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Amid Ongoing Uncertainty, De Blasio Makes Modest Budget Adjustment


bdb budget presentation

De Blasio during a budget presentation (photo: Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio will release the mandated November budget modification on Tuesday, showing minor adjustments to the city’s nearly $86 billion budget for the current fiscal year, which runs through the end of June.

Spending for fiscal year 2018 (FY18) will be projected up from the $85.24 billion agreed upon by de Blasio and the City Council in June to $85.99 billion, according to the mayor’s office. The increase is largely due to more federal funding coming to the city for recovery from Superstorm Sandy and Homeland Security grants.

Otherwise, the budget adjustment includes a variety of new spending by the city and several areas in which the city is marking additional savings, according to the mayor's office. The city is projecting a $207 million reduction in city tax revenue, mostly in business taxes, while there is a projected increase in property tax revenue that will partially offset those shortfalls. The city budget has grown quickly under de Blasio and other November modifications have included larger increases in spending. The minimal nature of this mid-fiscal year adjustment appears indicative of the level to which de Blasio has funded his programs and priorities and the ongoing questions surrounding federal policies.

The November Plan, as it is known, will not reflect potential federal cuts or the possible effects of federal tax reform plans currently being debated, nor will it show any major new city spending.

"We came into office four years ago promising to bring opportunity to those who had been left without for so long. Today, we're on track to invest more in affordable housing than any administration in decades, we've created an entirely new grade and, bringing police and community together, we've seen the lowest crime rates in history,” de Blasio said in a statement. “While we will continue to provide for New Yorkers however we can, we must do so thoughtfully and strategically while the threat of funding cuts from Washington continues to loom."

The plan will show the addition of $47 million in city funds for FY18, largely for agency spending and an increase in pension contributions. The de Blasio administration says that the increases are more than offset by savings related to health care costs, debt service, and agency adjustments. While overall expenditures are projected to increase by $747 million, the FY18 budget remains balanced, as it must.

New spending highlights provided to Gotham Gazette by the mayor’s office include $7 million to upgrade the city’s 311 system and other major projects supported by the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications; $4 million for sending supplies and city works to Puerto Rico to assist with hurricane recovery; $4.5 million to develop a construction site safety program; and $10 million for creating the new procurement system, PASSport. There is also $7.5 million to reflect additional costs from new collective bargaining agreements with certain employees at the Department of Environmental Protection.

The modification does not include any significant additional expenditures toward fighting homelessness or any of de Blasio’s other major priorities, like expanding pre-school to three-year-olds, closing the Rikers Island jails, or spurring 100,000 good-paying jobs over ten years.

Some of the agency savings outlined in the modification include the Department of Transportation saving $400,000 by using less expensive video cameras and computer analysis contracts for projects where manual traffic surveys are insufficient and the Financial Information Services Agency saving $500,000 due to lower maintenance of new computer equipment, according to the mayor’s office.

The November Plan will show $59 million in additional projected spending for FY19. The FY19 budget process will kick into gear in January when the mayor releases his preliminary budget. Hanging over the current and next city budgets are potential changes in state aid to the city and a great deal of uncertainty in terms of federal aid and policy out of Washington D.C. The city budget has grown about 18 percent under de Blasio, up to the nearly $86 billion now projected for this fiscal year, in large part due to increases in the city personnel headcount (thousands more teachers, police officers, and others) and additional programmatic expenditures (including related to homelessness and other social services, where expenditures have increased dramatically).

The budget adjustment does not reflect any federal cuts, as most of what has been proposed in Washington, D.C. has yet to come to fruition. The high-profile threat to city taxpayers that is the proposed reduction of state and local tax (SALT) deductions from federal tax filings is still being debated in Washington and around the country. De Blasio, a recently reelected Democrat, is working to fight the proposed tax reforms, which are being pushed by President Donald Trump and many of his fellow Republicans in Congress. Even if there is significant reform to SALT, it would not cut federal funding to the city. It would, however, put additional financial stress on many city taxpayers, whose overall tax burdens would increase, in some cases significantly. This stress would likely lead to calls for reductions in city and state taxes, which could lead the city to lower taxes under its control and thus have less revenue to spend.

