Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1209 Wed, 13 Dec 2017 07:27:18 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) City Council to Begin Public Examination of Mayor's Budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6198:city-council-to-begin-public-examination-of-mayors-budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6198:city-council-to-begin-public-examination-of-mayors-budget de blasio council budget briefing

Mayor de Blasio briefs Council members on his FY17 budget (William Alatriste)


On Tuesday, the City Council will hold the first of many preliminary budget hearings on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s initial fiscal year 2017 spending plan, part of a months-long negotiation process that will end in June when the City Council and the Mayor must agree upon a budget for fiscal year 2017.

First in general terms, then agency by agency, the Council will ask de Blasio administration representatives to explain spending and programmatic choices. Council members will examine overall budgeting principles, looking at savings from prior years and money socked away in case of an economic downturn, as well as how clearly the administration is showing what money is being allocated for. Throughout the weeks of hearings, members will also push for their individual funding priorities, such as summer youth employment and efforts to fight gun violence and rape.

General Budgeting & Savings
Mayor Bill de Blasio released an $82.1 billion preliminary budget on Jan. 21, which he described as “boring” and short on “splashy new” initiatives, instead stressing fiscal responsibility and building reserves, with increased “targeted investments” to address the homelessness crisis, fund pension obligations, and reduce school overcrowding, among other priorities.

Signs of an imminent economic slowdown after years of growth and the specter of losing state aid loomed over de Blasio’s budget address, yet the preliminary budget set aside less money in savings than budgets have in previous years. The administration says they have unprecedented reserves, but watchdogs say that the “budget cushion” is not as deep as it should be.

The preliminary budget contains about $740 million in new agency spending, a relatively modest amount, including $62 million for ThriveNYC, the city’s multifaceted plan to increase access to improved mental health services and $53.7 million more on programs to address homelessness. With the City Council, de Blasio has increased the city budget significantly since taking office, largely due to the settling of many municipal labor contracts that were left expired at the end of the Bloomberg years. But, there have also been large increases in agency spending, including the addition of 2,000 new officers to the NYPD and billions more toward affordable housing development and homelessness-fighting.

The mayor’s preliminary budget did not account for the proposals in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget that would change the way CUNY and Medicaid are funded, which would cost the city nearly $1 billion starting in fiscal year 2017. Cuomo has since backtracked on the proposed cuts, saying they “won’t cost New York City a penny,” and that he wants to collaborate to find efficiencies and savings in the programs. There have been no signs of any conversations to that effect, though, and questions around how the city is accounting for these potential losses in state aid, and others, are sure to come up during preliminary budget hearings.

Council members, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, and the Citizen’s Budget Commission have all called on the mayor to find more recurring savings in the budget and to build up reserves to safeguard against a financial downturn.

A majority of City Council members sent a letter to Mayor de Blasio on Dec. 31 calling on the mayor to instruct all city agencies to find five percent in potential savings in their budgets. The letter, spearheaded by Council Member Dan Garodnick, was signed by 26 of the 51 Council members, including chair of the finance committee, Julissa Ferreras-Copeland. Ferreras-Copeland will be center stage for budget hearings, especially Tuesday’s kickoff where de Blasio’s budget director, Dean Fuleihan, will testify.

Though the letter did not explicitly say so, Council members were asking the mayor to institute a PEG, or Program to Eliminate the Gap, a cost-saving practice used by previous administrations that Mayor de Blasio did away with after taking office in favor of a Citywide Savings Program (CSP). A CSP encourages agency commissioners to find savings, but does not set a percentage.

Mayor de Blasio did not include a PEG in his preliminary budget, though he has since said that a PEG is something he is “seriously considering” for the executive budget and is sure to be discussed during the upcoming budget hearings. After several weeks of hearings, the Council will craft its official preliminary budget response, then de Blasio will put together his executive budget, before another round of hearings and continued negotiations leading to a June deal.

