to eliminate tuition would need to carefully consider how this amount should be factored in.</p> <p><strong>The CUNY tuition task force bill</strong><br />At the City Council&rsquo;s full-body Stated Meeting in April, Barron first introduced her bill, Intro 1138, which is summarized on the Council website as such: &ldquo;This bill would establish a task force to analyze ways to eliminate tuition at the City University of New York and to develop proposals on the role the City can play in working toward that goal. The task force would consist of 13 members, including representatives of the Public Advocate, the Office of Management and Budget and the Speaker, as well as CUNY students, faculty and advocates.&rdquo;</p> <p>The Committee on Higher Education&rsquo;s first hearing on the bill, on June 16, included a full public seating area and testimony by four different panels of individuals representing a variety of groups and perspectives. According to the bill, the task force&rsquo;s main objective would be to produce a detailed report presenting &ldquo;an analysis of existing and potential sources of revenue that could replace tuition at the City University of New York, obstacles preventing the elimination of tuition, recommendations for how such obstacles should be addressed and steps the city should take to address them.&rdquo;</p> <p>The report would be due six months after the creation of the task force, yet speakers and Council members at the hearing wasted no time delving into the many implications that eliminating tuition would have for the future of CUNY. At the hearing, the most hesitant stakeholder appeared to be the university itself. James Murphy, Senior Enrollment Dean at CUNY, presented a host of potential issues that could result from the sudden elimination of what is currently the university&rsquo;s largest source of funding.</p> <p><strong>What &lsquo;Free Tuition&rsquo; Actually Means</strong><br />As Murphy said at the hearing, &ldquo;affordable to different people means different things.&rdquo; Before the city or state can even consider investing in free tuition, the task force would need to nail down exactly which students qualify, what expenses would be covered, and how long tuition assistance would be provided, just to name a few concerns.</p> <p>Many wonder which CUNY colleges, community or senior, should benefit from the initiative. There are advantages and drawbacks to both.</p> <p>According to a <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/free-cuny-community-college-tuition.pdf" target="_blank">report </a>prepared by the city&rsquo;s Independent Budget Office, the cost of eliminating tuition at CUNY&rsquo;s seven community colleges would be $138-232 million per year, depending on factors like limiting the number of years covered or exclusively covering full-time students. Importantly, the IBO estimates assume that a tuition-free program would be structured around existing federal and state aid, which comprises the majority of tuition revenue for CUNY&rsquo;s community colleges and is currently awarded to about 60% of students.</p> <p>Another concern is the low readiness and completion rate of students at CUNY&rsquo;s community colleges.</p> <p>According to the IBO report, &ldquo;Two years after initial enrollment, just 4 percent of students have earned their associate's degrees.&rdquo; With such a trend, moving to free tuition may come with a semester limit for students and new efforts at increasing graduation rates.</p> <p>Lisa Richmond, Executive Director of Graduate NYC, a citywide college readiness and completion initiative, says that college readiness is already &ldquo;a huge goal of the public school system in New York.&rdquo; According to Graduate NYC&rsquo;s 2016 <a href="http://www.graduatenyc.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/GNYC-Report-Brief-2.pdf" target="_blank">report</a>, 47% of public high school graduates are college-ready, with the goal of increasing this number to 67% by 2020.</p> <p>Richmond explains that &ldquo;The college completion equation is certainly about preparedness, affordability, but it&rsquo;s also about persistence and completion in other ways. In being able to get the classes that you need, and get the advisement to understand what courses you need.&rdquo; It is these resources that may continue to hinder students on the path towards graduation, despite the possibility of free tuition.</p> <p>At the Council hearing, Murphy, the CUNY enrollment dean, lamented the lack of resources, like academic counselors, for even the current student population.</p> <p>CUNY&rsquo;s Accelerated Studies in Associate Programs (ASAP) is an oft-cited model of success in speeding up graduation rates, and is the closest initiative to a free-tuition policy that the university currently employs. According to a CUNY internal analysis of the program, the average three-year graduation rate for community college students enrolled in ASAP is 53%, compared to 25% of CUNY students not in ASAP and a 16% national average.</p> <p>What sets ASAP apart, they found, is the level of resources provided to students beyond free tuition. These resources include subsidized Metrocards, textbooks, and intensive mentoring and career services.</p> <p>According to the IBO <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/free-cuny-community-college-tuition.pdf" target="_blank">report</a>, &ldquo;an increase in graduation rates resulting from a more modest program that only offered free tuition could also produce fiscal benefits,&rdquo; however, the report &ldquo;emphasizes the importance of the full range of services offered&rdquo; by ASAP that exceed a tuition-free policy.</p> <p>While solely funding CUNY&rsquo;s community colleges has a more feasible price tag and would benefit the neediest students, concerns mounted at the Council hearing over what Harold Stolper, Senior Economist at the Community Service Society of New York, called &ldquo;under-matching.&rdquo; According to Stolper, &ldquo;even for low-income students who are sufficiently prepared to succeed at four-year colleges, the perception that this path is unaffordable reduces the incentives to apply to more selective colleges.&rdquo;</p> <p>If tuition were eliminated only at community colleges, the city may experience highly unbalanced enrollment rates between CUNY&rsquo;s two- and four-year colleges. Stolper claimed that this trend already exists on a smaller scale: between 2008 and 2014, he said, &ldquo;enrollment growth among the lowest income aid applicants was relatively slow at four-year colleges where price rose the fastest, while enrollment grew much faster for these students at two-year colleges where price growth was minimal.&rdquo;</p> <p>Including CUNY&rsquo;s 11 senior colleges in the deal, which, according to Abata&rsquo;s estimates, would increase the bill to around $784 million per year, poses its own challenges concerning enrollment rates.</p> <p>City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, of the Bronx, said at the hearing, &ldquo;Many of our colleges are literally bursting at the seams because of enrollment.&rdquo; Even with its cost, CUNY remains the most affordable choice for higher education within the city; many students receive partial tuition assistance, and 66% of full-time undergraduate students attend CUNY <a href="http://www1.cuny.edu/sites/value/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/page-assets/global/Fact-Book-and-News-Release.pdf" target="_blank">tuition free</a>. Should CUNY eliminate tuition for all students, however, people from all across the country may also flock to CUNY schools to take advantage of the chance to live and study for free in New York City.</p> <p>Murphy explained, &ldquo;A lot of these individuals come from communities in more affluent parts of the country, where they have one counselor for every 50 students [the rate is much more lopsided in New York City], and they just get their admissions applications out sooner.&rdquo; Many are concerned that these students would effectively shut out local New York high school graduates, for whom the policy is primarily meant to benefit in the first place.</p> <p>Ideally, a program that eliminates tuition would benefit as many students, in and out-of-state, as possible, without overextending resources from CUNY and the different levels of government contributing funding. This balance may very well be impossible to achieve.</p> <p>More presently, CUNY has been facing existential crises.</p> <p>From professors who have gone years without a raise to reports of leaky hallways and rodent-infested classrooms, CUNY has more than its fair share of challenges, in part due to government disinvestment. As the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/29/nyregion/dreams-stall-as-cuny-citys-engine-of-mobility-sputters.html" target="_blank">New York Times</a> reported in a May, state government funding for CUNY has dropped by 17% over the last eight years, resulting in budget cuts to many CUNY programs that affect students, professors, and staff. According to the Times, the number of adjunct faculty members, who are paid less and receive almost no contractual benefits, has risen by 23% since 2009.</p> <p>Stephen Brier, a Professor at the CUNY Graduate Center and co-author of Austerity Blues: Fighting for the Soul of Public Higher Education, cautioned that &ldquo;those endemic problems cannot and will not be solved by instituting a free tuition policy alone, however desirable that policy would be.&rdquo;</p> <p>According to Murphy, &ldquo;Over the past eight years, CUNY enrollment has increased by 30,000 students, and we do not currently have the faculty or space to significantly increase enrollment any further.&rdquo; A free-tuition policy may very well necessitate additional infrastructure, staff, and student resources.</p> <p>Michael Fabricant, First Vice President of the Professional Staff Congress, the union that represents over 25,000 CUNY employees, recommended that the task force add the goal of examining &ldquo;existing and potential sources of revenue that could provide resources beyond replacing tuition, given the university&rsquo;s serious and long-term underfunding.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>Is Free Tuition the Right Battle?</strong><br />Some argue that free-tuition initiatives won&rsquo;t benefit students in need, and ultimately gloss over foundational changes that need to be addressed first in the higher education system. Preston Cooper, policy analyst at the Manhattan Institute, said, &ldquo;I really don't think asking whether we should change who pays for college is the right question to be asking. It&rsquo;s how much we should be paying for college in the first place.&rdquo;</p> <p>According to Cooper, federal aid and tuition are caught in &ldquo;a vicious cycle&rdquo; in which increases in maximum federal aid encourage administrators to raise tuition, <a href="https://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/doubling-pell-grants-terrible-idea-8823.html" target="_blank">inflating</a> the cost of attendance. Cooper worries this cycle could be further inflamed by the establishment of free tuition, with CUNY &ldquo;tuition&rdquo; increased to try and capture additional aid from the state and city. The dynamic could prove costly and even prohibitive were a free-tuition program to be introduced that excluded out-of-state students.</p> <p>Another issue inherent in free tuition is what Max Eden, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, calls the &ldquo;substitution effect,&rdquo; where middle-class students, who may be able to afford college elsewhere, decide to go to CUNY to take advantage of free tuition, edging out lower-income students who view CUNY as their only option. This could decrease socioeconomic and other measures of diversity at CUNY - as of <a href="http://cuny.edu/about/administration/offices/ira/ir/surveys/student/SES_2014_Report_Final.pdf" target="_blank">Fall 2014</a>, 39% of undergraduate students had a household income of less than $20,000. Experts stress that it is this specific group, and not the entire population, that a targeted financial investment must be made towards.</p> <p>According to Eden, &ldquo;The government is involved in higher education to help solve a problem: that it might not be provided for kids with limited economic backgrounds. If, and when, it goes above and beyond that, to trying to subsidize everybody, that will not only have financial costs. It will have a cost to the reason the government got into it in the first place.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>Next Steps</strong><br />Moving ahead, it is to-be-seen whether the bill to create the tuition-free CUNY task force gains momentum, is passed by the Council and signed by the mayor. If it is enacted and the task force is formed and makes its recommendations, it would essentially then cease to exist, once again leaving the free-tuition discussion with state lawmakers and CUNY administrators.</p> <p>For now, CUNY has pressing needs. Fabricant, of the CUNY employee union, says, &ldquo;We need to remember that public higher education is a public good that the State of New York needs to recommit substantial economic resources to.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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by Amanda Sherwin, Gotham Gazette
      

Read more by this writer

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/huntercollege.jpg" alt="hunter college graduation" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo via Hunter College)</p> <hr /> <p>Members of the New York City Council want the City University of New York (CUNY) to return to providing a virtually tuition-free college education to local students, but major issues stand in the way.</p> <p>For years, students, teachers, elected officials and education activists have led an on-and-off crusade to reduce tuition at CUNY and reinvest in higher education. CUNY was free for qualifying city students from its inception in 1847 until 1976, when a city fiscal crisis led to change. Recently, these efforts were reignited through a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2683840&amp;GUID=15960A94-33D2-4841-897B-B38B3F3F7F59&amp;Options=ID%7C&amp;Search=" target="_blank">City Council bill</a> that would establish a task force to propose ways to eliminate tuition at CUNY.</p> <p>Brooklyn Council Member Inez Barron, chair of the Council&rsquo;s higher education committee, introduced the bill in April. The committee held a preliminary hearing on the bill on June 16, during which Barron said, &ldquo;College should be a right that is part and parcel of a commitment we make to provide free public education in grades K to 12.&rdquo;</p> <p>It is a &ldquo;commitment&rdquo; that was, in fact, extended to college for the majority of CUNY&rsquo;s history - more than 150 years where the city university system has been an engine of opportunity for city residents, especially those from modest socioeconomic backgrounds.</p> <p>Since 1976 and the institution of tuition at all CUNY colleges, CUNY has depended on a constantly shifting balance of state, city, and tuition funds to operate. Over the years, however, the state&rsquo;s contribution has steadily decreased, tipping more of the financial burden to its 270,000 degree-seeking students in the form of rising tuition costs.</p> <p>According to the city&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.educationnewyork.com/files/CUNY_FBjul2006.pdf" target="_blank">Independent Budget Office</a>, state aid accounted for 68% of total CUNY funding in 1989, but only 48% by 2006. Conversely, tuition funding rose by 20% during the same time period. Today, tuition revenue accounts for 45% of CUNY&rsquo;s funding - a far cry from the university&rsquo;s original namesake, the &ldquo;Free Academy.&rdquo; As of Fall 2016, full-time annual tuition rates are set at $6,330 for CUNY&rsquo;s 11 senior colleges and $4,800 at it&rsquo;s seven community colleges.</p> <p>Elected officials have made intermittent attempts to reverse the trend of state disinvestment, including a City Council <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2352226&amp;GUID=4576BE49-4116-46A2-9B35-8F81536E943A" target="_blank">resolution</a> calling for increased state funding and a state Maintenance of Effort (MOE) <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s7648/amendment/a" target="_blank">bill</a> to baseline CUNY financial support. These calls have gone largely unanswered, as CUNY&rsquo;s resources have become more and more strained. Gov. Andrew Cuomo attempted to shift more CUNY costs to the city in his last budget proposal, but was unsuccessful in the final agreement with legislative leaders. The governor is insisting on reductions in administrative costs, which he says are out of control.</p> <p>Now, Council Member Barron has introduced the ambitious notion of eliminating tuition entirely. Her task force bill has a total of ten sponsors in the 51-member Council. If passed and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a 13-member group would take on the challenge.</p> <p>Financially, free tuition at CUNY may not be entirely out of reach.</p> <p>According to University Executive Budget Director Catherine Abata, who also testified at the initial Council hearing on the bill, tuition revenue made up $1.5 billion of CUNY&rsquo;s $3.2 billion 2015-2016 budget. Abata said that excluding state and federal financial aid (which includes loans), students end up paying $784 million of that amount in out-of-pocket tuition expenses. This includes both undergraduate and graduate students. Eliminating tuition at CUNY would essentially necessitate at least $784 million in additional annual CUNY funding from other sources.</p> <p>At the hearing, City Council Member Jumaane Williams expressed frustration with the reluctance of city and state budget-makers to provide this amount, saying, &ldquo;look at our budget, and it shows you what&rsquo;s important. Basically for the city and the state and the federal government, $800 million is not important enough for everybody to have free access to education.&rdquo;</p> <p>One reason for the government&rsquo;s reluctance could be that despite CUNY&rsquo;s lack of funding, affordability is still a major point of pride for the university. In fact, 66% of full-time CUNY undergraduate students <em>already</em> attend tuition-free, thanks to a combination of financial aid and scholarships, according to CUNY&rsquo;s <a href="http://www1.cuny.edu/sites/value/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/page-assets/global/CUNY-VALUE-PLUS-2016-BROCHURE-FINAL.pdf" target="_blank">website.</a> Some policy experts warn that a free-tuition policy would only benefit the remaining percentage of students that don&rsquo;t receive any aid; presumably, students who are able to afford their tuition out-of-pocket, though there are several other factors that could disqualify students from financial aid.</p> <p>Since President Obama first announced <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/01/09/fact-sheet-white-house-unveils-america-s-college-promise-proposal-tuitio" target="_blank">&ldquo;America&rsquo;s College Promise&rdquo;</a> early last year, the free higher-education movement has gained momentum on a national scale. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders made free public college one of his campaign pledges when he was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, outlining on his website how the initiative could be funded by imposing a tax on Wall Street speculation.</p> <p>Sanders even compared his plan to CUNY&rsquo;s historic period of free tuition. It is unlikely, however, that a tax like Sanders eyed will be used to fund CUNY tuition in New York City, given de Blasio&rsquo;s failure at securing Albany passage of a tax on upper income earners to fund his universal pre-kindergarten program. Eliminating tuition would likely require a budget commitment from the city and the state. To fund pre-K in New York City and around the state, Gov. Cuomo and legislators allocated the money without raising taxes. To fund the MTA capital plan, both the city and the state recently agreed to kick in billions of dollars more than previously planned.</p> <p>According to Kevin Stump, Northeast Director of Young Invincibles, a national nonprofit focused on empowering young people, &ldquo;This last [legislative] session made very clear that Governor Cuomo isn't really interested in maintaining his support and investing in CUNY. He doesn&rsquo;t really see it as an anti-poverty tool and an economic opportunity tool, like some of us do."</p> <p>In early January, Cuomo outlined his Executive Budget plan, which showed that the city was to now cover 30% of CUNY&rsquo;s senior college operating costs, totalling $485 million, with the rationale that city representatives currently make up 30% of the CUNY Board of Trustees (he also said that the city is doing much better financially than it was decades ago). After significant public pushback, Cuomo stated in <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6243-confusion-concern-remain-as-cuomo-promises-full-cuny-funding" target="_blank">March</a> that he would work with the city to find &ldquo;efficiencies&rdquo; in the budget that would account for the $485 million and &ldquo;not cost CUNY a penny.&rdquo;</p> <p>The state has provided the majority of CUNY&rsquo;s senior college funding since 1976. On March 16, Director of State Operations Jim Malatras essentially withdrew Cuomo&rsquo;s budget proposal, saying in a <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/statement-jim-malatras-director-state-operations" target="_blank">statement</a> that &ldquo;the $1.6 billion in aid [CUNY] receives has not changed, and will not change under this budget.