De Blasio’s prior November Plan budget modifications were more significant in scope -- his first, in November 2014, showed almost $2 billion in additional planned expenditure, largely having to do with federal Sandy aid, as well as tens of millions of dollars in added spending on de Blasio priorities like NYPD retraining of officers, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and a rental assistance program for domestic violence survivors.

Upon release of this November Plan, the City Council will review the budget adjustments and is expected to vote them through.

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

City Council Speaker Candidates Address Power, Reform and Transparency


city spe canidates

the City Council Speaker candidates at a prior forum (photo: William Alatriste)


Seven of the eight candidates vying to become the next Speaker of the New York City Council convened at New York Law School on Monday night for a forum focused on government reform, running the Council, transparency, ethics, voting, and elections.

The candidates made their cases for their leadership prowess, and discussed extending term limits for Council members, greater transparency around lobbying, key questions about campaign finance reform in the city, and much more.

With the city’s election season over, all eyes are now turned toward the race for who will replace Melissa Mark-Viverito as Speaker in what is arguably the second most powerful position in city government behind the Mayor. Mark-Viverito is term-limited out of office and eight men, all fellow Democrats, are in the running to replace her. The next Speaker will be chosen by the 51 members of the Council at the first meeting of the next Council class in January, though a great deal of jockeying is already going on, including influential outside forces, and a deal might be struck before the end of the year.

On Tuesday night, the attending candidates were Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, and Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan; Donovan Richards and Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens; and Robert Cornegy and Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn. Bronx Council Member Ritchie Torres, also vying for the Speakership, was not in attendance due to a district event. The forum was sponsored by Citizens Union along with other good government groups Reinvent Albany, League of Women Voters of New York City, and NYPIRG. Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max served as moderator.

To start the event the candidates were asked how they think their Council colleagues think of them.

Levine, the first to speak, said that he is an effective member who gets things done, citing his work with Council Member Vanessa Gibson to pass a right-to-counsel in housing court that Mayor Bill de Blasio had initially pushed back against. Richards, after saying his colleagues think he’s “beautiful,” discussed his even temperament and ability to work with other members. He said he doesn’t think his colleagues would have a negative word to say about him.

Rodriguez cited his work on the transportation committee and having been an advocate for immigrants. Johnson said he has been a leader and that the consistent theme of his tenure has been helping marginalized populations such as transgender people and victims of domestic violence. Williams said he hoped his colleagues thought he was honest, and saw himself as an activist who has guided conversations such as for the Community Safety Act. And Cornegy, who initially joked that his colleagues see the 6’10” Council member as “head and shoulders above the rest,” discussed his “temperament” and having passed bills through five separate committees.

The candidates were then asked a question they didn’t seem to have thought much about: what is the Speaker’s role in terms of oversight of how the other 50 members are doing their jobs? The candidates mostly answered by discussing ways in which to empower members. None addressed issues raised by the moderator around what the Speaker should do about a Council member who isn’t performing well in terms constituent services or attendance at hearings.

At one point, Rodriguez reiterated his call that all Council members be allowed three four-year terms. In 2008, the City Council voted to temporarily extend term limits for the Mayor, the other citywide positions, and City Council members to three terms. The move was done despite multiple public votes for the two-term limit.

All of the other candidates, save for Richards, agreed with the notion of extending term limits for Council members, permanently going to three terms for the legislative posts, while keeping citywide and borough-wide positions to two four-year terms. Some asserted that it should only be done through a public referendum, though, not simply through legislation. Candidates argued that large turnovers at once, as will happen through the 2021 elections when about three-quarters of the Council will be term-limited out, is bad for the city. (Richards later told The Daily News he also supports the measure.)

“One, I think it’s unfair that some of us had a third term and some colleagues didn’t,” Williams said. “Two, as good government, it doesn’t fully make sense that you want us to provide a balance to the mayor, but the entire city government is gonna be up at the same time. Two-thirds of the Council will be up at the same time as the mayor. We have to think about the impact that’s gonna have on how we want the government to function.”

On the issue of the city Board of Elections, a notoriously dysfunctional organization rife with political patronage and undue allegiance to county parties, the candidates mostly avoided calling for major changes to how BOE commissioners are appointed (there is one Republican and one Democratic commissioner from each borough, nominated by the political party establishments and approved by the City Council). Williams was most clear in acknowledging that the BOE has a patronage problem, and said he would be open to non-partisan appointments to the board.