Comptroller Stringer has echoed the Council members’ call for implementing a PEG, and released an analysis of the mayor’s preliminary budget on Feb. 10 which pointed out several areas of concern amid an overall positive financial outlook for the city. Stringer has said the “budget cushion” Mayor de Blasio has allocated is not enough to adequately prepare for an economic downturn, and that the comptroller’s office expects larger budget gaps in the coming years than the mayor’s plan accounts for.

The Citizens Budget Commission (CBC) has also called for more savings, and has said the Citywide Savings Program is too small, does not include enough efficiency initiatives, and cannot sufficiently offset the costs of new initiatives or build up reserves. As the CBC points out, the planned savings in the preliminary budget amount to $1.9 billion in savings over fiscal years 2016 to 2019 - 0.6 percent of total city-funded spending.

The CBC has urged Mayor de Blasio to direct his agencies to “identify operational efficiencies that provide recurring savings” ahead of his executive budget proposal which would not only increase the budget cushion, but also make agencies run more efficiently. The mayor has indicated that he may go further than the current savings plan and will look at increasing agency savings before releasing the executive budget, due in late April or early May.

Ahead of the first preliminary budget hearing on March 1, Gotham Gazette spoke with Council members about their priorities and concerns for the upcoming FY17 budget. Securing funding to expand the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program, speaking out against the proposed funding cuts to CUNY and Medicaid, and advocating for greater savings in the budget appear to be some of the Council’s top priorities.

Council Member Ferreras-Copeland, chair of the finance committee and one of the key figures in the budget negotiations, said she aims to “use the process to ensure we are being transparent and fiscally prudent as a city, while mitigating any potential risks the State budget might pose to the city.” Ferreras-Copeland has also previously expressed that the Council is keen to evaluate how the preliminary budget addresses healthcare and pension costs, and that the Department of Education capital plan will be an important issue as many districts struggle with school overcrowding.

Last year, Ferreras-Copeland led the first budget hearing by pushing de Blasio budget reps on “units of appropriation” in the budget, meaning that she and her colleagues want to see more carefully laid-out line items in agency spending, not lump sums. That could be a source of tension again this year.

Specific Priorities
In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Ferreras-Copeland said that she will be paying “special attention to the Council’s priorities, which include the Health and Hospitals financial plan, as well as how to better support youth jobs during the summer and throughout the school year.”

Supporting youth employment is also a priority for Council Member Jumaane Williams, among others. On Feb. 24, Williams, joined by the Community Service Society and several of his colleagues, called on the city to support 100,000 summer jobs by April 1, which would require an additional $95 million in funding, and to enhance the current model of the Summer Youth Employment Program in order to better connect summer jobs to school experiences and ensure better quality programming.

According to a report released by the Community Service Society, summer youth employment reduces risky behavior and has a generally positive impact on academic, behavioral, and employment-related outcomes for children. Over 100,000 youths in New York City have applied for the Summer Youth Employment Program, yet the City has only funded 55,000 program slots.

Williams told Gotham Gazette he believes “there is a lot of push throughout the Council for [youth employment] to be one of the top priorities,” and also wants to see funding allotted to pilot a new model of the summer jobs program in a limited number of high schools, and increased funding to double year-round youth employment, an initiative that is spearheaded by Ferreras-Copeland.

Funding for summer after school programs for middle school students is another issue to watch as budget talks begin. Mayor de Blasio's preliminary budget eliminates the funding for the programs which serve about 34,000 middle school students.

Last year, de Blasio’s preliminary budget cut funding for afterschool programs, only to restore funding in the executive budget after Council members and advocates criticized the administration for eliminating the programs and pushed for the funding to be restored.

This year, Mayor de Blasio has said that while “the summer programs are a very good thing, we just don’t feel we can afford it at this point. We’ll take another look going into the executive budget.”

“But this time,” the mayor added, “we’re saying no, we’re not going to fund that. People should not assume it’s coming. They should not prepare for it.”