&rdquo; Nevertheless, Cuomo&rsquo;s shake-up, which many viewed as an effort to hurt de Blasio, left doubts about the state&rsquo;s future commitment to CUNY.</p> <p>While several hundred million dollars per year is not that significant a portion of the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6257-state-budget-agreement-by-the-numbers" target="_blank">state</a> ($147 billion) or <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6304-de-blasio-releases-new-82b-budget-with-targeted-investments-and-additional-savings" target="_blank">city</a> ($82 billion) budget, the task force established by Barron&rsquo;s bill, should it pass, would face a number of obstacles in restoring free tuition. Any path returning to a tuition-free CUNY would likely be a long one.</p> <p><strong>History</strong><br />Since its establishment as the &ldquo;Free Academy&rdquo; in 1847, CUNY has strived to achieve its mission of providing all New Yorkers with accessible and affordable higher education. For almost 130 years, CUNY provided full-time students with qualifying academic merit the opportunity to study tuition-free at any of its institutions. At first, CUNY mainly consisted of four-year colleges like Hunter, Baruch, and City College. In 1957, CUNY established its first community college in the Bronx, and continued expanding from there.</p> <p>Historically, economically disadvantaged New Yorkers, especially those from communities of color, have viewed a degree from CUNY as a tool toward advancement. A college education means career options, higher lifetime wages, and opportunity for socioeconomic mobility. CUNY is home to thousands of first-generation college students; 42% of the student population according to a 2014 CUNY <a href="https://cuny.edu/about/administration/offices/ira/ir/surveys/student/SES_2014_Report_Final.pdf" target="_blank">survey.</a></p> <p>After multiple student uprisings calling for increased diversity in the CUNY system in 1969, CUNY officially instated an Open Admissions policy, meaning that any student who graduated from a New York City public high school could matriculate for free. This led to a dramatic rise in attendance, coupled with a shift in student demographics that made it more closely reflect New York City&rsquo;s diverse population. This period was short-lived, however, as seven years later, in 1976, the city experienced a major fiscal crisis. After being bailed out by the state, CUNY instituted tuition for all students for the first time, and enrollment slowed.</p> <p><strong>Tuition Today</strong><br />According to the <a href="http://www.educationnewyork.com/files/CUNY_FBjul2006.pdf" target="_blank">Independent Budget Office</a>, &ldquo;While tuition charges at private institutions generally rise each year, tuition levels at CUNY have followed a less regular pattern, with a sharp increase often followed by several years with no change.&rdquo; In 2011, the New York State Legislature attempted to remedy this situation by passing a <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2011/S5855" target="_blank">bill </a>known as SUNY 2020, which authorized both SUNY (the larger statewide public college system) and CUNY schools to increase tuition by $300 annually for the next five years, while the state guaranteed not to reduce funding for baseline operating costs from the prior fiscal year.</p> <p>The bill was not renewed during this past state legislative session, expiring July 1 and resulting in a welcome one-year tuition freeze at CUNY, but leaving ambiguity in the state&rsquo;s future level of financial commitment. Currently, annual tuition for those enrolled for Fall of 2016 will remain at $4,800 for CUNY community colleges and $6,330 at senior colleges, according to the university&rsquo;s website. These costs can be mitigated by financial aid.</p> <p>On top of tuition, there are a variety of additional expenses incurred by students when pursuing a college degree, of course.</p> <p>Students who attend college full-time, or even part-time, must account for food, books, transportation, and housing. According to the CUNY website, these additional expenses amount to $9,592 for CUNY in-state students living at home, and $20,295 for in-state students not living at home. Federal Pell grants and the State&rsquo;s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) provide aid to needy students, but they often fall short of covering every necessary expense. Currently, the maximum annual TAP award is $5,165, and maximum Pell Grant is $5,915. While Pell Grants can be used to cover additional expenses, TAP exclusively covers tuition, and is heavily guarded by a host of recipient qualifications.</p> <p>According to Amanda Roman, a political science major at College of Staten Island, a CUNY school, and member of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), &ldquo;Programs like TAP don&rsquo;t cover full college costs for many, and have not kept up with the needs of all student types, beyond just the straight-from-high-school-to-college full-time student.&rdquo;</p> <p>Stump explained further, &ldquo;While TAP does need serious dollar investment, it also needs some serious structural changes to it as well.&rdquo; For many categories of students, TAP aid is virtually out of reach. This includes undocumented students, which legislation known as the DREAM Act is aimed at reversing - it would allow financial aid to all students. Gov. Cuomo has expressed support for the DREAM Act and the Democrat-controlled <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/Press/20160606/" target="_blank">Assembly</a> has passed it multiple times, but the Republican-controlled Senate <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6421-assessing-the-aftermath-top-takeaways-for-nyc-from-2016-albany-session" target="_blank">has not consented.</a></p> <p>TAP is also withheld from most part-time students, who made up over 100,000 of CUNY enrollment as of <a href="http://www.cuny.edu/irdatabook/rpts2_AY_current/ENRL_0001_UGGR_FTPT.rpt.pdf" target="_blank">Fall 2015</a>. Part-time students must first attend school full-time for one year before being TAP eligible; an often implausible requirement, considering many part-time students are older and returning to school while working.</p> <p>Significantly, TAP has not kept up with the annual increases in tuition laid out by SUNY 2020, creating what stakeholders refer to as the &ldquo;TAP gap&rdquo;: the difference between the tuition rate and the maximum amount of TAP aid provided to the neediest students. CUNY has been required to cover this gap, draining its resources even further.</p> <p>According to Stump, &ldquo;Last year alone, CUNY lost nearly $50 million because they had to fill the TAP gap,&rdquo; using money that was supposed to be allocated for new programs and academic initiatives at the university.</p> <p>Along with state and federal grants, students rely on loans and income to cover education expenses. In the Fall of 2014, CUNY reported that 30% of students in both senior and community colleges work more than 20 hours a week to afford school.</p> <p>James Hoff, professor of English at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, testified at the June 16 hearing that many of his students &ldquo;struggle to find time to study for my classes because they are forced to work 30 to 40 hours a week at minimum wage jobs just to pay for tuition and books. I have watched students take on huge course loads that they were unable to handle because they could not afford to pay for additional semesters.&rdquo;</p> <p>As the national student debt bill approaches the trillions, CUNY boasts that 80% of its students graduate debt-free. Council Member Barron, however, argues that the assertion of graduating debt-free &ldquo;raises the question of what percentage of students never graduate, but nonetheless leave CUNY burdened by student loans.&rdquo; According to an IBO <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/free-cuny-community-college-tuition.pdf" target="_blank">report</a>, &ldquo;slightly less than a third of students don&rsquo;t enroll in the fall after their first year.&rdquo; Many students either drop out, or at the least, take much longer than expected to complete their degree.</p> <p>In the Fall of 2015, CUNY <a href="http://www1.cuny.edu/sites/value/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/page-assets/global/Fact-Book-and-News-Release.pdf" target="_blank">reported</a> that students were taking out $202 million in federal student loans. A proposal to eliminate tuition would need to carefully consider how this amount should be factored in.</p> <p><strong>The CUNY tuition task force bill</strong><br />At the City Council&rsquo;s full-body Stated Meeting in April, Barron first introduced her bill, Intro 1138, which is summarized on the Council website as such: &ldquo;This bill would establish a task force to analyze ways to eliminate tuition at the City University of New York and to develop proposals on the role the City can play in working toward that goal. The task force would consist of 13 members, including representatives of the Public Advocate, the Office of Management and Budget and the Speaker, as well as CUNY students, faculty and advocates.&rdquo;</p> <p>The Committee on Higher Education&rsquo;s first hearing on the bill, on June 16, included a full public seating area and testimony by four different panels of individuals representing a variety of groups and perspectives. According to the bill, the task force&rsquo;s main objective would be to produce a detailed report presenting &ldquo;an analysis of existing and potential sources of revenue that could replace tuition at the City University of New York, obstacles preventing the elimination of tuition, recommendations for how such obstacles should be addressed and steps the city should take to address them.&rdquo;</p> <p>The report would be due six months after the creation of the task force, yet speakers and Council members at the hearing wasted no time delving into the many implications that eliminating tuition would have for the future of CUNY. At the hearing, the most hesitant stakeholder appeared to be the university itself. James Murphy, Senior Enrollment Dean at CUNY, presented a host of potential issues that could result from the sudden elimination of what is currently the university&rsquo;s largest source of funding.</p> <p><strong>What &lsquo;Free Tuition&rsquo; Actually Means</strong><br />As Murphy said at the hearing, &ldquo;affordable to different people means different things.&rdquo; Before the city or state can even consider investing in free tuition, the task force would need to nail down exactly which students qualify, what expenses would be covered, and how long tuition assistance would be provided, just to name a few concerns.</p> <p>Many wonder which CUNY colleges, community or senior, should benefit from the initiative. There are advantages and drawbacks to both.</p> <p>According to a <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/free-cuny-community-college-tuition.pdf" target="_blank">report </a>prepared by the city&rsquo;s Independent Budget Office, the cost of eliminating tuition at CUNY&rsquo;s seven community colleges would be $138-232 million per year, depending on factors like limiting the number of years covered or exclusively covering full-time students. Importantly, the IBO estimates assume that a tuition-free program would be structured around existing federal and state aid, which comprises the majority of tuition revenue for CUNY&rsquo;s community colleges and is currently awarded to about 60% of students.</p> <p>Another concern is the low readiness and completion rate of students at CUNY&rsquo;s community colleges.</p> <p>According to the IBO report, &ldquo;Two years after initial enrollment, just 4 percent of students have earned their associate's degrees.&rdquo; With such a trend, moving to free tuition may come with a semester limit for students and new efforts at increasing graduation rates.</p> <p>Lisa Richmond, Executive Director of Graduate NYC, a citywide college readiness and completion initiative, says that college readiness is already &ldquo;a huge goal of the public school system in New York.&rdquo; According to Graduate NYC&rsquo;s 2016 <a href="http://www.graduatenyc.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/GNYC-Report-Brief-2.pdf" target="_blank">report</a>, 47% of public high school graduates are college-ready, with the goal of increasing this number to 67% by 2020.</p> <p>Richmond explains that &ldquo;The college completion equation is certainly about preparedness, affordability, but it&rsquo;s also about persistence and completion in other ways. In being able to get the classes that you need, and get the advisement to understand what courses you need.&rdquo; It is these resources that may continue to hinder students on the path towards graduation, despite the possibility of free tuition.</p> <p>At the Council hearing, Murphy, the CUNY enrollment dean, lamented the lack of resources, like academic counselors, for even the current student population.</p> <p>CUNY&rsquo;s Accelerated Studies in Associate Programs (ASAP) is an oft-cited model of success in speeding up graduation rates, and is the closest initiative to a free-tuition policy that the university currently employs. According to a CUNY internal analysis of the program, the average three-year graduation rate for community college students enrolled in ASAP is 53%, compared to 25% of CUNY students not in ASAP and a 16% national average.</p> <p>What sets ASAP apart, they found, is the level of resources provided to students beyond free tuition. These resources include subsidized Metrocards, textbooks, and intensive mentoring and career services.</p> <p>According to the IBO <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/free-cuny-community-college-tuition.pdf" target="_blank">report</a>, &ldquo;an increase in graduation rates resulting from a more modest program that only offered free tuition could also produce fiscal benefits,&rdquo; however, the report &ldquo;emphasizes the importance of the full range of services offered&rdquo; by ASAP that exceed a tuition-free policy.</p> <p>While solely funding CUNY&rsquo;s community colleges has a more feasible price tag and would benefit the neediest students, concerns mounted at the Council hearing over what Harold Stolper, Senior Economist at the Community Service Society of New York, called &ldquo;under-matching.&rdquo; According to Stolper, &ldquo;even for low-income students who are sufficiently prepared to succeed at four-year colleges, the perception that this path is unaffordable reduces the incentives to apply to more selective colleges.&rdquo;</p> <p>If tuition were eliminated only at community colleges, the city may experience highly unbalanced enrollment rates between CUNY&rsquo;s two- and four-year colleges. Stolper claimed that this trend already exists on a smaller scale: between 2008 and 2014, he said, &ldquo;enrollment growth among the lowest income aid applicants was relatively slow at four-year colleges where price rose the fastest, while enrollment grew much faster for these students at two-year colleges where price growth was minimal.&rdquo;</p> <p>Including CUNY&rsquo;s 11 senior colleges in the deal, which, according to Abata&rsquo;s estimates, would increase the bill to around $784 million per year, poses its own challenges concerning enrollment rates.</p> <p>City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, of the Bronx, said at the hearing, &ldquo;Many of our colleges are literally bursting at the seams because of enrollment.&rdquo; Even with its cost, CUNY remains the most affordable choice for higher education within the city; many students receive partial tuition assistance, and 66% of full-time undergraduate students attend CUNY <a href="http://www1.cuny.edu/sites/value/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/page-assets/global/Fact-Book-and-News-Release.pdf" target="_blank">tuition free</a>. Should CUNY eliminate tuition for all students, however, people from all across the country may also flock to CUNY schools to take advantage of the chance to live and study for free in New York City.</p> <p>Murphy explained, &ldquo;A lot of these individuals come from communities in more affluent parts of the country, where they have one counselor for every 50 students [the rate is much more lopsided in New York City], and they just get their admissions applications out sooner.&rdquo; Many are concerned that these students would effectively shut out local New York high school graduates, for whom the policy is primarily meant to benefit in the first place.</p> <p>Ideally, a program that eliminates tuition would benefit as many students, in and out-of-state, as possible, without overextending resources from CUNY and the different levels of government contributing funding. This balance may very well be impossible to achieve.</p> <p>More presently, CUNY has been facing existential crises.</p> <p>From professors who have gone years without a raise to reports of leaky hallways and rodent-infested classrooms, CUNY has more than its fair share of challenges, in part due to government disinvestment. As the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/29/nyregion/dreams-stall-as-cuny-citys-engine-of-mobility-sputters.html" target="_blank">New York Times</a> reported in a May, state government funding for CUNY has dropped by 17% over the last eight years, resulting in budget cuts to many CUNY programs that affect students, professors, and staff. According to the Times, the number of adjunct faculty members, who are paid less and receive almost no contractual benefits, has risen by 23% since 2009.</p> <p>Stephen Brier, a Professor at the CUNY Graduate Center and co-author of Austerity Blues: Fighting for the Soul of Public Higher Education, cautioned that &ldquo;those endemic problems cannot and will not be solved by instituting a free tuition policy alone, however desirable that policy would be.&rdquo;</p> <p>According to Murphy, &ldquo;Over the past eight years, CUNY enrollment has increased by 30,000 students, and we do not currently have the faculty or space to significantly increase enrollment any further.&rdquo; A free-tuition policy may very well necessitate additional infrastructure, staff, and student resources.</p> <p>Michael Fabricant, First Vice President of the Professional Staff Congress, the union that represents over 25,000 CUNY employees, recommended that the task force add the goal of examining &ldquo;existing and potential sources of revenue that could provide resources beyond replacing tuition, given the university&rsquo;s serious and long-term underfunding.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>Is Free Tuition the Right Battle?</strong><br />Some argue that free-tuition initiatives won&rsquo;t benefit students in need, and ultimately gloss over foundational changes that need to be addressed first in the higher education system. Preston Cooper, policy analyst at the Manhattan Institute, said, &ldquo;I really don't think asking whether we should change who pays for college is the right question to be asking. It&rsquo;s how much we should be paying for college in the first place.&rdquo;</p> <p>According to Cooper, federal aid and tuition are caught in &ldquo;a vicious cycle&rdquo; in which increases in maximum federal aid encourage administrators to raise tuition, <a href="https://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/doubling-pell-grants-terrible-idea-8823.html" target="_blank">inflating</a> the cost of attendance. Cooper worries this cycle could be further inflamed by the establishment of free tuition, with CUNY &ldquo;tuition&rdquo; increased to try and capture additional aid from the state and city. The dynamic could prove costly and even prohibitive were a free-tuition program to be introduced that excluded out-of-state students.</p> <p>Another issue inherent in free tuition is what Max Eden, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, calls the &ldquo;substitution effect,&rdquo; where middle-class students, who may be able to afford college elsewhere, decide to go to CUNY to take advantage of free tuition, edging out lower-income students who view CUNY as their only option. This could decrease socioeconomic and other measures of diversity at CUNY - as of <a href="http://cuny.edu/about/administration/offices/ira/ir/surveys/student/SES_2014_Report_Final.pdf" target="_blank">Fall 2014</a>, 39% of undergraduate students had a household income of less than $20,000. Experts stress that it is this specific group, and not the entire population, that a targeted financial investment must be made towards.</p> <p>According to Eden, &ldquo;The government is involved in higher education to help solve a problem: that it might not be provided for kids with limited economic backgrounds. If, and when, it goes above and beyond that, to trying to subsidize everybody, that will not only have financial costs. It will have a cost to the reason the government got into it in the first place.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>Next Steps</strong><br />Moving ahead, it is to-be-seen whether the bill to create the tuition-free CUNY task force gains momentum, is passed by the Council and signed by the mayor. If it is enacted and the task force is formed and makes its recommendations, it would essentially then cease to exist, once again leaving the free-tuition discussion with state lawmakers and CUNY administrators.</p> <p>For now, CUNY has pressing needs. Fabricant, of the CUNY employee union, says, &ldquo;We need to remember that public higher education is a public good that the State of New York needs to recommit substantial economic resources to.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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by Amanda Sherwin, Gotham Gazette
      