Williams and Cornegy both praised John Flateau, the Board of Elections Democratic commissioner from their borough of Brooklyn.

Other candidates shifted the conversation away from reforming the board and towards New York’s substandard voting laws. Candidates called for early voting and same-day voter registration, avoiding discussion of the makeup of the BOE as they continue to seek support from the same party apparatuses that control current BOE appointments. Johnson veered to an even larger topic, home rule, whereby the state controls numerous major city issues, before disagreeing with the premise of a non-partisan board.

“I do not support non-partisan appointments to the Board of Elections,” Johnson said. “I believe that the parties play a particular role in ensuring that we make sure that any party that’s dominant at a given time cannot run roughshod over another party. If someone came up with a perfect system of a non-partisan way to handle it, maybe I’d entertain it. I’ve never heard of that system, I don’t know how you take political influence out of politics.”

Levine took a similar stance to Johnson, referring to elections as the “ultimate partisan battlefield,” not acknowledging that the BOE is supposed to be a fair arbiter and election administrator. Levine said that the partisan nature of the Board of Elections, and its Democratic-Republican balance, ensures parity between the parties and doesn’t allow one to dominate.

The candidates further refrained from criticizing county party organizations and particularly the party chairs, who are often seen as deciding the speaker’s race in the city. Richards and Van Bramer, both of Queens, praised Queens Democratic Party Chair Joe Crowley, with Van Bramer in particular singling out the congressman for praise.

“In Queens,” Van Bramer said, “we are fortunate to have a terrific leader. And I’ve said that Congressman Crowley would be a great Speaker of the House of Representatives, and I stand by that. Obviously, being a Sunnyside/Woodside guy, we have a lot of local pride in a Woodsider potentially being the Speaker of the House of Representatives.”

Rodriguez, who is not a member of the Queens Democratic delegation, also had words of praise for Crowley, who is seen this year as the top “kingmaker” in the speaker process because of his ability to control the votes of many Queens Council members.

“I will be working shoulder to shoulder with County Leader Joe Crowley for immigrants’ rights,” Rodriguez said. “As a leader nationwide, if I become the speaker he will have an ally, and I know that I will count him as an ally.” Rodriguez also said he would be working with Bronx Democratic Leader Marcos Crespo; both Crowley and Crespo are known to run machine-style party organizations within their respective boroughs and together they are seen to control a bloc of speaker votes close to the 25 needed to get a candidate, along with their own singular vote, the majority needed.

None of the candidates acknowledged that part of the deal to crown the next Speaker may include choices of top leadership posts like Majority Leader and chairs of the most powerful Council committees, finance and land use. Given the vote for the next Speaker is still several weeks away, specific discussions of this nature may not have occurred yet, but they are known to have occurred in the past.

All of the candidates argued for greater transparency in lobbying and in general, to some degree. Johnson said that Council members should be required to post their schedules online to allow the public to see who they are meeting with. Van Bramer said that people can get Council members’ schedules through Freedom of Information Law requests (FOILs), but acknowledged that it should not necessarily take such an effort.

Opinions about lobbyists themselves varied. Williams joked that he would be Speaker already if he had built a tunnel to allow members to escape from them; meanwhile, Rodriguez said that many lobbyists represent good people and shouldn’t be universally panned. Williams and Rodriguez were the only two candidates on the stage who said they have not hired a political consultant for the speaker’s race. Other members defended the practice, noting how time-consuming and complicated it has become to run for the post. Levine said it may make sense to examine if there are ways to regulate the speaker’s race in the future. When asked, none of the candidates indicated they would need to take any special steps to ensure that their consultants don’t have undue influence over them if they become the Speaker.

When it came time for the “lightning round” of quick questions-and-answers, it was clear that there were more substantive differences among the candidates. Though all candidates said that the current $4,950 campaign contribution limit to citywide candidates is good and that ranked-choice voting should be adopted to avoid runoffs, the candidates disagreed other items.