As chair of the Committee on Housing a Buildings (for which the preliminary budget hearing is March 3), Williams will also be looking to make sure “everything housing related is properly funded with groups that are able to help prevent displacement,” and wants to make sure “that Housing Preservation and Development and the Department of Buildings have the assistance they need, particularly technology-wise and for hiring additional staff for things like inspections.”

Preventing displacement is one of many important aspects to remedying the city’s homelessness crisis, however, regarding Mayor de Blasio’s proposed increased spending on programs to address homelessness, Comptroller Stringer says spending money more efficiently is needed.

During the comptroller’s preliminary budget analysis presentation, Stringer pointed out that the city is committing $1.7 billion on homeless services across three agencies - a 46 percent increase over two years - and said more coordination and better management must happen for the city to get the optimal return on the investment.

Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the Committee on Government Operations, told Gotham Gazette that during the upcoming budget hearings, “the first item that folks can expect to see is following up on waste in government contracting. In my first year, I identified $4 billion in potential contract overruns.” Kallos added he looks forward to “getting to the bottom of that waste.”

Given the likelihood of an economic downturn, Kallos said he is “concerned about the city’s capital reserves,” and will be advocating to increase the amount of money put aside in the Capital Stabilization Reserve Fund, which received $500 million last year.

Regarding his goals as committee chair (the government operations preliminary budget hearing is March 14), Kallos said he’ll be looking at “outsourcing and provisionals,” and estimated there are roughly 21,000 provisional employees in the city - civil service positions that are filled non-competitively.

“We need to crack down on provisionals. That falls under the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which I oversee,” Kallos said. Thousands of provisional employees were hired during the Bloomberg years, creating something of a city workforce crisis under de Blasio, with questions about which managerial-level city workers have to take civil service exams and make their employment fit requirements.

“I’m focusing on removing outsourcing where possible,” Kallos added, referring to the hiring of outside contractors and consultants by the city to do work that could be done by government employees.

With four election dates scheduled this year, Kallos will also “focus on making sure the Board of Election has all the funding they need…this is going to be the most expensive year for the Board of Elections.” Millions could be saved by consolidating election dates to hold the state primary on the same day as the congressional primary, which Kallos has called for in a resolution.

For Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the Committee on Public Safety, top priorities include securing more support “in terms of financing and resources” for the city’s district attorneys, evaluating the needs and effectiveness of the special narcotics prosecutor in terms of handling K2 (synthetic marijuana) and opioid abuse issues in the city, increasing support for the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, and investing more in anti-gun violence efforts.

“I’m very supportive of anti-gun violence programs,” Gibson said, “I’m grateful the mayor has included in his budget an expansion of ShotSpotter, it’s extremely helpful to detect gunshots in our communities.” Gibson, whose committee’s preliminary budget hearing is March 8, will be looking to expand upon the “incredible investment we’ve already made of about $11-12 million” for initiatives to combat gun violence. Continuing and expanding on trauma services and victim services for those impacted by gun violence is also of importance to Gibson, as is redoubling investments the Council has made in those summer youth employment programs.

The number of reported rapes taking place in New York City has increased in recent years, and advocates and counselors who help victims of sexual assault are eager to see if Gibson and the Council will stick to its word about providing more resources to rape crisis centers.

Gibson told Gotham Gazette she thinks “increasing access for us as a Council to rape crisis centers and counseling and mental health professionals” is a necessary response to the increased number of rapes and sexual assaults. “I know the advocates have talked to us about rape crisis centers and how we need to beef up the borough-wide services because in some boroughs it’s not equal in terms of access, and that’s important for us as well.”

One area of concern for Gibson and others is the state’s proposed Medicaid and CUNY cuts. “The state support from Albany is going to probably be the thing that we’ll talk about with Dean Fuleihan,” Gibson said, referring to de Blasio’s budget chief, “the cuts are not acceptable, and we need to make sure that we do get support from Albany.”