Read more by this writer

</p>
Independent Budgeting a Little-Used Practice for City Watchdog Agencies 2016-06-02T04:00:00+00:00 2016-06-02T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6373:independent-budgeting-a-little-used-practice-for-city-watchdog-agencies Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/14139383374_9b21a28f39_z_1.jpg" alt="de blasio budget presentation independent budgeting" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio makes a budget presentation (photo via Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">During the annual budget process, city agencies and entities are at the mercy of the Mayor and the City Council, who ultimately set the budget. But unlike many, the several agencies and officials who regularly monitor, regulate, or litigate against the mayoral administration are put in an awkward situation, annually appealing for funding in a dynamic that can hamper their ability to carry out charter-mandated duties and, in some cases, lead to politically-motivated budget cuts.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Public Advocate, for example, is meant to act as a watchdog over the mayor, but relies on the mayor to determine the office’s budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">Representatives of the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board, tasked with training and regulating city employees including the Mayor and City Council members, have said this spring that their agency is underfunded but that repeated requests for additional funding have been turned down by the city’s Office of Management and Budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">Independent budgeting for oversight or autonomous entities, which include Borough Presidents, the Public Advocate, Comptroller, Department of Investigation, District Attorneys, and Conflict of Interest Board, is a solution that was once widely promoted by members of the public and government officials alike. Under independent budgeting, offices would receive a fixed annual amount scaled to the budget for a larger pertinent office or some set percentage of the city’s overall expense budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Independent Budget Office is the only city agency with fully independent budgeting, a position it enjoys because of its unique oversight duties. Rather than have its budget set by the Mayor, IBO receives "no less than" 12.5 percent of the annual budget of the Office of Management and Budget. The Campaign Finance Board also has a somewhat-independent budget—the Mayor must include an annual amount suggested by the CFB in the Executive Budget without adjusting it, but that amount is subject to recommendations made by the Borough Presidents, Comptroller, and Mayor, and can be amended by the City Council.</p> <p dir="ltr">Support for independent budgeting seems to have peaked during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, seemingly fueled by dissatisfaction with an especially thin budget. According to a <a href="http://www.citizensunion.org/www/cu/site/hosting/Reports/0610CU_Charter_Revision_Report&amp;Recommendations.pdf" target="_blank">2010 report</a> by government reform group Citizens Union, “most” of the borough presidents, the Conflict of Interest Board, former Public Advocates Mark Green and Betsy Gotbaum, and then Public Advocate Bill de Blasio had requested independent budgeting for their respective agencies by that year.</p> <p dir="ltr">“In this current structure, there is simply no way for a borough president to be a truly independent voice,” Marty Markowitz, then-borough president of Brooklyn, said in a 2010 testimony before the city Charter Revision Commission. “We go in and ‘pitch’ as if we were a nonprofit community group or cultural organization hoping upon hope that in the end, we get the funding we need for the staff and resources to do our Charter-mandated jobs.”</p> <p dir="ltr">That Charter Revision Commission did not reach a conclusion regarding independent budgeting, but vaguely urged future commissions to “devote significant resources to studying the roles of both COIB and various elected officials so as to make an intelligent assessment of their fiscal needs” and “assure the independence and stability of such entities.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In the years that followed, however, the $59.5 billion adopted budget for fiscal year 2010 swelled to an $82.2 billion executive budget for fiscal 2017 (the budget currently being finalized), and calls for independent budgeting waned. Between those two budgets, borough presidents’ combined operational budgets increased from $24.2 million to $26.7 million, the public advocate’s budget increased from $1.8 million to $3.3 million, and the five district attorneys combined budgets increased from $259 million to $324 million.</p> <p dir="ltr">Under the current administration, officials are loathe to call for independent budgeting. Last week, Public Advocate Letitia James declined to comment on the prospect of independent budgeting via a spokesperson. In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams did not say he supported independent budgeting, but that he “would be interested in reviewing any proposal” that he deemed fair. The other four borough presidents either declined to comment or did not respond to repeated requests for comment, as did the five district attorneys.</p> <p dir="ltr">One remaining proponent of independent budgeting is the Conflict of Interest Board, which has been especially vocal in recent years. The board first <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/conflicts/downloads/pdf2/charter_revision/chap_68_revisions_8_3_2009.pdf" target="_blank">proposed an amendment</a> to the city charter to establish independent budgeting in 2009. At the time, COIB said that its ability to fairly judge and regulate city officials was impeded by its place in the annual budgeting process, and requested that it receive no less than seven thousandths of one percent (0.00007%) of the city’s annual expense budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, COIB <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/126-city/6215-underfunded-conflicts-of-interest-board-struggles-to-meet-mandates" target="_blank">reiterated its proposal</a> with its request adjusted to four thousandths of one percent (0.00004%) of the city budget—a proposal that it stood by this year. The reduction corresponds to the Board’s decision to drop its request for investigative authority. Four thousandths of one percent of this year’s $82.2 billion Executive Budget would have given COIB $3.3 million; instead, it is allocated $2.33 million.</p> <p dir="ltr">Because COIB is an independent ethics agency without a source of revenue or set constituency, the Board’s argument goes, it should not have to rely on the officials it regulates to pass on the board’s funding. COIB has cited similar independent budgeting systems already in place for the state of Michigan’s Civil Service Commission, New Orleans’ Ethics Review Board, and Philadelphia’s Board of Ethics.</p> <p dir="ltr">Despite reiterations of this proposal by COIB every year, the city administration has not moved toward a charter amendment despite support from some City Council members. COIB Executive Director Carolyn Miller told Gotham Gazette that in her view, this inaction likely stemmed from administrative reluctance to increase the number of agencies not centrally monitored and controlled for financial reasons, which she acknowledged was “reasonable.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“There hasn't been that much receptivity generally,” Miller said. “I think probably it's more of an administration issue than a Council issue.”</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council Member Alan Maisel, chair of the Committee on Standards and Ethics, which has oversight of COIB, told Gotham Gazette that he agrees COIB should have independent budgeting.</p> <p dir="ltr">“They should not be dependent on a particular budget item because then of course there's always the implication that they're being prevented from doing their absolute necessary job,” Maisel said. “But it's not getting much traction. I think when it comes down to assigning dollars to different agencies this is not a priority.”</p> <p dir="ltr">COIB’s proposal is primarily an ethical one—although its independent budgeting proposal would increase the Board’s funding, Miller says COIB would still be underfunded. The board’s budget has been markedly anemic even after a 2010 charter amendment <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/conflicts/downloads/pdf2/annual_reports/final_report_2015.pdf" target="_blank">mandated that COIB provide biannual ethics training to all city employees</a>. That year, the Board’s supervisors took two percent pay cuts in order to maximize training personnel, and although COIB’s adopted budget increased from $1.88 million for fiscal 2010 to $2.22 million for fiscal 2016, those pay cuts have not been reversed, according to Miller. Meanwhile, the city employee headcount continues to swell, giving COIB more people to train and assist with ethical quandaries.</p> <p dir="ltr">This year, COIB testified at a preliminary budget hearing that it was underfunded and had made repeated requests to the city’s budget office for more funding. After being denied several times, COIB wrote a letter to the city budget office requesting just $26,000 in additional funds for its “most critical budget needs,” which was granted. Mayor de Blasio said he was unaware of the board’s financial struggle when asked about it by Gotham Gazette at a May 15 press conference, but <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6343-mayor-pledges-to-re-examine-conflicts-of-interest-board-funding" target="_blank">promised to reexamine</a> the board’s funding.</p> <p dir="ltr">Although calls for independent budgeting seem aimed at an agency’s financial stability, arguments for independent budgeting are rooted in the ability to regulate, monitor, or prosecute independently. Independent budgeting would provide protection for agencies like COIB, the Comptroller, Department of Investigation, Public Advocate, and District Attorneys—all of whom are ostensibly watchdogs of the mayoral administration—against vindictive mayors who might seek to hobble their effectiveness for political reasons.</p> <p dir="ltr">When the Independent Budget Office upset Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in 1998, its independent budget ultimately saved it from his <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1998/04/02/nyregion/giuliani-sued-over-access-to-city-data.html?scp=1&amp;sq=&quot;giuliani%20sued&quot;&amp;st=cse" target="_blank">attempts to defund the agency in retaliation</a>. IBO had charged the mayor with violating the City Charter by withholding city finance information from the budget office, and Giuliani, a Republican, called IBO “the most partisan group of Democrats” and implied the agency should be abolished. Because of IBO’s independent budget, however, Giuliani was unable to weaken the budget office’s funding in subsequent years.</p> <p dir="ltr">“IBO would not have come into being were it not for the guaranteed budget line, and it certainly would not have remained in business...Why would the Mayor or Speaker [of the City Council] want the city to fund an agency over which they had no control? You can understand the political calculus,” IBO Director Ronnie Lowenstein told Gotham Gazette. “In the past, borough presidents and public advocates have also fought with similar logic to get a budget guarantee.</p> <p dir="ltr">Throughout his time in office, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-independent, made his displeasure with the office of the Public Advocate clear in word and deed, <a href="http://gothamist.com/2009/10/13/bloomberg_public_advocate_fat_waste.php" target="_blank">calling</a> it a “total waste of everybody’s money” even after reducing its budget from $2.9 million to $1.8 million. Last year, former Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum told Gotham Gazette that mechanisms should have been in place to protect her office from Bloomberg’s personal motivations.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The mayor…should not be controlling the budget of the person who’s looking over their shoulder,” Gotbaum said. “Because [Bloomberg] would get furious at me and then come June, July, he’d cut the budget.” (All four public advocates, including the current one, Letitia James, have been Democrats.)</p> <p dir="ltr">As the first former public advocate to be elected mayor, de Blasio quickly increased the public advocate’s budget to $3.2 million for fiscal 2015 and then to $3.4 million for fiscal 2016. James took advantage of the budget increase to <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5856-suing-the-hand-that-feeds-you-tish-james-de-blasio" target="_blank">carve out an enhanced, especially litigious role</a> for her office. While taking on certain issues and criticizing specific city agencies, James has not been publicly critical of de Blasio. She has also not called for independent budgeting.</p> <p dir="ltr">Maisel sees the public advocate’s current power and budget as tenuous. “The job of the public advocate is to look into everything and try to correct the things that need to be corrected. Some people take it personally, like mayors,” Maisel said. “Betsy Gotbaum was not a malicious individual, she saw a need for her to do certain things. And Giuliani and Bloomberg both belittled whoever the public advocate was.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Maisel’s view is in line with the 2010 Citizens Union report, which concluded that it “undermines honesty and integrity in our elected officials if they feel the need to couch their remarks and opinions for fear of having their budget cut.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan, independent budget watchdog organization, does not have a stance on independent budgeting according to Vice President Maria Doulis, who added in a statement to Gotham Gazette that CBC does “caution against dedicated formulas” for funding agencies.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Comptroller and Department of Investigation are also responsible for weeding out fraud and abuse among city officials, but have not undergone the same level of financial turbulence from administration to administration as the public advocate. While the Comptroller’s funding has increased steadily from $66 million in the fiscal 2010 adopted budget to $96 million in this year’s executive budget, DOI funding has increased by nearly 43 percent in the past year to $47 million in this year’s executive budget, which scales with a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6212-government-investigator-explains-43-budget-bump" target="_blank">newly proactive role</a> the department has taken on. Spokespeople for both the Comptroller and DOI declined to comment on the prospect of independent budgeting.</p> <p dir="ltr">Like the Public Advocate, who regularly files suits against the de Blasio administration, District Attorneys are responsible for pursuing public corruption cases against city and state officials. In a notable recent example of such action, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance subpoenaed City Hall last month as part of his investigation into the fundraising activities of Mayor de Blasio and his allies.</p> <p dir="ltr">Some have pointed to a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6310-vance-has-ties-to-several-in-de-blasio-probe" target="_blank">web of political connections</a> between Vance and de Blasio, one strand being the simple fact that de Blasio sets the annual budget for Vance’s office. A spokesperson for Vance declined to comment on the topic of independent budgeting. All five district attorney offices <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6351-district-attorneys-city-council-agree-mayor-is-underfunding-das" target="_blank">recently testified at a City Council budget hearing</a> that they are in need of more funds.</p> <p>“In most cases you wouldn't have the investigative agency at the mercy of the executive when the executive is going to be the subject of the investigation, that makes no sense,” Maisel said. “There should be some impartial way of determining how much money a District Attorney gets so it's not subject to the whims of who happens to be in the administration doing the budget.”</p> <p>

***
by Aaron Holmes, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to reflect that IBO receives no less than 12.5% of the OMB budget, not 10% as previously stated.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/14139383374_9b21a28f39_z_1.jpg" alt="de blasio budget presentation independent budgeting" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio makes a budget presentation (photo via Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">During the annual budget process, city agencies and entities are at the mercy of the Mayor and the City Council, who ultimately set the budget. But unlike many, the several agencies and officials who regularly monitor, regulate, or litigate against the mayoral administration are put in an awkward situation, annually appealing for funding in a dynamic that can hamper their ability to carry out charter-mandated duties and, in some cases, lead to politically-motivated budget cuts.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Public Advocate, for example, is meant to act as a watchdog over the mayor, but relies on the mayor to determine the office’s budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">Representatives of the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board, tasked with training and regulating city employees including the Mayor and City Council members, have said this spring that their agency is underfunded but that repeated requests for additional funding have been turned down by the city’s Office of Management and Budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">Independent budgeting for oversight or autonomous entities, which include Borough Presidents, the Public Advocate, Comptroller, Department of Investigation, District Attorneys, and Conflict of Interest Board, is a solution that was once widely promoted by members of the public and government officials alike. Under independent budgeting, offices would receive a fixed annual amount scaled to the budget for a larger pertinent office or some set percentage of the city’s overall expense budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Independent Budget Office is the only city agency with fully independent budgeting, a position it enjoys because of its unique oversight duties. Rather than have its budget set by the Mayor, IBO receives "no less than" 12.5 percent of the annual budget of the Office of Management and Budget. The Campaign Finance Board also has a somewhat-independent budget—the Mayor must include an annual amount suggested by the CFB in the Executive Budget without adjusting it, but that amount is subject to recommendations made by the Borough Presidents, Comptroller, and Mayor, and can be amended by the City Council.</p> <p dir="ltr">Support for independent budgeting seems to have peaked during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, seemingly fueled by dissatisfaction with an especially thin budget. According to a <a href="http://www.citizensunion.org/www/cu/site/hosting/Reports/0610CU_Charter_Revision_Report&amp;Recommendations.pdf" target="_blank">2010 report</a> by government reform group Citizens Union, “most” of the borough presidents, the Conflict of Interest Board, former Public Advocates Mark Green and Betsy Gotbaum, and then Public Advocate Bill de Blasio had requested independent budgeting for their respective agencies by that year.</p> <p dir="ltr">“In this current structure, there is simply no way for a borough president to be a truly independent voice,” Marty Markowitz, then-borough president of Brooklyn, said in a 2010 testimony before the city Charter Revision Commission. “We go in and ‘pitch’ as if we were a nonprofit community group or cultural organization hoping upon hope that in the end, we get the funding we need for the staff and resources to do our Charter-mandated jobs.”</p> <p dir="ltr">That Charter Revision Commission did not reach a conclusion regarding independent budgeting, but vaguely urged future commissions to “devote significant resources to studying the roles of both COIB and various elected officials so as to make an intelligent assessment of their fiscal needs” and “assure the independence and stability of such entities.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In the years that followed, however, the $59.5 billion adopted budget for fiscal year 2010 swelled to an $82.2 billion executive budget for fiscal 2017 (the budget currently being finalized), and calls for independent budgeting waned. Between those two budgets, borough presidents’ combined operational budgets increased from $24.2 million to $26.7 million, the public advocate’s budget increased from $1.8 million to $3.3 million, and the five district attorneys combined budgets increased from $259 million to $324 million.</p> <p dir="ltr">Under the current administration, officials are loathe to call for independent budgeting. Last week, Public Advocate Letitia James declined to comment on the prospect of independent budgeting via a spokesperson. In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams did not say he supported independent budgeting, but that he “would be interested in reviewing any proposal” that he deemed fair. The other four borough presidents either declined to comment or did not respond to repeated requests for comment, as did the five district attorneys.