Richards broke with the pack to oppose non-citizen voting in municipal elections, explaining that he had “trepidation” with the Trump administration, possibly a reference to the possibility of federal officials being able to obtain new information about those in the country illegally. The others were all in support of the concept to varying degrees, with some saying it should be restricted to legal permanent residents and others not attaching conditions.

The question that most split the field was the question of whether city elections should take the form of open primaries, which would allow any registered voter to cast a vote in the party primary of their choice. Richards, Rodriguez, and Williams all affirmed their support for open primaries, while Cornegy, Levine, and Van Bramer stated their opposition to the concept. Van Bramer said that partisan primaries are the “good government position,” despite many good government groups actively opposing closed partisan primaries. Johnson said that political party affiliation matters, but didn’t firmly answer either way.

Members were also split on whether the Council should have fewer committees (there are currently more than 40 issue committees run in the 51-member body). Surprisingly, Rodriguez said that there should be more committees, so that every member could chair one. Johnson, meanwhile, said that some committees should be folded together but others, such as Fire and Criminal Justice Services, should be separated. Williams said that the reason there were so many committees was because of the attached stipends, which were recently eliminated as part of reforms to the Council member position, including salary raises, and called for an increased use of task forces, like on gun violence.

None of the candidates wanted to answer one lightning round question: who would you back for Speaker if you couldn’t vote for yourself? Johnson, by luck of the draw, was asked first and took a long pause before attempting a roundabout answer without naming anyone. It soon became clear that none of the seven wanted to answer the question, and the round moved on with some laughter from the crowd and the candidates.

When asked for a single idea on how to make city government more transparent, the candidates all gave different answers.

Richards called for strengthening the Council’s investigations and oversight committee to hold agencies more accountable; Rodriguez called for greater transparency in Council discretionary spending; Johnson called for putting the budget online for people to easily find out where money is being spent; Van Bramer called for “gender and race audits” of the Council and city agencies to ensure parity; Williams called for the committee hearing process, and how it’s presented to the public, to be reformed; Cornegy called for city contractors to disclose the demographics of their workforce; and Levine called for greater transparency in budget appropriations.

To close the event the candidates were asked how they would seek to improve Council oversight of the mayoral administration. In their remarks, each candidate answered the question while also mixing in something of a closing argument for their candidacy. Several candidates offered a number of specific reforms they want to push if elected Speaker.

All candidates advocated for a stronger, independent Council, with Williams stating that the lack of any use of a veto in de Blasio’s term may mean the Council hasn’t pushed the envelope enough. Cornegy said that the Council hadn’t exercised its strength given by the dissolution of the Board of Estimate, and that budget issues would continue to be an issue in that regard. Richards once again called for strengthening the oversight committee, while Johnson called for increasing the Council’s central budget to be more in line with city agencies. Levine said the Council should delve into budget issues beyond the marquee items, Van Bramer said the Council should utilize its subpoena power, and Rodriguez pledged to maintain the body’s independence but work with the mayor when possible.

Full video of the forum:

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 20


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Welcome to Thanksgiving week, which has a lot going on the first couple of days before quieting down for the long holiday weekend.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is back in town after a week on family vacation in Connecticut. While de Blasio was away, controversy blew up around NYCHA’s mishandling of lead inspections. De Blasio defended Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye amid calls from Public Advocate Letitia James and others that she step down. Council Member Ritchie Torres, chair of the public housing committee, announced plans for an oversight hearing in December. NYCHA announced multiple personnel and protocol changes on Friday, with Olatoye remaining in charge. Questions will surely follow into this week, especially amid calls from Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and others for an independent monitor of the housing authority, and new information is released -- there will be at least one relevant event Monday, see below for details.

On Monday, de Blasio has three public events on his schedule -- see below for details. De Blasio will hold a town hall meeting in Queens on Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, there’ a bit of action at the City Council this week, including a couple of high-profile oversight hearings -- see below for details, and, on Monday night, a forum for those seeking to become the next Speaker of the Council, an event co-hosted by Citizens Union and New York Law School, as well as other co-sponsors, and moderated by Gotham Gazette’s Ben Max. Attend the event at New York Law School or watch the livestream on Facebook or listen to the live broadcast on WBAI radio (99.5 FM).  