***
by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Samar Khurshid contributed reporting.

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City Council to Begin Public Examination of Mayor's Budget Sun, 28 Feb 2016 21:10:34 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 9 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5975:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-november-9 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5975:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-november-9 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Wednesday is Veterans Day, with parades, resource fairs, and events to honor and aid veterans taking place before, on, and after the day itself. Mayor Bill de Blasio will hold a breakfast reception to honor the military veterans Wednesday morning. On Thursday, the City Council will hold a hearing on veteran homelessness, which the mayor vowed to end by the end of this year as part of a national pledge.

The mayor and the City Council agreed last week to create a new Department of Veterans Services, removing the agency from the Mayor's Office and making veterans affairs its own city department, which will give it more resources and Council oversight. There will be a celebratory rally outside of City Hall on Tuesday at 11 a.m., then the veterans affairs committee of the Council will vote through the department bill, followed by the full Council.

Could this be the week that First Lady Chirlane McCray unveils her much-anticipated "Mental Health Roadmap"? The week of Veterans Day would make sense considering the mental health challenges many veterans face. There's been no indication this is the week, but the 'roadmap' has been slated for release this fall. [Read our extensive preview of McCray's mental health roadmap]

According to Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), the City will release its first quarter modification to the FY2016 budget this week. "In advance of that release, CBC compares the Mayor's budget savings agenda, called the Citywide Savings Program, or CSP, with the Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG) in fiscal years 2010 to 2015."

After a marathon Friday press conference at which de Blasio answered dozens of questions from assembled reporters on a wide variety of subjects, the mayor had a quiet weekend. De Blasio continues to be scrutinized for his approach to the media, his administration's transparency, and several policy areas in which he is having the most challenges, such as homelessness, policing, and education. We'll see what this week holds other than a focus on veterans and the budget. On Monday morning the mayor is set to meet with members of the city's congressional delegation and then hold a media availability - at which he'll take both on- and off-topic questions.

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

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

MONDAY
At the City Council on Monday:

  • At 10:30 a.m. the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will convene to discuss several Land Use Applications in Brooklyn.
  • At 11 a.m. the Committee on Land Use will meet.

On Monday at 10 a.m., Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams "will honor Brooklyn's military heroes at his "Start Strong, Finish Strong" resource fair for veterans...Additional speakers will include Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Loree K. Sutton, a retired Army brigadier general, and USAG Fort Hamilton Command Sergeant Kevin Fauntleroy. Borough President Adams will speak about Brooklyn's commitment to its veterans, including his efforts to restore the Brooklyn War Memorial and to address mental health challenges facing the community."

On Monday at 11 a.m., New York City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, along with Hetrick-Martin Institute CEO Thomas Krever and the LGBTQ Caucus of the City Council will unveil “HMI Goes Citywide For LGBTQ Youth,” a new initiative to address the challenges LGBTQ youth face in New York.

"On Monday, Mayor de Blasio will meet with members of the New York Congressional Delegation at City Hall to discuss a number‎ of issues impacting New York City. This meeting is closed press. After, [at 11:30 a.m.] the Mayor and members of the Congressional Delegation will hold a media availability on the Zadroga Act on the steps of City Hall," according to his public schedule.

At noon Monday, Crain’s New York Business will host its “Crain’s Business Hall of Fame Luncheon” to celebrate businesspeople who have transformed the city through their philanthropic and professional lives. The list of honorees include Ms. Pamela Brier, President and Chief Executive Officer, Maimonides Medical Center; Mr.Laurence Fink, Chairman and CEO, BlackRock; Ms. Shelly Lazarus, Chairman Emeritus, Ogilvy & Mather; Mr. Alan Patricof, Managing Director Greycroft; The Honorable Richard Ravitch, Former Lieutenant Governor, New York; Ms. Emily Rafferty, President Emeritus, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Mr. Steven Roth, Chairman and CEO, Vornado Realty Trust. EisnerAmper will sponsor the event.