</p> <p dir="ltr">One remaining proponent of independent budgeting is the Conflict of Interest Board, which has been especially vocal in recent years. The board first <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/conflicts/downloads/pdf2/charter_revision/chap_68_revisions_8_3_2009.pdf" target="_blank">proposed an amendment</a> to the city charter to establish independent budgeting in 2009. At the time, COIB said that its ability to fairly judge and regulate city officials was impeded by its place in the annual budgeting process, and requested that it receive no less than seven thousandths of one percent (0.00007%) of the city’s annual expense budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, COIB <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/126-city/6215-underfunded-conflicts-of-interest-board-struggles-to-meet-mandates" target="_blank">reiterated its proposal</a> with its request adjusted to four thousandths of one percent (0.00004%) of the city budget—a proposal that it stood by this year. The reduction corresponds to the Board’s decision to drop its request for investigative authority. Four thousandths of one percent of this year’s $82.2 billion Executive Budget would have given COIB $3.3 million; instead, it is allocated $2.33 million.</p> <p dir="ltr">Because COIB is an independent ethics agency without a source of revenue or set constituency, the Board’s argument goes, it should not have to rely on the officials it regulates to pass on the board’s funding. COIB has cited similar independent budgeting systems already in place for the state of Michigan’s Civil Service Commission, New Orleans’ Ethics Review Board, and Philadelphia’s Board of Ethics.</p> <p dir="ltr">Despite reiterations of this proposal by COIB every year, the city administration has not moved toward a charter amendment despite support from some City Council members. COIB Executive Director Carolyn Miller told Gotham Gazette that in her view, this inaction likely stemmed from administrative reluctance to increase the number of agencies not centrally monitored and controlled for financial reasons, which she acknowledged was “reasonable.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“There hasn't been that much receptivity generally,” Miller said. “I think probably it's more of an administration issue than a Council issue.”</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council Member Alan Maisel, chair of the Committee on Standards and Ethics, which has oversight of COIB, told Gotham Gazette that he agrees COIB should have independent budgeting.</p> <p dir="ltr">“They should not be dependent on a particular budget item because then of course there's always the implication that they're being prevented from doing their absolute necessary job,” Maisel said. “But it's not getting much traction. I think when it comes down to assigning dollars to different agencies this is not a priority.”</p> <p dir="ltr">COIB’s proposal is primarily an ethical one—although its independent budgeting proposal would increase the Board’s funding, Miller says COIB would still be underfunded. The board’s budget has been markedly anemic even after a 2010 charter amendment <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/conflicts/downloads/pdf2/annual_reports/final_report_2015.pdf" target="_blank">mandated that COIB provide biannual ethics training to all city employees</a>. That year, the Board’s supervisors took two percent pay cuts in order to maximize training personnel, and although COIB’s adopted budget increased from $1.88 million for fiscal 2010 to $2.22 million for fiscal 2016, those pay cuts have not been reversed, according to Miller. Meanwhile, the city employee headcount continues to swell, giving COIB more people to train and assist with ethical quandaries.</p> <p dir="ltr">This year, COIB testified at a preliminary budget hearing that it was underfunded and had made repeated requests to the city’s budget office for more funding. After being denied several times, COIB wrote a letter to the city budget office requesting just $26,000 in additional funds for its “most critical budget needs,” which was granted. Mayor de Blasio said he was unaware of the board’s financial struggle when asked about it by Gotham Gazette at a May 15 press conference, but <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6343-mayor-pledges-to-re-examine-conflicts-of-interest-board-funding" target="_blank">promised to reexamine</a> the board’s funding.</p> <p dir="ltr">Although calls for independent budgeting seem aimed at an agency’s financial stability, arguments for independent budgeting are rooted in the ability to regulate, monitor, or prosecute independently. Independent budgeting would provide protection for agencies like COIB, the Comptroller, Department of Investigation, Public Advocate, and District Attorneys—all of whom are ostensibly watchdogs of the mayoral administration—against vindictive mayors who might seek to hobble their effectiveness for political reasons.</p> <p dir="ltr">When the Independent Budget Office upset Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in 1998, its independent budget ultimately saved it from his <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1998/04/02/nyregion/giuliani-sued-over-access-to-city-data.html?scp=1&amp;sq=&quot;giuliani%20sued&quot;&amp;st=cse" target="_blank">attempts to defund the agency in retaliation</a>. IBO had charged the mayor with violating the City Charter by withholding city finance information from the budget office, and Giuliani, a Republican, called IBO “the most partisan group of Democrats” and implied the agency should be abolished. Because of IBO’s independent budget, however, Giuliani was unable to weaken the budget office’s funding in subsequent years.</p> <p dir="ltr">“IBO would not have come into being were it not for the guaranteed budget line, and it certainly would not have remained in business...Why would the Mayor or Speaker [of the City Council] want the city to fund an agency over which they had no control? You can understand the political calculus,” IBO Director Ronnie Lowenstein told Gotham Gazette. “In the past, borough presidents and public advocates have also fought with similar logic to get a budget guarantee.</p> <p dir="ltr">Throughout his time in office, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-independent, made his displeasure with the office of the Public Advocate clear in word and deed, <a href="http://gothamist.com/2009/10/13/bloomberg_public_advocate_fat_waste.php" target="_blank">calling</a> it a “total waste of everybody’s money” even after reducing its budget from $2.9 million to $1.8 million. Last year, former Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum told Gotham Gazette that mechanisms should have been in place to protect her office from Bloomberg’s personal motivations.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The mayor…should not be controlling the budget of the person who’s looking over their shoulder,” Gotbaum said. “Because [Bloomberg] would get furious at me and then come June, July, he’d cut the budget.” (All four public advocates, including the current one, Letitia James, have been Democrats.)</p> <p dir="ltr">As the first former public advocate to be elected mayor, de Blasio quickly increased the public advocate’s budget to $3.2 million for fiscal 2015 and then to $3.4 million for fiscal 2016. James took advantage of the budget increase to <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5856-suing-the-hand-that-feeds-you-tish-james-de-blasio" target="_blank">carve out an enhanced, especially litigious role</a> for her office. While taking on certain issues and criticizing specific city agencies, James has not been publicly critical of de Blasio. She has also not called for independent budgeting.</p> <p dir="ltr">Maisel sees the public advocate’s current power and budget as tenuous. “The job of the public advocate is to look into everything and try to correct the things that need to be corrected. Some people take it personally, like mayors,” Maisel said. “Betsy Gotbaum was not a malicious individual, she saw a need for her to do certain things. And Giuliani and Bloomberg both belittled whoever the public advocate was.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Maisel’s view is in line with the 2010 Citizens Union report, which concluded that it “undermines honesty and integrity in our elected officials if they feel the need to couch their remarks and opinions for fear of having their budget cut.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan, independent budget watchdog organization, does not have a stance on independent budgeting according to Vice President Maria Doulis, who added in a statement to Gotham Gazette that CBC does “caution against dedicated formulas” for funding agencies.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Comptroller and Department of Investigation are also responsible for weeding out fraud and abuse among city officials, but have not undergone the same level of financial turbulence from administration to administration as the public advocate. While the Comptroller’s funding has increased steadily from $66 million in the fiscal 2010 adopted budget to $96 million in this year’s executive budget, DOI funding has increased by nearly 43 percent in the past year to $47 million in this year’s executive budget, which scales with a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6212-government-investigator-explains-43-budget-bump" target="_blank">newly proactive role</a> the department has taken on. Spokespeople for both the Comptroller and DOI declined to comment on the prospect of independent budgeting.</p> <p dir="ltr">Like the Public Advocate, who regularly files suits against the de Blasio administration, District Attorneys are responsible for pursuing public corruption cases against city and state officials. In a notable recent example of such action, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance subpoenaed City Hall last month as part of his investigation into the fundraising activities of Mayor de Blasio and his allies.</p> <p dir="ltr">Some have pointed to a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6310-vance-has-ties-to-several-in-de-blasio-probe" target="_blank">web of political connections</a> between Vance and de Blasio, one strand being the simple fact that de Blasio sets the annual budget for Vance’s office. A spokesperson for Vance declined to comment on the topic of independent budgeting. All five district attorney offices <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6351-district-attorneys-city-council-agree-mayor-is-underfunding-das" target="_blank">recently testified at a City Council budget hearing</a> that they are in need of more funds.</p> <p>“In most cases you wouldn't have the investigative agency at the mercy of the executive when the executive is going to be the subject of the investigation, that makes no sense,” Maisel said. “There should be some impartial way of determining how much money a District Attorney gets so it's not subject to the whims of who happens to be in the administration doing the budget.”</p> <p>

***
by Aaron Holmes, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to reflect that IBO receives no less than 12.5% of the OMB budget, not 10% as previously stated.</p>
Once Rife with Problems, City Budget Process Now a Model for State System in Need of Reform 2016-01-18T05:28:20+00:00 2016-01-18T05:28:20+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6097:once-rife-with-problems-city-budget-process-now-a-model-for-state-system-in-need-of-reform kfan <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/14201878985_7561049369_z.jpg" alt="cuomo exec budget pres 2014" height="399" width="600" /></p> <p>Governor Cuomo <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/governorandrewcuomo/14201878985/in/dateposted/" target="_blank">presents</a> his 2014-2015 Executive Budget</p> <hr /> <p>In 1975 New York City was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, having balanced its budget for years with massive borrowing and shady accounting tricks. Banks were at the point where they would lend no more. Mayor Abe Beame had written the announcement of the city's default. City lawyers were in State Supreme Court filing a petition for bankruptcy and police were prepared to serve the banks.</p> <p>At the last minute bankruptcy was averted as the federal government provided the city with loans. Those loans combined with the state-created Financial Control Board, which required the city to use generally accepted accounting practices and provide four-year financial plans, are credited with turning things around.</p> <p>Gone were the days when operating expenses were reclassified as capital investments, when labor costs were paid for with new loans, when raids on existing funds were acceptable ways to pay for new expenses. The city underwent such a turnaround in the following decades that its budget process is now thought to be a shining beacon across the country. The Financial Control Board that used to strike fear into the hearts of mayors is now a sleepy, almost forgotten entity.</p> <p>The state government, however, is facing a crisis of its own--not a fiscal one, but a crisis of trust, brought on by a series of convictions of sitting legislators that was capped late last year by the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. For years, the Silver and Skelos served as two of the 'three men in a room' deciding the budget with the Governor. It's a process that has been decried by good government advocates, reform-minded legislators, and the U.S Attorney, Preet Bharara, who brought Silver and Skelos to justice for abusing their positions.</p> <p>"I think people should start to talk about budget transparency as a matter of ethics," said Sen. Liz Krueger, the Democrats' ranking member on the state Senate finance committee. "People really should care about the lack of transparency in the state budget process for a whole lot of reasons. One of them is that if you don't know what's going on, pay-to-play wins the day. If someone wants something in the budget they get it there with a whole lot of lobbying money that no one knows about. That's the harm, that's the danger and I'll tell you that happens constantly."</p> <p>A number of major corruption cases, including Silver's, have centered on the opaqueness of the budget process that allows legislators and the governor to put aside secret slush funds. For example, Silver was able to direct discretionary funding to a cancer doctor who in turn sent Silver and his law firm lucrative clients suffering from a rare form of cancer.</p> <p>Former Sen. Malcolm Smith was convicted in a scheme whereby he would provide a developer a $500,000 lump sum from the budget. <a href="http://www.citizensunion.org/site_res_view_template.aspx?id=44c00241-f127-49c8-b019-f2d3d8cd1c41" target="_blank">A report</a> from good government group Citizens Union found that the 2014 and 2015 fiscal year budgets had over $3 billion in lump funds, while Cuomo's proposed 2016 budget had around $2.6 billion. Citizens Union, Common Cause NY, and NYPIRG have this year <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6069-good-government-groups-want-legislators-to-pledge-to-fight-for-reform" target="_blank">called on legislators</a> to support reforms making budget spending more transparent.</p> <p>"Preet Bharara, the federal prosecutor who convicted both Silver and Skelos, basically said the strongest tool these guys had to game the system was unbridled power and an unbelievable lack of transparency in policing 'three men in a room,'" said Assemblymember Jim Tedisco, a Republican from the Capital Region who has proposed a bill that would force any pot of cash negotiated in the budget to be line-itemed and mandate that it is publicly documented how the cash is eventually spent.</p> <p>"The other thing Bharara told us is 'if you see something, say something,'" Tedisco said. "I didn't know about these pots of money and I'm sure my Democratic colleagues in the chamber didn't know either. So if you don't know who got the money, you can't stop what's going on. We just don't have that transparency holistically."</p> <p>Slush funds aren't the only part of the state budget that thwart transparency. Today the bad practices New York City was forced to abandon are commonplace in the state budget process. The state budgets without generally accepted accounting practices, routinely raids other programs, has lump-sum appropriations where spending is at times decided by memorandum of understanding between the governor and legislators, and routinely pushes expenses down the road.</p> <p>This year Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed a slew of major infrastructure projects including the revamp of Penn Station and a third track for the Long Island Rail Road, but his budget proposal does not lay out how to fund them. Meanwhile, his budget continues funneling cash to economic development projects that are managed by entities with little transparency. Cuomo's Buffalo Billion project is currently <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/28/nyregion/us-investigating-contract-awards-in-buffalo-turnaround-project.html?_r=0" target="_blank">under investigation</a> by Bharara's office.</p> <p>Frank Mauro, executive director emeritus of the Fiscal Policy Institute, who also served as the director of research for the city's last major charter revision and as secretary of the Assembly's ways and means committee, said that the differences between the city and state budget processes are striking. "I don't think many people know just how different the city process is from the state's," said Mauro.</p> <p>The city budget process begins when the Mayor submits his Preliminary Budget to the City Council before January 21 each year (this was just moved from Jan. 16). Then the City Council holds public hearings over a period of several weeks, bringing in agency commissioners and budget directors to examine spending, considers budget priorities from community boards and borough presidents, and takes testimony from groups and citizens.</p> <p>The Council must issue its findings and recommendations by March 25. The Mayor then has until April 26 to propose an Executive Budget, with explanations of programs as well as a fiscal outlook for the city. The Council then holds another series of public hearings which are followed by negotiations between the mayor's budget office and the Council finance division. These negotiations must result in a balanced budget by the end of June, with the new fiscal year beginning July 1.</p> <p>The Council <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/about/budget.shtml" target="_blank">is allowed</a> to increase, decrease, add or omit any appropriation for personal services, or omit or change conditions related to any appropriation. The Council then votes on the budget. The mayor can veto any additions or increases the Council adds but may not interfere with any decreases.</p> <p>The city process also includes a significant role for the Comptroller, who oversees city contracts and audits city agencies. The Comptroller is the city's chief financial watchdog and analyzes the Mayor's budget proposals, performing independent forecasting, raising red flags, and making recommendations.</p> <p>"In the state budget you have to investigate where the money has gone, where certain programs are accounted for, and even then, good luck," said Sen. Krueger. "Even the [state] comptroller's office does not know until years later what was actually spent."</p> <p>The state process begins when the Governor devises an Executive Budget based on the needs of agencies and any programs he or she supports and delivers the budget to the Legislature. Both houses of the the Legislature put out their own budgets, mainly to signal their major priorities for the year. The Governor delivers his executive budget along with appropriation, revenue and budget bills by February 1. The Legislature typically holds a series of budget hearings on particular topics, like transportation and local governments.</p> <p>Under reform legislation passed in 2007, the Legislature is supposed to convene conference committees between both houses to reach agreements on aspects of the budget and set priorities. These committees have been ignored in the past despite the reform legislation.</p> <p>The Governor and Legislature are also required agree on a revenue forecast on or before March 1. They are generally very good at doing this, failure to do so results in the state Comptroller setting the forecast. The Legislature can only reduce or entirely remove spending proposed by the Governor and it has no control over the Governor's proposals for spending. The Legislature can add spending, but the Governor has the ability to line-item veto. The Legislature must vote on a budget by April 1, which is the start of the state's fiscal year.</p> <p>It isn't until the budget is voted on that a new financial plan is created showing how all the changes impact spending. So while a budget may start as balanced under the Governor's proposed plan, it rarely ends that way.</p> <p>The state budget is usually full of non-budget policies because the budget process gives the Governor the upper hand - the Legislature can either negotiate the Governor's priorities, stall, or fail to vote on a budget on time, in which case the Governor can simply issue emergency extenders that put his budget into place.</p> <p>Budgets are normally negotiated exclusively between the two majority leaders of the Legislature and the Governor, and time and again budget bills are not given the three-day waiting period for review mandated by law. Instead, the Governor issues messages of necessity that allow the budget bills to be voted on immediately. The result is legislators voting on voluminous budget bills late at night, having little or no time to actually read them. "To say there is any level of public review is just insulting," Krueger said.