Budget on the Brain
June 23rd, 2010

A week to go until the city’s budget deadline.

If this were Albany, that date might be irrelevant.

But here it looks like the City Council and the Bloomberg administration are poised to deliver a $63 billion budget — give or take — on time.

The council’s budget negotiating team is reconvening this afternoon at 1:30 p.m. — yesterday’s session was botched. The council is wrestling with how to keep 50 senior centers and 20 fire companies open — its top priorities this budget season — while also lessening the blow from other social service slashes.

On top of that, Albany threw the adminsitration and the council another curve ball earlier this week when the State Legislature approved a budget extender that cut $300 million in municipal aid to the city. In the mayor’s executive budget, said a spokesperson, the city had expected $150 million in municipal aid funding.

That additional cut will have to come from somewhere.

Senate Democratic majority spokesman Austin Shafran said this morning the Senate is trying to make up for the cut by giving the city more funding through Medicaid or education aid.

“We agreed to accept the governor’s remaining cut,” said Shafran. “What’s being worked out is to make sure the city is not adversely impacted.”

By on June 23, 2010, 12:48 pm
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Housing Works Sues City Over HASA Cuts
June 22nd, 2010

The city’s budget hasn’t even been approved, and they are already in court over it.

Housing Works, which provides housing services to the homeless living with HIV and AIDS, is making good on a promise to sue over cuts to the city’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration. The adminsitration plans to slash 248 caseworkers, which advocates at Housing Works say violates a court order requiring certain case worker to client ratios at the agency.

As part of the cut, the adminsitration has proposed to count caseworkers it contracts with in the mandated ratios. The city says it reduces service redundancies. Advocates charge those caseworkers play a different role than the city’s workers and counting them towards the ratio would be illegal.

“We’ve shown in the past that when they cut HASA our folks suffer tremendously,” said Armen Merjian, a senior staff attorney at Housing Works. “We dont want to wait for further devastating consequences to befall our plaintiffs.”

This statement was e-mailed over from a spokesperson at the Human Resources Administration, which oversees the HIV/AIDS program:

“The Human Resources Administration has received the plaintiffs papers and is in the process of reviewing them. However we do not believe there is any violation of the court order or the local law. Because this is now in active litigation, we will strenuously defend the authority of the Administration.”

The first motion from Housing Works, which was filed in federal court in Brooklyn this morning, is below. The state is also named in the suit.

TRO Brief

By on June 22, 2010, 5:43 pm
In category: Albany,City Hall,Community Development,Economy,Electoral Politics,Gotham City,Governing,Health,Housing,Land Use,Law,Measuring UP,nextNY,Public Finance,Social Services | 1 Comment »

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Liu Backtracks on Placement Agents
June 22nd, 2010

In February, Comptroller John Liu said he was going to lift the ban on placement agents — middle men (or women) who help orchestrate deals with investment managers for control over city pension funds.

Today, the comptroller changed his mind.

In light of the evolving regulatory environment in Washington and based on our discussions with the Boards of Trustees, we found it appropriate to keep in place the ban on placement agents for private equity, said Liu in a prepared statement.

Though this doesn’t mean the comptroller won’t revisit the issue.

Placement agents were the subject of a couple of nasty scandals across the country — including right here in the Empire State. A ban on the state level has been championed by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

When Liu announced in February he wanted to ease the ban, the New York Times called it a “worrying step backward.”

Today’s reversal was accompanied by a series of new disclosure requirements for those that do business with the city’s pension system — the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) and the New York City Employees Retirement System (NYCERS) — valued at $74.5 billion. As part of the announcement, Liu reiterated his commitment to reject campaign contributions from investment managers or their agents seeking to do business or already doing business with the city’s pension funds.

The other requirements, straight from Liu’s press release, are below.
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By on June 22, 2010, 3:52 pm
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WFP Sums Up the State Budget...
June 16th, 2010

With this “quick” survey, which just landed in our inbox:

Hey Courtney,

With just a few days left before the final budget vote, how should Albany solve our state budget crisis?

A.) Fire thousands of teachers

B.) Tax Wall Street bonuses

Thanks for taking a moment to answer.

Bob Master, WFP Chair
Dan Cantor, WFP Executive Director

This is part of their campaign to (as you can see here) push for a tax on Wall Street. The idea has been picked up by the council’s newly minted progressive caucus — many of whom were supported by the Working Families Party last fall.

By on June 16, 2010, 3:51 pm
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Potential Successors Have (Much) Smaller Bank Accounts
June 15th, 2010

Three potential mayoral hopefuls in 2013 have far smaller bank accounts than City Hall’s current occupant.

According to financial disclosure forms released by the city Conflicts of Interest Board this morning, Comptroller John Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn didn’t finance trust funds or lease out horses in 2009.

But they aren’t complete penny pinchers either.

In 2009, the comptroller had between $100,000 and $250,000 in mutual funds and between $100,000 and $250,000 in a retirement account. His disclosure form, which a spokesperson said Liu prepared himself, did not include the home he owns in Flushing.

Reports released from other elected officials today included the real estate they owned.