At 12:30 p.m. on Monday, Public Advocate Letitia James will “announce measures to expand affordability of NYC child care.” Joined by parents, advocates and other stakeholders, James will hold a press conference about the costs and accessibility of child care in New York City, releasing a report and outlining five policies to help increase accessibility, capacity, and affordability.

At 1 p.m. Monday at City Hal, the correction officers union will hold a press conference "following the vicious attack on a correction officer by two Rikers inmates."

At 6 p.m. Monday, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will deliver remarks at a pre-K family forum at the Children's Museum of Manhattan.

At 7 p.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer and Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal will co-host a town hall meeting at the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center on West 65th Street.

Also at 7 p.m. Monday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will speak at New York Historical Society’s “Debt of Honor” program.

TUESDAY
Tuesday is a “Fight for $15” day of action, with many events planned to bring attention to wage issues and push for a $15 per hour minimum wage. Unions, advocacy groups, elected officials, and others will participate. Worker strikes, rallies, and marches will take place throughout the day all over the city and the country.

At 6:30 a.m., Mayor de Blasio "will deliver remarks at a Fight for $15 rally to raise the minimum wage...Immediately following his remarks, the Mayor will appear in several one-on-one interviews with local television networks to discuss the need to raise the minimum wage." At 2:15 p.m., the Mayor will appear live on WBLS 107.5 and at 2:30 p.m., on NY1. "In the evening, the Mayor will attend the 70th Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner."

State Senate Republicans will convene in Albany on Tuesday to discuss their 2016 agenda. (A week later Assembly Democrats will meet in the capital, according to Politico New York.)

On Tuesday at 8 a.m., Chancellor of the State University of of New York Nancy Zimpher will speak at the Citizens Budget Commission breakfast at the Harvard Club. Zimpher will discuss SUNY projects and priorities.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday the Board of Corrections will hold a meeting.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, Council Member Eric Ulrich, who chairs the Council’s veterans affairs committee, military veterans, and advocates will celebrate the imminent creation of a new City Department of Veterans Services.

At the City Council on Tuesday, the City Council will convene for a full-body Stated Meeting, which, as always, will be prefaced by a press conference hosted by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at 12:30 p.m.

Gov. Cuomo will make an announcement Tuesday at 4:15 p.m. in Manhattan at Foley Square, likely at a Fight for $15 event.

At 6:30 p.m. the Committee on Drugs and Law of the New York City Bar Association will host a discussion on marijuana policy in New York. Panelists will include City Council Member Rafael Espinal, state Senator Jeff Klein, Vocal New York’s Alyssa Aguilera, and others.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, “Trans-Pacific Partnership: Who Wins and Who Loses in This Secret Deal?”, a panel event presented by the Big Apple Coffee Party and moderated by Zephyr Teachout, Fordham law professor and CEO of Mayday PAC.

The only City Council Participatory Budgeting event of the week is on Tuesday: Council Member David Greenfield (District 44, Brooklyn), 6:30 p.m.

WEDNESDAY
Wednesday is Veterans Day. At 8 a.m. Mayor de Blasio will hold a breakfast reception to honor and remember military veterans.

On Wednesday evening, many New York politicos, policy wonks, and others will gather to celebrate the 25th anniversary of City Journal, the Manhattan Institute policy publication.

THURSDAY
On Thursday at 8 a.m. Association for Better New York will host a breakfast with Congressional Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who will speak about the  projects, as well as her other priorities.

The next public meeting of the New York City Campaign Finance Board will be Thursday at 10 a.m.

At 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will hold a Public Land Use Hearing.

At 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Politico New York hosts New York Playbook Lunch, a discussion with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, hosted by playbook writers Azi Paybarah, Jimmy Vielkind, and Mike Allen.