</p> <p>"I think the biggest difference between the state and city budget processes is that the state budget is a political negotiation and you don't see a financial plan until a month later," said Tammy Gamerman, a senior research associate with the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC). "With the city they tell you how they are going to balance the budget."</p> <p>Adding further mystery to the state budget, Governor Cuomo has taken to combining his State of the State address and Executive Budget presentation, doing so this year and last. This leads to less public explanation of the budget and more focus on big policy initiatives the governor is backing. In his speech last week, the governor laid out a number of government ethics proposals, including public financing of campaigns. He did not discuss changing the budget process.</p> <p>The city budget process is not perfect, of course. The City Council continues to push the Mayor to more specifically account for agency spending, providing more units of appropriation instead of lump sums. There is also a good deal of discretionary spending available to the City Council Speaker that watchdogs want more accounting for.</p> <p>Sen. Krueger, who is one of the most outspoken legislators during late night state budget votes, picking at and tracking spending threads while most legislators are waiting to simply cast a "yes" vote and get back to their districts, said that 'three men in a room' has led to an absolute lack of budget transparency and alienated the public.</p> <p>Krueger says she has seen a decrease in attendance at budget hearings, even from groups that have a lot at stake in the budget. "At the end of the budget process each year, after I'm done beating my head against the wall over one thing that made it through the budget process or the other, I come to find out there are 16 other things I missed," Krueger told Gotham Gazette. "I don't catch a huge number of things and I do care about this. So imagine what it is like for someone who isn't a legislator, who doesn't have experience with this. I want people to know they should be involved in the process. They should come to hearings just to point out 'Hey, you know New York has state parks that need to be funded and that isn't in here.'"</p> <p>Most rank-and-file legislators and advocates acknowledge that budget reform is not a hot topic at the moment. The last time there was major attention on the subject was in 2009 when Senate Democrats briefly controlled the chamber. They issued <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/sites/default/files/articles/attachments/krueger_budget_ar09_v1r2-final.pdf" target="_blank">a report</a> that recommended conference committees be given control over larger sums of budget funds, that the state adopt generally accepted accounting principles, a two-year budget cycle, and the creation of a legislative budget office.</p> <p>Krueger has since introduced bills that would create a state agency in the model of the city's <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/" target="_blank">Independent Budget Office</a> - a nonpartisan, publically funded agency that provides information to elected officials and the public about the budget, reviews budget proposals, and provides policy analysis. The bill has gone nowhere in the Senate.</p> <p>Krueger and other reformers also want to see the state require bills to have truthful financial impact statements. Currently, bills introduced from rank-and-file legislators, committee chairs, legislative leaders, or the Governor are supposed to have impact statements, but some simply lack them while others are presented in a dishonest way. Rather than presenting a program's cost for a year, some bills only represent a month's cost, or less.</p> <p>Gamerman said she feels that some progress has been made toward budget transparency over the last few years.</p> <p>"Accountability issues born of the financial crisis of the '70s forced the city to use generally accepted accounting principles," said Gamerman. "There isn't any similar oversight of the state. The state has increased transparency through the <a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/" target="_blank">Open Budget website</a>. There is more info on agency spending. One of the big differences between the city and state is the city does a much better job tracking performance with the Mayor's Management Report. The state has been talking about doing something similar."</p> <p>Mauro said that he finds it unlikely there will be a major push for reform unless the Legislature feels the Governor is abusing his current powers because the status quo still works for the leadership. "It's an unlikely scenario where the Governor isn't running roughshod over the Legislature with budget powers that we'll see a push for change," said Mauro.</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/14201878985_7561049369_z.jpg" alt="cuomo exec budget pres 2014" height="399" width="600" /></p> <p>Governor Cuomo <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/governorandrewcuomo/14201878985/in/dateposted/" target="_blank">presents</a> his 2014-2015 Executive Budget</p> <hr /> <p>In 1975 New York City was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, having balanced its budget for years with massive borrowing and shady accounting tricks. Banks were at the point where they would lend no more. Mayor Abe Beame had written the announcement of the city's default. City lawyers were in State Supreme Court filing a petition for bankruptcy and police were prepared to serve the banks.</p> <p>At the last minute bankruptcy was averted as the federal government provided the city with loans. Those loans combined with the state-created Financial Control Board, which required the city to use generally accepted accounting practices and provide four-year financial plans, are credited with turning things around.</p> <p>Gone were the days when operating expenses were reclassified as capital investments, when labor costs were paid for with new loans, when raids on existing funds were acceptable ways to pay for new expenses. The city underwent such a turnaround in the following decades that its budget process is now thought to be a shining beacon across the country. The Financial Control Board that used to strike fear into the hearts of mayors is now a sleepy, almost forgotten entity.</p> <p>The state government, however, is facing a crisis of its own--not a fiscal one, but a crisis of trust, brought on by a series of convictions of sitting legislators that was capped late last year by the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. For years, the Silver and Skelos served as two of the 'three men in a room' deciding the budget with the Governor. It's a process that has been decried by good government advocates, reform-minded legislators, and the U.S Attorney, Preet Bharara, who brought Silver and Skelos to justice for abusing their positions.</p> <p>"I think people should start to talk about budget transparency as a matter of ethics," said Sen. Liz Krueger, the Democrats' ranking member on the state Senate finance committee. "People really should care about the lack of transparency in the state budget process for a whole lot of reasons. One of them is that if you don't know what's going on, pay-to-play wins the day. If someone wants something in the budget they get it there with a whole lot of lobbying money that no one knows about. That's the harm, that's the danger and I'll tell you that happens constantly."</p> <p>A number of major corruption cases, including Silver's, have centered on the opaqueness of the budget process that allows legislators and the governor to put aside secret slush funds. For example, Silver was able to direct discretionary funding to a cancer doctor who in turn sent Silver and his law firm lucrative clients suffering from a rare form of cancer.</p> <p>Former Sen. Malcolm Smith was convicted in a scheme whereby he would provide a developer a $500,000 lump sum from the budget. <a href="http://www.citizensunion.org/site_res_view_template.aspx?id=44c00241-f127-49c8-b019-f2d3d8cd1c41" target="_blank">A report</a> from good government group Citizens Union found that the 2014 and 2015 fiscal year budgets had over $3 billion in lump funds, while Cuomo's proposed 2016 budget had around $2.6 billion. Citizens Union, Common Cause NY, and NYPIRG have this year <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6069-good-government-groups-want-legislators-to-pledge-to-fight-for-reform" target="_blank">called on legislators</a> to support reforms making budget spending more transparent.</p> <p>"Preet Bharara, the federal prosecutor who convicted both Silver and Skelos, basically said the strongest tool these guys had to game the system was unbridled power and an unbelievable lack of transparency in policing 'three men in a room,'" said Assemblymember Jim Tedisco, a Republican from the Capital Region who has proposed a bill that would force any pot of cash negotiated in the budget to be line-itemed and mandate that it is publicly documented how the cash is eventually spent.</p> <p>"The other thing Bharara told us is 'if you see something, say something,'" Tedisco said. "I didn't know about these pots of money and I'm sure my Democratic colleagues in the chamber didn't know either. So if you don't know who got the money, you can't stop what's going on. We just don't have that transparency holistically."</p> <p>Slush funds aren't the only part of the state budget that thwart transparency. Today the bad practices New York City was forced to abandon are commonplace in the state budget process. The state budgets without generally accepted accounting practices, routinely raids other programs, has lump-sum appropriations where spending is at times decided by memorandum of understanding between the governor and legislators, and routinely pushes expenses down the road.</p> <p>This year Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed a slew of major infrastructure projects including the revamp of Penn Station and a third track for the Long Island Rail Road, but his budget proposal does not lay out how to fund them. Meanwhile, his budget continues funneling cash to economic development projects that are managed by entities with little transparency. Cuomo's Buffalo Billion project is currently <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/28/nyregion/us-investigating-contract-awards-in-buffalo-turnaround-project.html?_r=0" target="_blank">under investigation</a> by Bharara's office.</p> <p>Frank Mauro, executive director emeritus of the Fiscal Policy Institute, who also served as the director of research for the city's last major charter revision and as secretary of the Assembly's ways and means committee, said that the differences between the city and state budget processes are striking. "I don't think many people know just how different the city process is from the state's," said Mauro.</p> <p>The city budget process begins when the Mayor submits his Preliminary Budget to the City Council before January 21 each year (this was just moved from Jan. 16). Then the City Council holds public hearings over a period of several weeks, bringing in agency commissioners and budget directors to examine spending, considers budget priorities from community boards and borough presidents, and takes testimony from groups and citizens.</p> <p>The Council must issue its findings and recommendations by March 25. The Mayor then has until April 26 to propose an Executive Budget, with explanations of programs as well as a fiscal outlook for the city. The Council then holds another series of public hearings which are followed by negotiations between the mayor's budget office and the Council finance division. These negotiations must result in a balanced budget by the end of June, with the new fiscal year beginning July 1.</p> <p>The Council <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/about/budget.shtml" target="_blank">is allowed</a> to increase, decrease, add or omit any appropriation for personal services, or omit or change conditions related to any appropriation. The Council then votes on the budget. The mayor can veto any additions or increases the Council adds but may not interfere with any decreases.</p> <p>The city process also includes a significant role for the Comptroller, who oversees city contracts and audits city agencies. The Comptroller is the city's chief financial watchdog and analyzes the Mayor's budget proposals, performing independent forecasting, raising red flags, and making recommendations.</p> <p>"In the state budget you have to investigate where the money has gone, where certain programs are accounted for, and even then, good luck," said Sen. Krueger. "Even the [state] comptroller's office does not know until years later what was actually spent."</p> <p>The state process begins when the Governor devises an Executive Budget based on the needs of agencies and any programs he or she supports and delivers the budget to the Legislature. Both houses of the the Legislature put out their own budgets, mainly to signal their major priorities for the year. The Governor delivers his executive budget along with appropriation, revenue and budget bills by February 1. The Legislature typically holds a series of budget hearings on particular topics, like transportation and local governments.</p> <p>Under reform legislation passed in 2007, the Legislature is supposed to convene conference committees between both houses to reach agreements on aspects of the budget and set priorities. These committees have been ignored in the past despite the reform legislation.</p> <p>The Governor and Legislature are also required agree on a revenue forecast on or before March 1. They are generally very good at doing this, failure to do so results in the state Comptroller setting the forecast. The Legislature can only reduce or entirely remove spending proposed by the Governor and it has no control over the Governor's proposals for spending. The Legislature can add spending, but the Governor has the ability to line-item veto. The Legislature must vote on a budget by April 1, which is the start of the state's fiscal year.</p> <p>It isn't until the budget is voted on that a new financial plan is created showing how all the changes impact spending. So while a budget may start as balanced under the Governor's proposed plan, it rarely ends that way.</p> <p>The state budget is usually full of non-budget policies because the budget process gives the Governor the upper hand - the Legislature can either negotiate the Governor's priorities, stall, or fail to vote on a budget on time, in which case the Governor can simply issue emergency extenders that put his budget into place.</p> <p>Budgets are normally negotiated exclusively between the two majority leaders of the Legislature and the Governor, and time and again budget bills are not given the three-day waiting period for review mandated by law. Instead, the Governor issues messages of necessity that allow the budget bills to be voted on immediately. The result is legislators voting on voluminous budget bills late at night, having little or no time to actually read them. "To say there is any level of public review is just insulting," Krueger said.</p> <p>"I think the biggest difference between the state and city budget processes is that the state budget is a political negotiation and you don't see a financial plan until a month later," said Tammy Gamerman, a senior research associate with the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC). "With the city they tell you how they are going to balance the budget."</p> <p>Adding further mystery to the state budget, Governor Cuomo has taken to combining his State of the State address and Executive Budget presentation, doing so this year and last. This leads to less public explanation of the budget and more focus on big policy initiatives the governor is backing. In his speech last week, the governor laid out a number of government ethics proposals, including public financing of campaigns. He did not discuss changing the budget process.</p> <p>The city budget process is not perfect, of course. The City Council continues to push the Mayor to more specifically account for agency spending, providing more units of appropriation instead of lump sums. There is also a good deal of discretionary spending available to the City Council Speaker that watchdogs want more accounting for.</p> <p>Sen. Krueger, who is one of the most outspoken legislators during late night state budget votes, picking at and tracking spending threads while most legislators are waiting to simply cast a "yes" vote and get back to their districts, said that 'three men in a room' has led to an absolute lack of budget transparency and alienated the public.</p> <p>Krueger says she has seen a decrease in attendance at budget hearings, even from groups that have a lot at stake in the budget. "At the end of the budget process each year, after I'm done beating my head against the wall over one thing that made it through the budget process or the other, I come to find out there are 16 other things I missed," Krueger told Gotham Gazette. "I don't catch a huge number of things and I do care about this. So imagine what it is like for someone who isn't a legislator, who doesn't have experience with this. I want people to know they should be involved in the process. They should come to hearings just to point out 'Hey, you know New York has state parks that need to be funded and that isn't in here.'"</p> <p>Most rank-and-file legislators and advocates acknowledge that budget reform is not a hot topic at the moment. The last time there was major attention on the subject was in 2009 when Senate Democrats briefly controlled the chamber. They issued <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/sites/default/files/articles/attachments/krueger_budget_ar09_v1r2-final.pdf" target="_blank">a report</a> that recommended conference committees be given control over larger sums of budget funds, that the state adopt generally accepted accounting principles, a two-year budget cycle, and the creation of a legislative budget office.</p> <p>Krueger has since introduced bills that would create a state agency in the model of the city's <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/" target="_blank">Independent Budget Office</a> - a nonpartisan, publically funded agency that provides information to elected officials and the public about the budget, reviews budget proposals, and provides policy analysis. The bill has gone nowhere in the Senate.</p> <p>Krueger and other reformers also want to see the state require bills to have truthful financial impact statements. Currently, bills introduced from rank-and-file legislators, committee chairs, legislative leaders, or the Governor are supposed to have impact statements, but some simply lack them while others are presented in a dishonest way. Rather than presenting a program's cost for a year, some bills only represent a month's cost, or less.</p> <p>Gamerman said she feels that some progress has been made toward budget transparency over the last few years.</p> <p>"Accountability issues born of the financial crisis of the '70s forced the city to use generally accepted accounting principles," said Gamerman. "There isn't any similar oversight of the state. The state has increased transparency through the <a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/" target="_blank">Open Budget website</a>. There is more info on agency spending. One of the big differences between the city and state is the city does a much better job tracking performance with the Mayor's Management Report. The state has been talking about doing something similar."</p> <p>Mauro said that he finds it unlikely there will be a major push for reform unless the Legislature feels the Governor is abusing his current powers because the status quo still works for the leadership. "It's an unlikely scenario where the Governor isn't running roughshod over the Legislature with budget powers that we'll see a push for change," said Mauro.</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p> Breaking Down the City Budget 2015-07-08T22:11:22+00:00 2015-07-08T22:11:22+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5799:breaking-down-the-city-budget-de-blasio-nyc-council Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/18451433033_df46f9d0b9_z.jpg" alt="de blasio mark-viverito budget" height="399" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Mayor &amp; Speaker at budget announcement (photo:&nbsp;Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)</span></p> <hr /> <p>Wednesday, July 1, marked the beginning of the new fiscal year under a $78.6 billion <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/city-council-approves-nyc-78-6-billion-2016-budget-article-1.2273168">budget</a> agreed upon by Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council.</p> <p dir="ltr">When he unveiled his preliminary budget outline in February, de Blasio <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/no-increased-nypd-headcount-budget-article-1.2214098?cid=bitly">hailed</a> the plan as “scrupulously fiscally responsible.” The 2016 budget continues a trend of increased spending: from 2010 to 2014, the budget increased at an average of around 4 percent per year. The first budget of the de Blasio administration increased spending by 6.3 percent. Now, the second de Blasio budget has grown 5.2 percent from 2015.