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - see 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: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
Mayor de Blasio will and NYPD Commissioner Jimmy O’Neill "will deliver remarks at the NYPD Academy Library’s renaming ceremony in honor of Commissioner Benjamin Ward" at 11 a.m. At 12:30 p.m., "the Mayor and Commissioner will hold a media availability about security for the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade" and will take press questions. Later, at 4 p.m. at City Hall, "the Mayor will hold a public hearing on 23 pieces of legislation."

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committees on Veterans and Mental Health will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “mental health services for NYC-area veterans.”
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Committees on Housing and Buildings and General Welfare will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “HPD’s coordination with DHS/HRA to address the homelessness crisis.”
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.

On Monday at 8 a.m. at The InterContinental New York Barclay Hotel, "Food Bank For New York City will hold "a Legislative Breakfast to release a new report on the state of hunger and the Emergency Food Network in NYC. The report analyzes food insecurity among New York’s communities in the face of looming uncertainty at the federal level." The report comes amid federal cuts and threats to food funding. The breakfast will also "honor New York City Council Members Levin and Grodenchik for their leadership in the fight to eradicate poverty and hunger across the five boroughs by working to strengthen New York’s emergency food network."

On Monday at 11 a.m., Riders Alliance "will introduce a new tool for riders to address continuing subway delays by becoming transit activists in the moment, right on the train or platform. The Riders Alliance will distribute thousands of “Subway Delay Action Kits,” packets of cards with instructions that riders can use to sign the online “Fix the Subway” petition, tweet their frustration directly at Governor Cuomo, and become transit advocates who can help win the funding and attention needed to modernize the MTA." The event, which will include elected officials, will take place "outside Grand Central Station at the SE corner of 42nd St and Park Ave." 

At 11 a.m. Monday, the Assembly Standing Committees on Health and Aging will meet jointly in the Assembly Hearing Room at 250 Broadway in Manhattan, to discuss “nursing home quality of care and patient safety and enforcement.”

At 12:30 p.m. Monday at 250 Broadway in Manhattan, "Members of the New York State Senate, Assembly and New York City Council will call for the creation of an independent monitor to oversee the New York City Housing Authority...Members of the Independent Democratic Conference will also unveil a new report, “Public Housing Peril: The Need to Hold NYCHA Accountable,” conducted with City Council Public Housing Chair Ritchie Torres and Community Voices Heard, on poor NYCHA conditions and the slow responses to requests from tenants to remedy their complaints." Participants will include Senator Jeff Klein, Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Assemblyman Walter Mosley, Senator Marisol Alcantara, Senator Diane Savino, City Council Public Housing Chair Ritchie Torres, Councilman Mark Treyger, and others.

At 5 p.m. Monday, the Brooklyn Historical Society and the Brooklyn Navy Yard will “celebrate Teen Innovators, an after school program offered by BHS and BNY, which has just been named a 2017 National  Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award winner.” The celebration will take place at BLDG 92 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

On Monday at 6 p.m., #GetOrganizedBK will partner with Congregation Beth Elohim for a town hall with newly-elected Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, Citizens Union and New York Law School will host a forum for candidates for New York City Council Speaker, focusing on good government. Confirmed attendees are Manhattan Council Members Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, and Ydanis Rodriguez; Queens Council Members Donovan Richards and Jimmy Van Bramer; and Brooklyn Council Members Robert Cornegy and Jumaane Williams. Gotham Gazette’s Ben Max will serve as moderator. Other co-sponsors include Reinvent Albany, League of Women Voters, and NYPIRG.

Tuesday
At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committee on Public Safety will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “NYPD’s School Safety’s role and efforts to improve school climate.”
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 10:30 a.m.
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 10:30 a.m.
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Committees on Consumer Affairs and Environmental Protection will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “the feasibility of microgrids.”

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals will hold a public hearing at Spector Hall.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio will hold a town hall meeting at Flushing International High School with Council Member Peter Koo, U.S. Rep Grace Meng, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, and Assemblymember Ron Kim.

Wednesday
No events on our radar as of Sunday evening.

Thursday
Happy Thanksgiving! The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will travel through Midtown Manhattan on Thursday.

Friday and the weekend
No events on our radar as of Sunday evening.

***
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: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette



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