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Transportation will meet for an oversight hearing on transportation deserts. The Committee will hear two bills: one to mandate a DOT study looking at the feasibility of a light rail system; another to mandate a study on transportation deserts. It will also look at resolutions calling on the MTA to allow commuters to pay the metrocard fare on commuter rails and to conduct a study on unused railroad rights.
  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Parks and Recreation will meet to hear CM Mark Levine’s bill that would create a taskforce to study the effects of building shadows on parks.
  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Aging will meet for oversight on DFTA’s home care program.
  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet to discuss a bill that would require residential buildings to have photoelectric smoke detectors.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Environmental Protection will meet to discuss two bills aimed at reducing noise by sightseeing helicopters.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will convene for oversight of DSNY’s 2016 snow plan, and the introduction of two bills that would identify pedestrian bridges and create plans for de-snowing and de-icing them and make exemptions for senior citizens and persons with disabilities from being penalized for failing to remove snow from on sidewalks.
  • At 1:30 p.m. the Committee on Veterans, jointly with the Committee on General Welfare will meet for oversight of the City’s efforts to end homelessness among military veterans.

Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at New York Law School: Law and the Lives of Young Black Men, "featuring Richard Buery, Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives; Alphonso B. David, Counsel to the Governor; and Nicholas Turner, President and Director, Vera Institute of Justice. Moderated by Professor Mercer Givhan, New York Law School."

Thursday evening, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries is holding a campaign fundraiser, a reception with Gov. Andrew Cuomo as the honorary guest.

At 6 p.m. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and the Bronx Borough Board will host a public hearing regarding the Zoning for Quality and Affordability and the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing proposals of Mayor de Blasio through the City Planning department and toward his housing plan.

Mayor de Blasio will host a town hall meeting focused on education in Jackson Heights, Queens, Thursday evening. Council Member Daniel Dromm, who chairs the City Council education committee, will welcome de Blasio and his team to the district.

At 7:30 p.m. Thursday, the New York City Department of Records and Information Services and WomensActivism.NYC will host the celebration of the 200th o birthday of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Women's Suffrage Centennial. Sponsored by the City of New York, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance NYC, The Cooper Union, and Lebenthal Asset Management, the event is expected to be attended by elected officials including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

FRIDAY
On Friday at 8:15 a.m. Vicki Been, the Commissioner for Housing Preservation and Development, will speak at the latest New York City Law School CityLaw breakfast event.

On Saturday: "Newly appointed New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia will give her first public address in New York City on Nov. 14 at the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators' (CSA) 48th Educational Leadership Conference...Elia will deliver the keynote at CSA's Professional Development Plenary."

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Colin O'Connor, Konstantine Beridze, and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 9 Sun, 08 Nov 2015 05:00:00 +0000
At Initial Hearing, Council Members Question Budget Transparency http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5615:at-initial-hearing-council-members-question-budget-transparency http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5615:at-initial-hearing-council-members-question-budget-transparency ferreras

CM Ferreras questions administration officials (photo: @JulissaFerreras)


NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio calls his budget fiscally responsible, progressive, and honest. But is it transparent? According to members of the City Council, it needs some improvement in that regard.

On Wednesday, the Council held its first in a series of hearings on the mayor's fiscal year 2016 preliminary budget. Gone were the muffins and soft lines of questioning from the initial council budget hearing last year, the first budget cycle for the new mayor and largely revamped council. Instead, Council Member Julissa Ferreras, chair of the Finance Committee, and her colleagues came armed with pointed questions, particularly related to transparency.

Ferreras cited the continued use of broad units of appropriations, lack of detail about key proposals, such as the City's housing plan, the council receiving delayed access to information, such as the Education Five Year Capital Plan, and the lack of clarity around how the administration will find savings without the use of mandated cuts across agencies.

"The lack of transparency in the budget and the administration's failure to timely provide budgetary information to the Council impedes the Council's ability to make informed decisions about the City's current fiscal condition, properly assess past and current proposals, and adequately make long-term planning decisions," Ferreras said at the budget hearing on Wednesday.