</p> <p dir="ltr">“[Fiscal 2015] was his first year and he was able to implement a lot of his new initiatives,” explained Rachel Bardin of Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan and nonprofit civic organization. The increased spending went toward funding programs like <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#/0">universal pre-K</a>, issuing <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/12/new-york-municipal-id_n_6455846.html">municipal IDs</a>, and homelessness prevention. Spending also increased as the mayor <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/02/8562562/three-more-unions-settle-city-hall">settled</a> contracts with labor unions - de Blasio inherited a situation where all of the city’s municipal unions were working under expired contracts.</p> <p dir="ltr">This year, the budget has grown again, raising several eyebrows. Part of this growth is due to an increase in personnel, including the hiring of an additional 1,297 police officers. An increased city headcount is expensive not only due to annual salaries, but also because of health care and pension costs. While de Blasio has expanded spending, he has also grown the savings funds the city keeps, able to do both because of the flush times the city is enjoying.</p> <p dir="ltr">The trend of growth in spending has prompted a cautious attitude in some, including city Comptroller Scott Stringer, who <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/06/8569743/stringer-urge-more-savings-de-blasio">called</a> on the de Blasio administration to find steeper agency savings and allocate more money toward budgetary reserves. Bardin, of CBC, warns of the implications of the uptick in spending if there is an economic downturn— the likelihood of which is “inevitable,” according to <a href="http://www.cbcny.org/content/cbc-statement-fy16-adopted-budget-new-york-city">a CBC statement</a>. De Blasio and his budget team agree. The mayor struck a very serious tone during his May executive budget presentation, warning that the economy will certainly not continue to grow as it has been.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We have additional spending built into the budget and our revenues in the downturn wouldn’t be able to support that,” Bardin told Gotham Gazette. With insufficient funds to support the increased spending, a situation could occur in which the city must consider raising taxes, laying off employees, and ending or reducing programs.</p> <p dir="ltr">But Doug Turetsky, Chief of Staff for the Independent Budget Office, pushed back against the idea of an inevitable economic downturn and cited the unprecedented $1 billion the administration just put into the city’s <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-05-07/de-blasio-s-78-3-billion-budget-boosts-aid-for-nyc-homelessness">general reserve fund</a>. During the previous administration, the fund typically contained $300 million, Capital New York <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/06/8569743/stringer-urge-more-savings-de-blasio">reported</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Neither we nor the administration has forecasted a downturn,” Turetsky said. “We both forecast slower job growth than we’ve seen in the last couple of years but we still see a growing economy. It’s a risk because there hasn’t been this long of an expansion in forever. But there’s always risks in any forecast.”</p> <p dir="ltr">At a CBC event in May, New York City Budget Director Dean Fuleihan said that the city has set aside funds in three different reserves. “We have been extremely cautious and realistic in our projections,” he said. “Even though we are in a growing economy, we will continue to come back and do more and more on savings.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, the City Council has been trying to further increase transparency by calling for more <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/04/8566061/capital-data-why-council-mad-about-units-appropriation">units of appropriation</a> within the budget, that is more line items with specifics of which programs are being funded. Council Member Julissa Ferreras, who chairs the Council’s finance committee and helps lead budget negotiations with the mayor’s administration, has had several public exchanges with Fuleihan where she has insisted on greater transparency via units of appropriation. In announcing the final budget, Ferreras trumpeted increased specificity, but said there is more work to be done.</p> <p dir="ltr">While Bardin feels that the spending plan is largely transparent, she added, “There are certain items that are difficult to track within the budget.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In an effort at greater transparency, we break down the budget below. First, it is important to note that the “city budget” most refer to and that we have discussed thus far is the expense budget, for operational, programmatic, and personnel expenses, which for fiscal 2016 is $78.6 billion. This includes money to be spent by the City Council and by City Council members in their districts. There is also the city’s capital budget, money dedicated for construction and infrastructure spending. In this big bucket there is also spending by the Council and individual members.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Expense Budget— $78.6B<br /></strong>The expense budget funds city government services. All city agencies, the City Council, and the borough presidents get their operational funding from the expense budget, as do the Comptroller and the Public Advocate; including funding for salaries and pensions of city employees and other operational costs of government offices such as rent, utilities, and office supplies.</p> <p dir="ltr">The budget includes $21.9 billion for the Department of Education, $5.1 billion for the NYPD, and $9.7 billion to the Department of Social Services. It includes $61 million for the City Council, $94 million for the Comptroller’s Office; and $3.4 million for the Public Advocate’s Office.</p> <p dir="ltr">This year’s expense budget includes $25 million for the Borough Presidents’ offices, appropriating $5.8 million to the Brooklyn borough president, $5.65 million to the Bronx borough president, $5.15 million to Queens, $4.7 million to Manhattan and allocated $4.3 million for the Staten Island borough president.</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/63_oepy0qQnPbKck-EYqNUWsEzUX6X2jN_L5TzGhdL3_IzXT7RZawEUn4bzq9R8CAUeUMUQVJD6hheOUv-Lb2LnBRycVZQDJ6X75yh1De59GZV3wtbQfodoEiGTL_UtErS8OZMw" alt="meta-chart.jpeg" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" height="NaN" width="500" /></p> <p>The expense budget also funds the city’s debt service— money required to cover the repayment of interest and principal on a debt. The city’s 2015-2016 expense budget allocates $2.93 billion for debt service.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Schedule C- $52.6 million<br /></strong>City Council discretionary funds make up a relatively small portion of the expense budget, but are traditionally among the most scrutinized pieces of the budget, and released in a <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/budget/2016/skedcf.pdf">document</a> called “Schedule C.” Council members are allocated discretionary funds to give to nonprofit organizations that benefit their district and constituents.</p> <p dir="ltr">In May 2014, reforms were made in an attempt to make the distribution of these funds more equal and transparent— the allocation was previously controlled at the whims of the Speaker, who could use the discretionary funds to reward allies and punish enemies. Reforms ushered in under new Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and other members brought a uniform system, with each Council member now receiving a base of $400,000, and an additional $25,000, $50,000, $75,000, or $100,000 based on the poverty level of their district. Council members receiving the maximum amount of $500,000 include Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Fernando Cabrera, Vanessa Gibson, and Ritchie Torres— all from the Bronx— as well as Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem and part of the Bronx.</p> <p dir="ltr">As Speaker, Mark-Viverito also has access to an additional $16 million, for allocating what is known as the ‘Speaker’s List,’ money to go to organizations and initiatives at the Speaker’s discretion and at the request of Council members.</p> <p dir="ltr">This year, the Speaker’s List heavily funds projects in Brooklyn, including allocating $340,000 to the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce; $255,000 to Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation; and $250,000 to El Puente Williamsburg, a community human rights organization. Eric Adams, the Brooklyn Borough President, was also the only borough president who <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#.VZK3qe3BwXA">received additional funding</a>— $100,000— from the Council for employee compensation. Adams’ office also received $100,000 last year for “personal services enhancement,” along with that of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Though some have said Brooklyn has long been underfunded despite being the most populous borough, others point to political favors or special needs as the borough booms.</p> <p dir="ltr">Two organizations that see the most funding by the Council are Catholic Charities Community Services, which is set to receive $666,000 ($130,000 from the Speaker herself, using both funds allocated to her as a council member and the Speaker’s List) and the Hispanic Federation ($166,000 funded by the Speaker).</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Capital Budget: $13.9B<br /></strong>The capital budget is distinct from the expense budget, and used to finance large physical infrastructure projects. The infrastructure funded through the capital budget can be either for government use, such as government offices or for public use, such as roads, schools, and parks. For any project to be funded from the capital budget, it should cost at least $35,000 and be useable for at least five years, according to the IBO. Almost all capital funding goes through city agencies. The capital budget also includes discretionary funds for Council members and borough presidents.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, 24 Council Members chose to implement the 2014-2015 cycle of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5152-twenty-plus-council-members-implement-participatory-budgeting-nyc-fourth-year">participatory budgeting</a>, a process in which district constituents are allowed to propose projects and vote on how a portion of the capital funds their council member has control over should be used ($1-2 million per district).</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, the five borough presidents are given the <a href="http://manhattanbp.nyc.gov/html/budget/budget.shtml">power</a> by the City Charter to allot portions (this year 5 percent) of the city’s capital budget to fund construction projects or improvements to infrastructure. Those portions are then allocated to city agencies or nonprofit organizations. In late June, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer announced her office would allocate $30 million in capital grants to projects including playground and athletic field restorations at public parks and tech improvements at CUNY and SUNY campuses.</p> <p dir="ltr">Queens Borough President Melinda Katz announced that she would allocate $200,000 of her capital funds to purchase and install real-time bus countdown clocks at the borough’s busiest bus stops.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Capital grants give us the opportunity to both fix nagging problems and invest in our neighborhoods’ future,” Brewer said in a statement sent to press. “Whether we’re fixing the roof at a branch library, renovating a playground, or building out a new computer lab at a local school, these capital grants are going to strengthen our communities and improve people’s lives.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Catie Edmondson and Zehra Rehman, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/18451433033_df46f9d0b9_z.jpg" alt="de blasio mark-viverito budget" height="399" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Mayor &amp; Speaker at budget announcement (photo:&nbsp;Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)</span></p> <hr /> <p>Wednesday, July 1, marked the beginning of the new fiscal year under a $78.6 billion <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/city-council-approves-nyc-78-6-billion-2016-budget-article-1.2273168">budget</a> agreed upon by Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council.</p> <p dir="ltr">When he unveiled his preliminary budget outline in February, de Blasio <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/no-increased-nypd-headcount-budget-article-1.2214098?cid=bitly">hailed</a> the plan as “scrupulously fiscally responsible.” The 2016 budget continues a trend of increased spending: from 2010 to 2014, the budget increased at an average of around 4 percent per year. The first budget of the de Blasio administration increased spending by 6.3 percent. Now, the second de Blasio budget has grown 5.2 percent from 2015.</p> <p dir="ltr">“[Fiscal 2015] was his first year and he was able to implement a lot of his new initiatives,” explained Rachel Bardin of Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan and nonprofit civic organization. The increased spending went toward funding programs like <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#/0">universal pre-K</a>, issuing <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/12/new-york-municipal-id_n_6455846.html">municipal IDs</a>, and homelessness prevention. Spending also increased as the mayor <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/02/8562562/three-more-unions-settle-city-hall">settled</a> contracts with labor unions - de Blasio inherited a situation where all of the city’s municipal unions were working under expired contracts.</p> <p dir="ltr">This year, the budget has grown again, raising several eyebrows. Part of this growth is due to an increase in personnel, including the hiring of an additional 1,297 police officers. An increased city headcount is expensive not only due to annual salaries, but also because of health care and pension costs. While de Blasio has expanded spending, he has also grown the savings funds the city keeps, able to do both because of the flush times the city is enjoying.</p> <p dir="ltr">The trend of growth in spending has prompted a cautious attitude in some, including city Comptroller Scott Stringer, who <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/06/8569743/stringer-urge-more-savings-de-blasio">called</a> on the de Blasio administration to find steeper agency savings and allocate more money toward budgetary reserves. Bardin, of CBC, warns of the implications of the uptick in spending if there is an economic downturn— the likelihood of which is “inevitable,” according to <a href="http://www.cbcny.org/content/cbc-statement-fy16-adopted-budget-new-york-city">a CBC statement</a>. De Blasio and his budget team agree. The mayor struck a very serious tone during his May executive budget presentation, warning that the economy will certainly not continue to grow as it has been.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We have additional spending built into the budget and our revenues in the downturn wouldn’t be able to support that,” Bardin told Gotham Gazette. With insufficient funds to support the increased spending, a situation could occur in which the city must consider raising taxes, laying off employees, and ending or reducing programs.</p> <p dir="ltr">But Doug Turetsky, Chief of Staff for the Independent Budget Office, pushed back against the idea of an inevitable economic downturn and cited the unprecedented $1 billion the administration just put into the city’s <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-05-07/de-blasio-s-78-3-billion-budget-boosts-aid-for-nyc-homelessness">general reserve fund</a>. During the previous administration, the fund typically contained $300 million, Capital New York <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/06/8569743/stringer-urge-more-savings-de-blasio">reported</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Neither we nor the administration has forecasted a downturn,” Turetsky said. “We both forecast slower job growth than we’ve seen in the last couple of years but we still see a growing economy. It’s a risk because there hasn’t been this long of an expansion in forever. But there’s always risks in any forecast.”</p> <p dir="ltr">At a CBC event in May, New York City Budget Director Dean Fuleihan said that the city has set aside funds in three different reserves. “We have been extremely cautious and realistic in our projections,” he said. “Even though we are in a growing economy, we will continue to come back and do more and more on savings.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, the City Council has been trying to further increase transparency by calling for more <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/04/8566061/capital-data-why-council-mad-about-units-appropriation">units of appropriation</a> within the budget, that is more line items with specifics of which programs are being funded. Council Member Julissa Ferreras, who chairs the Council’s finance committee and helps lead budget negotiations with the mayor’s administration, has had several public exchanges with Fuleihan where she has insisted on greater transparency via units of appropriation. In announcing the final budget, Ferreras trumpeted increased specificity, but said there is more work to be done.</p> <p dir="ltr">While Bardin feels that the spending plan is largely transparent, she added, “There are certain items that are difficult to track within the budget.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In an effort at greater transparency, we break down the budget below. First, it is important to note that the “city budget” most refer to and that we have discussed thus far is the expense budget, for operational, programmatic, and personnel expenses, which for fiscal 2016 is $78.6 billion. This includes money to be spent by the City Council and by City Council members in their districts. There is also the city’s capital budget, money dedicated for construction and infrastructure spending. In this big bucket there is also spending by the Council and individual members.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Expense Budget— $78.6B<br /></strong>The expense budget funds city government services. All city agencies, the City Council, and the borough presidents get their operational funding from the expense budget, as do the Comptroller and the Public Advocate; including funding for salaries and pensions of city employees and other operational costs of government offices such as rent, utilities, and office supplies.</p> <p dir="ltr">The budget includes $21.9 billion for the Department of Education, $5.1 billion for the NYPD, and $9.7 billion to the Department of Social Services. It includes $61 million for the City Council, $94 million for the Comptroller’s Office; and $3.4 million for the Public Advocate’s Office.</p> <p dir="ltr">This year’s expense budget includes $25 million for the Borough Presidents’ offices, appropriating $5.8 million to the Brooklyn borough president, $5.65 million to the Bronx borough president, $5.15 million to Queens, $4.7 million to Manhattan and allocated $4.3 million for the Staten Island borough president.</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/63_oepy0qQnPbKck-EYqNUWsEzUX6X2jN_L5TzGhdL3_IzXT7RZawEUn4bzq9R8CAUeUMUQVJD6hheOUv-Lb2LnBRycVZQDJ6X75yh1De59GZV3wtbQfodoEiGTL_UtErS8OZMw" alt="meta-chart.jpeg" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" height="NaN" width="500" /></p> <p>The expense budget also funds the city’s debt service— money required to cover the repayment of interest and principal on a debt. The city’s 2015-2016 expense budget allocates $2.93 billion for debt service.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Schedule C- $52.6 million<br /></strong>City Council discretionary funds make up a relatively small portion of the expense budget, but are traditionally among the most scrutinized pieces of the budget, and released in a <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/budget/2016/skedcf.pdf">document</a> called “Schedule C.” Council members are allocated discretionary funds to give to nonprofit organizations that benefit their district and constituents.</p> <p dir="ltr">In May 2014, reforms were made in an attempt to make the distribution of these funds more equal and transparent— the allocation was previously controlled at the whims of the Speaker, who could use the discretionary funds to reward allies and punish enemies. Reforms ushered in under new Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and other members brought a uniform system, with each Council member now receiving a base of $400,000, and an additional $25,000, $50,000, $75,000, or $100,000 based on the poverty level of their district. Council members receiving the maximum amount of $500,000 include Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Fernando Cabrera, Vanessa Gibson, and Ritchie Torres— all from the Bronx— as well as Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem and part of the Bronx.</p> <p dir="ltr">As Speaker, Mark-Viverito also has access to an additional $16 million, for allocating what is known as the ‘Speaker’s List,’ money to go to organizations and initiatives at the Speaker’s discretion and at the request of Council members.