Quinn, on the other hand, rents her primary residence (She does co-own a four-bedroom vacation home on the Jersey shore valued at more than $500,000). In 2009, the speaker’s only source of income was her $112,500 salary at the council and the $28,500 stipend she gets as its leader. She has between $5,000 and $40,000 in a deferred compensation plan and between $5,000 and $40,000 in a retirement account. (All income disclosures at the Conflicts of Interest Board are done in ranges).

Also in 2009, Quinn was paid between $1,000 and $5,000 for a trip to Belfast, Ireland to speak at an awards dinner and meet with public officials. The trip was bankrolled by The Belfast Group.
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By on June 15, 2010, 6:19 pm
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Living Wage Study Gets Approved -- With Skepticism
June 8th, 2010

A study to examine the economic viability of a living wage requirement was approved by the city’s Industrial Development Agency board today, but city officials, including Comptroller John Liu, are already raising questions about whether it will be truly independent.
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Photo credit: (cc) 2009 Atomische Tom Giebel


The IDA board gave the OK to use up to $1 million to study how a living wage proposal would impact the city economy. Such proposals are pending in both the City Council and the State Legislature — largely spurred from defeat of the Kingsbridge Armory project last year. The IDA has not yet selected a consultant to conduct the study. A spokesman said one will be selected in the coming weeks. The agency has received five proposals.

Liu was one of three IDA board members to vote against the living wage study, calling the proposal a “sham.”

“An independent, impartial study on wage requirements for publicly-subsidized economic development could be helpful to all parties involved,” Liu said in a prepared statement. “The consultant contract proposal before us today, however, fails to ensure the delivery of an objective product. My office had offered specific recommendations to improve the study, to no avail. It is unfortunate that the EDC is intent on squandering a million dollars on this charade of a study.”

Liu’s staff sat down with the Industrial Development Agency to make recommendations to the living wage proposal, all of which were rejected by the IDA, according to the comptroller’s office. Those recommendations included the creation of a peer review panel of labor economists to review the study’s results and allowing IDA board members to vote on whether to adopt the study’s recommendations.

According to Dave Lombino, a spokesperson at the Economic Development Corp., which oversees the IDA, the consultant would be required to regularly meet and interview with a group of stakeholders. That group includes local unions, like 32BJ, advocacy groups, like Good Jobs New York, and real estate interests, like the Real Estate Board of New York.
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By on June 8, 2010, 4:00 pm
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Where's the Revenue?
June 7th, 2010

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A banner unfurled at the hearing this morning. Credit: Photo Housing Works/Julie Turkewitz

A balanced budget is a simple thing.

If you don’t have enough cash, you have to cut. If you don’t want to cut, then you have to raise the cash.

Makes sense, right?

This morning at City Hall, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mark Page, tested council members’ grasp on the concept. For the most part, those council members would much rather raise revenue instead of slash at city services.

They had a couple of suggestions — none of which were palatable to Page. Staying in his usual character, Page shot them down, one after the other.

Take Councilmember Letitia James, who suggested early retirement incentives to help ease the burn of layoffs.

To Page, that would only make matters worse.

“When you take a group of city employees and accelerate when they leave, what you are doing is moving from that 40-year municipal lifetime to something shorter,” Page said. “You pay them a premium for retiring early. … Now say that person would work another four years. Well, that four years you are paying the first guy that premium and you’re paying somebody else’s pension and health costs.”

Page went on: “You save money the first year. You start losing money in the second year. By the fourth year, you’re under water.”

If the city were going to layoff a large number of workers (let’s say, hypothetically, the 4,400 teacher layoffs were back on the table), then the prospect of early retirement or buyouts could be explored, Page said.

Well, why not use the surplus from the city’s health care trust fund — which officials estimate will be at $1.4 billion this year — to soften the budget blow, asked Councilmember Vincent Gentile?

Page said no way.
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By on June 7, 2010, 5:31 pm
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Borough Brawl Over Fire Companies?
June 4th, 2010

fdny

Photo (cc) 2005 icopythat

Members of the City Council Queens delegation spatted with fellow council members this morning during a budget hearing on the proposed closure of 20 fire companies.

Arguing that Queens and Staten Island have the worst response times — 4 minutes and 20 seconds and 4 minutes and 50 seconds, respectively, for structural fires as of April 2010 — Councilmember Dan Halloran of Queens said the Fire Department shouldn’t shutter any companies in those boroughs if it was trying to create the smallest impact with its proposed closures.

“Removing any fire companies from those two would of course increase response times, and I say this with all due respect to my lovely friends in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan, but understand our response times are almost a minute higher than Brooklyn’s,” said Halloran. “Given what you just said, it begs the question: Queens and Staten Island are off the table, is that accurate?

As Halloran went on, Councilmember Letitia James of Brooklyn shook her head left to right, mouthing the word “no.” (Brooklyn, as of April 2010, has the lowest response time for structural fires at 3 minutes and 33 seconds.

Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, however, took a pass: “One thing I am not going to do is get into a five borough fight.”

Trying to smother the flames, Minority Leader Jimmy Oddo of Staten Island said the council would be fighting the fire company closures as a collective body.