In its budget response last April, the Council demanded large units of appropriation, particularly around education funding, be broken up into specifics to better track spending and progress on initiatives.

"We are greatly concerned with the lack of transparency in units of appropriation in the Executive Budget," the April 2014 response reads. "Dividing funding for Universal Pre-Kindergarten, Elementary and Middle Schools and High Schools into smaller units of appropriation would increase accountability and transparency in a massive budget, making it easier to track categories of spending and ensure that all school funding is scheduled in the appropriate budget code."

Council members were hoping to curb the transparency issues that had plagued the Bloomberg administration, where including overly broad units of appropriation was common place. The Council asked the de Blasio administration to expand units of appropriations (U of A) in six areas. As of the preliminary budget, the de Blasio administration has complied with three of the six: renaming the U of A in the Miscellaneous Budget to "Reserve for Collective Bargaining," moving networks and clusters from the Schools to Regional Administration, and moving charter support costs to the Charter U of A.

The request to clean up U of As for Disease Control and Epidemiology is expected by the executive budget, but a new U of A for Early Intervention and a new U of A for Universal Pre-Kindergarten has not been complete.

Ferreras asked de Blasio's Budget Director, Dean Fuleihan, what is causing the delay, to which he responded that the City is committed to releasing the fourth detailed U of A by the executive budget, due in April.

"That's still not six. And that is still in fiscal year 16, as opposed to fiscal year 15 as we had discussed," Ferreras fired back, exemplary of a somewhat surprisingly tense session, even as the Council is largely supportive of the mayor's policy and budget plans.

Ferreras added the expanded U of A for universal pre-K, a $340 million state-funded program, was very important to the Council.

"We made a commitment and we will make sure that we keep that," Fuleihan said.

Ferreras noted that the Council is expected to make more requests related to U of A, and Fuleihan said that his team would work to make it happen.

PEGs
When de Blasio released his first budget in early 2014, he did away with Programs to Eliminate the Gap (PEG), which had become infamous during the Bloomberg years, when the mayor required agencies to identify ways to cut spending. The Council would expend enormous energy to restore proposed PEG cuts to things like firehouses and libraries, cuts which rarely made it into the executive budget.

Instead of PEG programs, de Blasio decided to use agency efficiency programs, asking each agency to take a look at their departments and propose cuts. But that process has not been made public and the agency efficiency proposals for FY16 are not in the preliminary budget.

"We want to make sure when we are here in FY17, we can follow whether the efficiency failed or not," Ferreras said.

Fuleihan noted the administration will be presenting that information soon and is open to discussing the format in which the Council would like to receive it. When presenting his preliminary budget, de Blasio told reporters that the cost savings identified by agency commissioners would be made clear in the April executive budget.

Capital Plans
The City Charter requires the administration to release a 10-year capital plan every two years. The plan allows the administration to showcase its vision for building things like schools and parks. This document is typically filled with dense narratives, charts, and graphs.

But this year, the first in which a 10-year capital plan is due for the de Blasio administration, the plan was not as detailed as it has been in the past, at least according to Ferreras, whose opinion was challenged by Fuleihan. He argued the administration included major agency zeroes and significant reductions in the Department of Education for the second five-year period, something not done in the prior administration.

"I would argue what we presented you was much more detailed," Fuleihan said. "We are happy to work with you and discuss the merit, but we believe this was a more realistic plan than the last 10-year capital plan that was presented."

Fuleihan noted it was a preliminary plan and several items would be affecting it that had not come down the pike yet, including the new PLaNYC, which is due in April, as well as state education funding, also due in April, and federal funding for the Highway Trust Fund, which is set to expire in May.

"They would like more transparency," Fuleihan said following the hearing. "We agreed to additional provisions last year in the adopted budget and we will continue to work with them. There is no reason not to work with them."

***
by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette
@MeriwetherK

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At Initial Hearing, Council Members Question Budget Transparency Wed, 04 Mar 2015 21:16:23 +0000