</p> <p dir="ltr">This year, the Speaker’s List heavily funds projects in Brooklyn, including allocating $340,000 to the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce; $255,000 to Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation; and $250,000 to El Puente Williamsburg, a community human rights organization. Eric Adams, the Brooklyn Borough President, was also the only borough president who <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#.VZK3qe3BwXA">received additional funding</a>— $100,000— from the Council for employee compensation. Adams’ office also received $100,000 last year for “personal services enhancement,” along with that of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Though some have said Brooklyn has long been underfunded despite being the most populous borough, others point to political favors or special needs as the borough booms.</p> <p dir="ltr">Two organizations that see the most funding by the Council are Catholic Charities Community Services, which is set to receive $666,000 ($130,000 from the Speaker herself, using both funds allocated to her as a council member and the Speaker’s List) and the Hispanic Federation ($166,000 funded by the Speaker).</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Capital Budget: $13.9B<br /></strong>The capital budget is distinct from the expense budget, and used to finance large physical infrastructure projects. The infrastructure funded through the capital budget can be either for government use, such as government offices or for public use, such as roads, schools, and parks. For any project to be funded from the capital budget, it should cost at least $35,000 and be useable for at least five years, according to the IBO. Almost all capital funding goes through city agencies. The capital budget also includes discretionary funds for Council members and borough presidents.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, 24 Council Members chose to implement the 2014-2015 cycle of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5152-twenty-plus-council-members-implement-participatory-budgeting-nyc-fourth-year">participatory budgeting</a>, a process in which district constituents are allowed to propose projects and vote on how a portion of the capital funds their council member has control over should be used ($1-2 million per district).</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, the five borough presidents are given the <a href="http://manhattanbp.nyc.gov/html/budget/budget.shtml">power</a> by the City Charter to allot portions (this year 5 percent) of the city’s capital budget to fund construction projects or improvements to infrastructure. Those portions are then allocated to city agencies or nonprofit organizations. In late June, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer announced her office would allocate $30 million in capital grants to projects including playground and athletic field restorations at public parks and tech improvements at CUNY and SUNY campuses.</p> <p dir="ltr">Queens Borough President Melinda Katz announced that she would allocate $200,000 of her capital funds to purchase and install real-time bus countdown clocks at the borough’s busiest bus stops.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Capital grants give us the opportunity to both fix nagging problems and invest in our neighborhoods’ future,” Brewer said in a statement sent to press. “Whether we’re fixing the roof at a branch library, renovating a playground, or building out a new computer lab at a local school, these capital grants are going to strengthen our communities and improve people’s lives.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Catie Edmondson and Zehra Rehman, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> What Meals Should City Schools Provide, and When? 2015-06-22T19:14:53+00:00 2015-06-22T19:14:53+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5781:what-meals-should-city-schools-provide-and-when Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/lunch_for_learning_electeds.jpg" alt="lunch for learning electeds" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">CMs Dromm, Kallos, &amp; King, Public Advocate James, &amp; advocates (photo: @Lunch4Learning)</span></p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">“All I know is that when I would tell him that I’m hungry, he would say that he doesn’t have money to buy me something to eat,” says 17-year-old Althea of growing up with her father. She describes getting food at her house as a “gamble,” adding, “Sometimes the school lunch was the only meal I would eat for the entire day.”</p> <p dir="ltr">For many young people in New York City, like Althea, the only meals they eat are the free breakfasts and lunches provided to them at their schools. “We’re the richest city in the history of the world,” says Joel Berg, executive director of New York City Coalition Against Hunger. “We have 53 billionaires and half a million children who cannot afford enough food.”</p> <p dir="ltr">While New York City schools provide free breakfast to all students and free lunch to middle school students and others who qualify financially, there is controversy over exactly when breakfast should be available and whether free lunch should be made universal. As negotiations lead to a final fiscal year 2016 city budget by the end of June, school meal policies and the funding of those meals are again key parts of the discussion.</p> <p dir="ltr">Advocates and elected officials are asking for the City to do more – they want school lunches to be free for all students, no matter family income, and for students to be able to eat their breakfasts in the classroom, in what is known as “breakfast after the bell.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The need for free school meals is particularly urgent in New York City. About 20 percent of the children in the city go to food pantries and soup kitchens, according to Rachel Sabella, director of government relations of Food Bank for New York City. As Mayor Bill de Blasio often says, 46 percent of New Yorkers are living below or near the poverty line.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the moment, students can register for a free lunch if their family income is below 130 percent of the poverty level or if they fall into other categories such as receiving food stamps, or being homeless or in foster care. About 75 percent of New York City’s public school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The US Department of Agriculture reimburses schools for each breakfast and lunch they serve that meet certain nutritional criteria.</p> <p dir="ltr">Advocates say that universal free school meals would help the large number of students in the city whose family incomes are slightly higher than the qualifying threshold but still live paycheck to paycheck. “The eligibility threshold is uniform nationally but the cost of living is not,” explains Janet Poppendieck, Policy Director of New York City Food Policy Center and author of Free for All: Fixing School Food in America.</p> <p dir="ltr">Universal free school meals would also benefit families that do qualify for the free or reduced price program but do not fill out the required paperwork, either because they find it to be too complicated or because of a language barrier. In some cases, undocumented immigrants do not fill out the paperwork, fearing it might be used against them by immigration services.</p> <p dir="ltr">In New York City, about a third of the students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches don’t eat those meals. Many students do not take them due to stigma, not wanting to be seen as poor. As students get older, the number of students opting for free meals decreases, according to Liz Accles of Lunch for Learning, a coalition-led campaign that includes community organizations, youth advocacy groups, and student groups and has allied with elected officials like Public Advocate Letitia James.</p> <p dir="ltr">While about 80 percent of eligible elementary school students eat free lunches, the number drops to about 60 percent in middle school and 30 percent in high school. “A primary reason for that drop is the poverty stigma that is associated with the program,” Accles explains.</p> <p dir="ltr">Students are often teased or bullied for eating free lunches, advocates say. “A lot of the kids that are ashamed to get on line or afraid or anticipate that there will be problems just sit out and don’t eat anything during the day,” says Accles. Supporters of universal school meals say that this stigma would be eliminated if schools provide free meals to all students regardless of family income. This is the message that students from some of the Lunch for Learning coalition groups and Public Advocate James are delivering in a letter to the mayor on Tuesday afternoon, along with a photobook of over 300 pictures from the #lunch4learning <a href="http://www.lunch4learningnyc.org/#!lunch4learning-selfie-campaign/cpp2" target="_blank">selfie campaign</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Ben Kallos, who is among those in the City Council most involved in calling for the expansion of free school meals, talks personally about the free lunch stigma. Raised on the Upper East Side by his single mother, he was one of the few children in his neighborhood who qualified for free or reduced-price school lunches, Kallos says. “If you’re bringing the styrofoam tray, you get made fun of,” he said, recalling the tray that gave away that a student had received a free lunch. “I wish I could say differently but I did not make the smart decision. And rather than facing the stigma of having the school lunch, I just didn’t eat.”</p> <p dir="ltr">According to an estimate by the Independent Budget Office, it would cost $20 million per year to provide free lunch to all of the city’s public school students. The Department of Education’s <a href="http://schools.nyc.gov/AboutUs/funding/overview/default.htm" target="_blank">operating budget</a> for 2015-2016 is $21.8 billion. Last year, under a pilot program, free lunches for all students were provided in New York City’s standalone middle schools. Within months of the program’s start, almost 10 percent more students were eating free lunches in these schools. Mayor de Blasio described the results of the pilot program as “mixed” in his presentation of his fiscal year 2016 Executive Budget, <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/300-15/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-releases-fiscal-year-2016-executive-budget-ten-year-capital-strategy" target="_blank">elaborating</a>, “the additional number of children who are taking advantage of it has not been that large so far.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Calling the increase “phenomenal progress,” Poppendieck disagrees. “I think maybe that they [the de Blasio administration] don’t understand the whole structure of reimbursements well enough or the culture of the school cafeteria enough to really appreciate the gains that have been made,” she told Gotham Gazette.<a href="http://schools.nyc.gov/AboutUs/funding/overview/default.htm"></a></p> <p dir="ltr">Many are surprised at the administration’s reluctance to expand free school meals. “This is in stark contrast to the rest of the record on food issues,” says Berg, of the Coalition Against Hunger, which he calls otherwise “stellar.” Advocates for universal school meals feel the expansion of this program to all New York City public schools would be consistent with the mayor’s efforts to reduce inequality, with Accles calling it “fundamental to any education or health equity agenda that the mayor has.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>The Most Important Meal of the Day</strong><br />While free lunches are currently only available to qualified and registered students, free breakfasts are available to all students in New York City public schools, regardless of income. Yet, New York consistently ranks among the bottom of big cities in terms of low-income students eating school breakfasts, leading some to call for reform of breakfast accessibility.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to the latest annual <a href="http://frac.org/pdf/School_Breakfast_Large_School_Districts_SY2012_2013.pdf" target="_blank">report</a> by the Food Research and Action Center, a nonprofit organization working to eliminate hunger and under-nutrition, in the 2013-2014 school year only about 35 percent of the city’s low-income students were eating breakfast in school. The report shows that the number of students eating school breakfasts decreased last school year. “We’re just so far below what the norms are,” says City Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the Council’s general welfare committee.</p> <p dir="ltr">Low participation numbers intensified the push for “breakfast after the bell.” In most New York City schools, breakfast is served in the cafeteria before the first class of the day. Supporters of the after-the-bell program say that many students cannot arrive at school in time for breakfast in the cafeteria because school buses may not get to school that early or because parents have to drop off their children in different schools. And, like free lunches, there is also a poverty stigma attached to eating school breakfasts. While all students are entitled to the free breakfasts, the general perception in schools is that those who make the effort to arrive early, just to eat in the cafeteria, are those who cannot afford to eat at home. “Students feel shame. And it shouldn’t be that way,” says Sabella.</p> <p dir="ltr">With ‘breakfast after the bell,’ students can eat their free breakfast after the start of morning classes instead of before the school day. “It’s the best way to get as much food as possible to children that need it,” says Council Member Levin.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the moment, New York City public school principals can choose to opt in for ‘breakfast after the bell.’ Over 300 schools in the city have opted in so far, either serving breakfast in the classroom or providing “grab and go” carts for students to pick up food to take into class. “We’ve heard nothing but good things from those principals and teachers,” says Megan Cryan, New York City Campaign Director of Share our Strength. “It levels the playing field,” she adds, referring to research that children who eat breakfast after the bell are able to focus better, have fewer behavioral issues, and make fewer visits to the school nurse.</p> <p dir="ltr">Advocates also point to the examples of other big cities that have successfully introduced ‘breakfast after the bell.’ Recently, Los Angeles completed a three-year rollout of the program in all of its public schools. The results include the number of children eating breakfast in schools surging from around 30 percent to over 80 percent. The city covered the costs of the program with $16 million in reimbursements from the USDA.</p> <p dir="ltr">Some reluctance to implementing ‘breakfast after the bell’ in New York is due to concerns such as keeping classrooms clean and whether federal funding would cover the start-up costs of the program. There is also skepticism around students being able to concentrate on their studies while eating or nearby others who take food.</p> <p dir="ltr">Supporters say that in New York City, ‘breakfast after the bell’ is likely to pay for itself as the more meals are served, the more is received in federal reimbursements. According to the Food Research and Action Center, New York City would receive more than $53 million in additional federal reimbursements if 70 percent of the students receiving school lunches would also eat breakfast at school. Berg estimates that the city would receive an additional $150 million if every child is served breakfast in school every day.</p> <p dir="ltr">Although Mayor de Blasio supported ‘breakfast after the bell’ before becoming mayor, he has not remained on board since coming into office. This year’s preliminary and executive budgets did not include ‘breakfast after the bell’ or an expansion of universal free lunch. This omission was noted by the City Council in its <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/budget/2016/prelim.pdf" target="_blank">budget response</a> and raised in a Council hearing on the education budget. Public Advocate James also expressed her disappointment in a press conference outside the Department of Education and in an <a href="http://www.cityandstateny.com/2/politics/new-york-city/free-lunch-there-is-such-a-thing.html#.VX8eo2RVikp" target="_blank">op-ed</a> for City &amp; State urging the mayor to expand universal free meals beyond middle schools.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a statement sent to Gotham Gazette, the Department of Education said, “The DOE is pleased to serve free lunch for all students in standalone middle schools. We are continuing to work through the operational issues involved with the free breakfast in the classroom program and will work closely with City Council, school leaders and advocates as this process continues.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“We don’t know what the holdup is but we are hopeful,” said Cryan of the possibility of school meals being expanded in the final budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. Kallos similarly expressed hope but also said he was “unsatisfied” with responses he has received from the City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kallos says it is time to act: “Folks seem to be pointing fingers. But at the end of the day, it’s up to us to make it happen.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Zehra Rehman, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/lunch_for_learning_electeds.jpg" alt="lunch for learning electeds" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">CMs Dromm, Kallos, &amp; King, Public Advocate James, &amp; advocates (photo: @Lunch4Learning)</span></p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">“All I know is that when I would tell him that I’m hungry, he would say that he doesn’t have money to buy me something to eat,” says 17-year-old Althea of growing up with her father. She describes getting food at her house as a “gamble,” adding, “Sometimes the school lunch was the only meal I would eat for the entire day.”</p> <p dir="ltr">For many young people in New York City, like Althea, the only meals they eat are the free breakfasts and lunches provided to them at their schools. “We’re the richest city in the history of the world,” says Joel Berg, executive director of New York City Coalition Against Hunger. “We have 53 billionaires and half a million children who cannot afford enough food.”</p> <p dir="ltr">While New York City schools provide free breakfast to all students and free lunch to middle school students and others who qualify financially, there is controversy over exactly when breakfast should be available and whether free lunch should be made universal. As negotiations lead to a final fiscal year 2016 city budget by the end of June, school meal policies and the funding of those meals are again key parts of the discussion.</p> <p dir="ltr">Advocates and elected officials are asking for the City to do more – they want school lunches to be free for all students, no matter family income, and for students to be able to eat their breakfasts in the classroom, in what is known as “breakfast after the bell.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The need for free school meals is particularly urgent in New York City. About 20 percent of the children in the city go to food pantries and soup kitchens, according to Rachel Sabella, director of government relations of Food Bank for New York City. As Mayor Bill de Blasio often says, 46 percent of New Yorkers are living below or near the poverty line.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the moment, students can register for a free lunch if their family income is below 130 percent of the poverty level or if they fall into other categories such as receiving food stamps, or being homeless or in foster care. About 75 percent of New York City’s public school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The US Department of Agriculture reimburses schools for each breakfast and lunch they serve that meet certain nutritional criteria.</p> <p dir="ltr">Advocates say that universal free school meals would help the large number of students in the city whose family incomes are slightly higher than the qualifying threshold but still live paycheck to paycheck. “The eligibility threshold is uniform nationally but the cost of living is not,” explains Janet Poppendieck, Policy Director of New York City Food Policy Center and author of Free for All: Fixing School Food in America.</p> <p dir="ltr">Universal free school meals would also benefit families that do qualify for the free or reduced price program but do not fill out the required paperwork, either because they find it to be too complicated or because of a language barrier. In some cases, undocumented immigrants do not fill out the paperwork, fearing it might be used against them by immigration services.</p> <p dir="ltr">In New York City, about a third of the students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches don’t eat those meals. Many students do not take them due to stigma, not wanting to be seen as poor. As students get older, the number of students opting for free meals decreases, according to Liz Accles of Lunch for Learning, a coalition-led campaign that includes community organizations, youth advocacy groups, and student groups and has allied with elected officials like Public Advocate Letitia James.</p> <p dir="ltr">While about 80 percent of eligible elementary school students eat free lunches, the number drops to about 60 percent in middle school and 30 percent in high school. “A primary reason for that drop is the poverty stigma that is associated with the program,” Accles explains.</p> <p dir="ltr">Students are often teased or bullied for eating free lunches, advocates say. “A lot of the kids that are ashamed to get on line or afraid or anticipate that there will be problems just sit out and don’t eat anything during the day,” says Accles. Supporters of universal school meals say that this stigma would be eliminated if schools provide free meals to all students regardless of family income. This is the message that students from some of the Lunch for Learning coalition groups and Public Advocate James are delivering in a letter to the mayor on Tuesday afternoon, along with a photobook of over 300 pictures from the #lunch4learning <a href="http://www.lunch4learningnyc.org/#!lunch4learning-selfie-campaign/cpp2" target="_blank">selfie campaign</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Ben Kallos, who is among those in the City Council most involved in calling for the expansion of free school meals, talks personally about the free lunch stigma. Raised on the Upper East Side by his single mother, he was one of the few children in his neighborhood who qualified for free or reduced-price school lunches, Kallos says. “If you’re bringing the styrofoam tray, you get made fun of,” he said, recalling the tray that gave away that a student had received a free lunch. “I wish I could say differently but I did not make the smart decision. And rather than facing the stigma of having the school lunch, I just didn’t eat.”</p> <p dir="ltr">According to an estimate by the Independent Budget Office, it would cost $20 million per year to provide free lunch to all of the city’s public school students. The Department of Education’s <a href="http://schools.nyc.gov/AboutUs/funding/overview/default.htm" target="_blank">operating budget</a> for 2015-2016 is $21.8 billion. Last year, under a pilot program, free lunches for all students were provided in New York City’s standalone middle schools. Within months of the program’s start, almost 10 percent more students were eating free lunches in these schools. Mayor de Blasio described the results of the pilot program as “mixed” in his presentation of his fiscal year 2016 Executive Budget, <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/300-15/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-releases-fiscal-year-2016-executive-budget-ten-year-capital-strategy" target="_blank">elaborating</a>, “the additional number of children who are taking advantage of it has not been that large so far.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Calling the increase “phenomenal progress,” Poppendieck disagrees. “I think maybe that they [the de Blasio administration] don’t understand the whole structure of reimbursements well enough or the culture of the school cafeteria enough to really appreciate the gains that have been made,” she told Gotham Gazette.<a href="http://schools.nyc.gov/AboutUs/funding/overview/default.htm"></a></p> <p dir="ltr">Many are surprised at the administration’s reluctance to expand free school meals. “This is in stark contrast to the rest of the record on food issues,” says Berg, of the Coalition Against Hunger, which he calls otherwise “stellar.” Advocates for universal school meals feel the expansion of this program to all New York City public schools would be consistent with the mayor’s efforts to reduce inequality, with Accles calling it “fundamental to any education or health equity agenda that the mayor has.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>The Most Important Meal of the Day</strong><br />While free lunches are currently only available to qualified and registered students, free breakfasts are available to all students in New York City public schools, regardless of income. Yet, New York consistently ranks among the bottom of big cities in terms of low-income students eating school breakfasts, leading some to call for reform of breakfast accessibility.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to the latest annual <a href="http://frac.org/pdf/School_Breakfast_Large_School_Districts_SY2012_2013.pdf" target="_blank">report</a> by the Food Research and Action Center, a nonprofit organization working to eliminate hunger and under-nutrition, in the 2013-2014 school year only about 35 percent of the city’s low-income students were eating breakfast in school. The report shows that the number of students eating school breakfasts decreased last school year. “We’re just so far below what the norms are,” says City Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the Council’s general welfare committee.</p> <p dir="ltr">Low participation numbers intensified the push for “breakfast after the bell.” In most New York City schools, breakfast is served in the cafeteria before the first class of the day. Supporters of the after-the-bell program say that many students cannot arrive at school in time for breakfast in the cafeteria because school buses may not get to school that early or because parents have to drop off their children in different schools. And, like free lunches, there is also a poverty stigma attached to eating school breakfasts. While all students are entitled to the free breakfasts, the general perception in schools is that those who make the effort to arrive early, just to eat in the cafeteria, are those who cannot afford to eat at home. “Students feel shame. And it shouldn’t be that way,” says Sabella.</p> <p dir="ltr">With ‘breakfast after the bell,’ students can eat their free breakfast after the start of morning classes instead of before the school day. “It’s the best way to get as much food as possible to children that need it,” says Council Member Levin.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the moment, New York City public school principals can choose to opt in for ‘breakfast after the bell.’ Over 300 schools in the city have opted in so far, either serving breakfast in the classroom or providing “grab and go” carts for students to pick up food to take into class. “We’ve heard nothing but good things from those principals and teachers,” says Megan Cryan, New York City Campaign Director of Share our Strength. “It levels the playing field,” she adds, referring to research that children who eat breakfast after the bell are able to focus better, have fewer behavioral issues, and make fewer visits to the school nurse.</p> <p dir="ltr">Advocates also point to the examples of other big cities that have successfully introduced ‘breakfast after the bell.’ Recently, Los Angeles completed a three-year rollout of the program in all of its public schools. The results include the number of children eating breakfast in schools surging from around 30 percent to over 80 percent. The city covered the costs of the program with $16 million in reimbursements from the USDA.</p> <p dir="ltr">Some reluctance to implementing ‘breakfast after the bell’ in New York is due to concerns such as keeping classrooms clean and whether federal funding would cover the start-up costs of the program. There is also skepticism around students being able to concentrate on their studies while eating or nearby others who take food.</p> <p dir="ltr">Supporters say that in New York City, ‘breakfast after the bell’ is likely to pay for itself as the more meals are served, the more is received in federal reimbursements. According to the Food Research and Action Center, New York City would receive more than $53 million in additional federal reimbursements if 70 percent of the students receiving school lunches would also eat breakfast at school. Berg estimates that the city would receive an additional $150 million if every child is served breakfast in school every day.</p> <p dir="ltr">Although Mayor de Blasio supported ‘breakfast after the bell’ before becoming mayor, he has not remained on board since coming into office. This year’s preliminary and executive budgets did not include ‘breakfast after the bell’ or an expansion of universal free lunch. This omission was noted by the City Council in its <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/budget/2016/prelim.pdf" target="_blank">budget response</a> and raised in a Council hearing on the education budget. Public Advocate James also expressed her disappointment in a press conference outside the Department of Education and in an <a href="http://www.cityandstateny.com/2/politics/new-york-city/free-lunch-there-is-such-a-thing.html#.VX8eo2RVikp" target="_blank">op-ed</a> for City &amp; State urging the mayor to expand universal free meals beyond middle schools.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a statement sent to Gotham Gazette, the Department of Education said, “The DOE is pleased to serve free lunch for all students in standalone middle schools. We are continuing to work through the operational issues involved with the free breakfast in the classroom program and will work closely with City Council, school leaders and advocates as this process continues.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“We don’t know what the holdup is but we are hopeful,” said Cryan of the possibility of school meals being expanded in the final budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. Kallos similarly expressed hope but also said he was “unsatisfied” with responses he has received from the City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kallos says it is time to act: “Folks seem to be pointing fingers. But at the end of the day, it’s up to us to make it happen.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Zehra Rehman, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> City Board of Elections Expected to Again See Budget Bump 2015-05-06T18:49:51+00:00 2015-05-06T18:49:51+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5711:city-board-of-elections-expected-to-again-see-budget-bump Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/BOE_Michael_Ryan.jpg" alt="BOE Michael Ryan" height="451" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan (photo: @BOENYC)</span></p> <hr /> <p>On Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio is set to unveil his Fiscal Year 2016 Executive Budget, which is likely to be nearly identical to the final budget passed by the mayor and the City Council before the June 30 deadline. Much of the new version of the mayor's spending plan will be similar to his $77 billion preliminary budget, which he presented in February and was vetted throughout March by the Council. But, the de Blasio administration has already acknowledged several areas where funding levels will show a difference on Thursday, with increases planned to support manufacturing, mental health services, the MTA, struggling schools, and more.</p> <p>One under-the-radar aspect of the budget that is set to see a significant change from preliminary to executive is funding for the city's Board of Elections, which administers New Yorkers' opportunities to vote.</p> <p>The preliminary budget includes approximately $84.4 million for the Board of Elections (BOE), a drop from the $113.9 million that the BOE is spending in fiscal year 2015, which wraps up at the end of June. It's a differential of about $29.6 million, a 26 percent decrease.</p> <p>This disparity, however, is unlikely to stick. According to the Independent Budget Office (IBO), this year's preliminary budget allocation for the Board of Elections follows a pattern of the last several years. In fact, fiscal 2016 includes a larger preliminary provision for the BOE than preliminary budgets of previous years. Doug Turetsky, IBO Chief of Staff and communications director, told Gotham Gazette that this is not something that should raise eyebrows just yet; the trend is that the actual budget will make up the $30-40 million gap from the preliminary plan. If funding stays the same, there might be reason for concern that BOE is being underfunded. But it is also important to keep in mind that each year brings different elections, whether they be on the city, state, or federal level.</p> <p>It may appear a curious annual underfunding in the preliminary, just to be increased in the executive or the adopted budget, but Turetsky said that there is often talk of moving federal primary elections from June to September to coincide with state and city primaries, which would foster efficiency and decrease budgetary need. If the figure in the preliminary was closer to what will likely be in the actual budget, Turetsky explained that it may act as a "disincentive" for the state to move state and federal primary elections to the same date. By holding off on the additional funding, it puts pressure on the state to decide and, ideally, move toward a single voting date.</p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the City Council Governmental Operations Committee, spoke similarly, but did express concern about the general issue of underfunding BOE operations. Kallos told Gotham Gazette that while the BOE tends to overestimate its financial need, if it is not appropriately funded "it is the elections and democratic process that suffers." While Kallos is looking for stronger numbers in the executive budget, he also said that "if we over-budget then that means that another agency loses."</p> <p>Getting to the final adopted number is part of the process of having preliminary budget hearings in March and executive budget hearings in May and June. Kallos' committee heard from BOE representatives in March and will hear from them again as the mayor and the Council head toward an agreement.</p> <p>BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan is not worried about the dramatic trend that some might say resembles the "budget dance" affecting his agency's operations in the coming year. Ryan told Gotham Gazette that the BOE still needs an estimated $12 million; approximately $2.2 million to update the expiring warranty for electronic voting and the other $10 million to meet federal mandates for ADA accessibility. Ryan expressed confidence that his agency will be appropriately funded.</p> <p>The "lean and mean preliminary" as he called it, is just part of the process. The real focus is on the executive budget, he said, with little concern over the difference between the two proposals. He also put his agency into larger budgetary context. "The executive budget should be a balancing between what the mayor's office ultimately believes an agency needs to function and what the city expects to receive in tax revenue, because the city must operate on a balanced budget," said Ryan.</p> <p>Ryan told Gotham Gazette that the trend has continued because it works for budget planning purposes. By underestimating in the preliminary budget, the mayor's office establishes a baseline (or placeholder as it has been called) that can be edited henceforth, after the hearings, negotiations, and decisions that follow - including decisions made on the state or federal level. "It's a check and balance, to make sure that not just the Board of Elections, but that all the agencies that are asking for funds that they actually need," Ryan said.</p> <p>Ryan also said that another reason the city keeps careful tabs on the allocation of funds is a result of the budget crisis of 1975, when the city went bankrupt, spending into debt of an estimated $14 billion. Shortly after the crisis, a law passed requiring balanced budgets, removing leeway for the city to operate on deficit spending.</p> <p>"I'm not anticipating any issues, quite frankly," said Ryan. "I think it's all gonna work out fine and we've been working very closely with the mayor's office to make sure that our needs are met and that we're able to fulfill our statutory and constitutional mandate to provide elections for the voters of the City of New York."</p> <p>***<br />by Shannon Ho, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/ShanMHo" target="_blank">@ShanMHo</a>&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/BOE_Michael_Ryan.jpg" alt="BOE Michael Ryan" height="451" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan (photo: @BOENYC)</span></p> <hr /> <p>On Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio is set to unveil his Fiscal Year 2016 Executive Budget, which is likely to be nearly identical to the final budget passed by the mayor and the City Council before the June 30 deadline. Much of the new version of the mayor's spending plan will be similar to his $77 billion preliminary budget, which he presented in February and was vetted throughout March by the Council. But, the de Blasio administration has already acknowledged several areas where funding levels will show a difference on Thursday, with increases planned to support manufacturing, mental health services, the MTA, struggling schools, and more.</p> <p>One under-the-radar aspect of the budget that is set to see a significant change from preliminary to executive is funding for the city's Board of Elections, which administers New Yorkers' opportunities to vote.</p> <p>The preliminary budget includes approximately $84.4 million for the Board of Elections (BOE), a drop from the $113.9 million that the BOE is spending in fiscal year 2015, which wraps up at the end of June. It's a differential of about $29.6 million, a 26 percent decrease.</p> <p>This disparity, however, is unlikely to stick. According to the Independent Budget Office (IBO), this year's preliminary budget allocation for the Board of Elections follows a pattern of the last several years. In fact, fiscal 2016 includes a larger preliminary provision for the BOE than preliminary budgets of previous years. Doug Turetsky, IBO Chief of Staff and communications director, told Gotham Gazette that this is not something that should raise eyebrows just yet; the trend is that the actual budget will make up the $30-40 million gap from the preliminary plan. If funding stays the same, there might be reason for concern that BOE is being underfunded. But it is also important to keep in mind that each year brings different elections, whether they be on the city, state, or federal level.</p> <p>It may appear a curious annual underfunding in the preliminary, just to be increased in the executive or the adopted budget, but Turetsky said that there is often talk of moving federal primary elections from June to September to coincide with state and city primaries, which would foster efficiency and decrease budgetary need. If the figure in the preliminary was closer to what will likely be in the actual budget, Turetsky explained that it may act as a "disincentive" for the state to move state and federal primary elections to the same date. By holding off on the additional funding, it puts pressure on the state to decide and, ideally, move toward a single voting date.</p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the City Council Governmental Operations Committee, spoke similarly, but did express concern about the general issue of underfunding BOE operations. Kallos told Gotham Gazette that while the BOE tends to overestimate its financial need, if it is not appropriately funded "it is the elections and democratic process that suffers." While Kallos is looking for stronger numbers in the executive budget, he also said that "if we over-budget then that means that another agency loses."</p> <p>Getting to the final adopted number is part of the process of having preliminary budget hearings in March and executive budget hearings in May and June. Kallos' committee heard from BOE representatives in March and will hear from them again as the mayor and the Council head toward an agreement.</p> <p>BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan is not worried about the dramatic trend that some might say resembles the "budget dance" affecting his agency's operations in the coming year. Ryan told Gotham Gazette that the BOE still needs an estimated $12 million; approximately $2.2 million to update the expiring warranty for electronic voting and the other $10 million to meet federal mandates for ADA accessibility. Ryan expressed confidence that his agency will be appropriately funded.</p> <p>The "lean and mean preliminary" as he called it, is just part of the process. The real focus is on the executive budget, he said, with little concern over the difference between the two proposals. He also put his agency into larger budgetary context. "The executive budget should be a balancing between what the mayor's office ultimately believes an agency needs to function and what the city expects to receive in tax revenue, because the city must operate on a balanced budget," said Ryan.</p> <p>Ryan told Gotham Gazette that the trend has continued because it works for budget planning purposes. By underestimating in the preliminary budget, the mayor's office establishes a baseline (or placeholder as it has been called) that can be edited henceforth, after the hearings, negotiations, and decisions that follow - including decisions made on the state or federal level. "It's a check and balance, to make sure that not just the Board of Elections, but that all the agencies that are asking for funds that they actually need," Ryan said.</p> <p>Ryan also said that another reason the city keeps careful tabs on the allocation of funds is a result of the budget crisis of 1975, when the city went bankrupt, spending into debt of an estimated $14 billion. Shortly after the crisis, a law passed requiring balanced budgets, removing leeway for the city to operate on deficit spending.</p> <p>"I'm not anticipating any issues, quite frankly," said Ryan. "I think it's all gonna work out fine and we've been working very closely with the mayor's office to make sure that our needs are met and that we're able to fulfill our statutory and constitutional mandate to provide elections for the voters of the City of New York."</p> <p>***<br />by Shannon Ho, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/ShanMHo" target="_blank">@ShanMHo</a>&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p>