“There is no borough versus borough,” Oddo said. “Last year there was a coalition that was built. … There is no divide between and among this council, and that is the same coalition that will we need to fight this and win this. We did it last year, and we’re going to do it this year.”

With just over three weeks left until the budget deadline, members of the City Council are squirming to know what fire companies could close in fiscal year 2011. In the mayor’s executive budget released in May, the Bloomberg adminsitration proposed to shutter 20 companies to save the city about $6.7 million. In total, the department faces about $30 million in cuts for fiscal year 2011, which increases to $41 million the following fiscal year.
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By on June 4, 2010, 5:25 pm
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Park Dividends
June 4th, 2010

Gotham Gazette parks writer Anne Schwartz filed this post.

The Daily News today highlighted the economic powerhouse that is Central Park. A few interesting statistics from the article:

— More than 35 million people visit the park a year, sometimes more than 200,000 on a weekend day. Thats more than Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks combined.

— Hotels near the park account for 37 percent of all hotel rooms in the city and employ almost 14,000 people.

— Between 1997 and 2007, the average value of properties on the blocks between Central Park West and Columbus Avenues increased 73 percent faster than the average value of properties between Columbus and Amsterdam.

In a recession, mayors and governors tend to target parks as an expendable luxury, even though park operating budgets account for a minuscule percentage of the overall budget. But as a number of studies have shown, when parks are well-maintained, attractive and accessible, the economic boost they provide in increased real estate values, tourism dollars, jobs and tax revenues — far outweighs the cost of upkeep.
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By on June 4, 2010, 2:24 pm
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The Budget Hole Gets Deeper
June 4th, 2010

Ray Katz filed this post.

Members of New Yorks congressional delegation met yesterday afternoon at Gracie Mansion with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson to discuss the citys ongoing budget woes, which now threaten to balloon to even greater proportions,

The House version of a $113 billion measure that, among other things, extends unemployment insurance, passed last week without federally mandated funds that go to help states pay Medicaid costs, money known as FMAP. The Senate version of the bill didn’t pass at all. Bloomberg said the lack of the fund would cost the city $600 million; Paterson said it would increase the state deficit by an additional billion dollars, bringing the total to $10.2 billion.

Bloomberg added that dropping the $600 million from the budget would translate into the elimination of roughly 10,000 jobs.

Also present were City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Senate Majority Leader John Sampson.

Quinn emphasized that the federal funds, which were expected to come through, had already been included in the mayors budget. Their elimination would mean additional cuts for the city, she said. “It’s a big number on top of already big numbers.”

Lawmakers said that they plan to schedule a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi next week in Washington and will push for the funds, despite the reluctance of many members of Congress to spend more federal money.

“FMAP affects everything,” said Silver, citing firehouses, senior centers and the police department as institutions that benefit from the crucial funds.

The deadline for New York Citys budget is June 28. It will be passed on time, the mayor saidwith or without the $600 million.

By on June 4, 2010, 2:05 pm
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Cmon LeBron
June 4th, 2010

In case you haven’t seen it yet, here is Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s pitch to lure LeBron James to the Big Apple.

The sleek video was paid for by NYC & Company, and we’re waiting to see how much it cost. The mayor’s office says it was not created at taxpayer’s expense.

Would you be convinced?

By on June 4, 2010, 1:44 pm
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The No Raise, No Layoff Plan
June 2nd, 2010

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to freeze salaries for teachers, school administrators and Department of Education managers will prevent the layoff of some 4,400 teachers, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said at a press conference earlier today.

The city had originally budgeted to give members of the United Federation of Teachers 2 percent raises in each of the next two years. Eliminating the increase, Klein said, would free up some $400 million and so would save some 4,400 teaching jobs slated for elimination in the mayor’s executive budget released last month. The system would, however, would still lose about 2,000 teachers through attrition.

Budgets going out to principals today will include a 4 percent spending decrease that, Klein said, could show up in cuts to afterschool and Saturday programs, layoffs of teachers aides, and cuts in professional development programs.

Earlier today, the union issued a statement (reprinted below)
sharply disagreeing with the no raise idea. ” [Bloomberg] does NOT have the power to unilaterally decide on the teachers contract, and we have reached NO agreement on his proposal to freeze teacher pay,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said.
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By on June 2, 2010, 1:43 pm
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It's Back
May 25th, 2010

The living wage bill, first introduced following the demise of the Kingsbridge Armory last year, is back at the City Council.

It will be officially introduced this afternoon by council members Oliver Koppell and Annabel Palma at the request of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. (It’s also the first time I can recall seeing a borough president introduce legislation.) The bill would require any city subsidized development pay employees on the premises a living wage. It includes any tenant of that development project, but would exempt any projects exclusively for affordable housing, cultural groups or social service organizations. It will give the comptroller the power to monitor the bill’s compliance.

The bill defines a living wage as $10 an hour plus benefits.

On hand today, Palma said the bill, which is sure to divide the council and the adminsitration, would get its fair hearing.

“We are creating a workforce lifted out of poverty to self sufficiency,” said Palma today at City Hall. Palma said she hasn’t received a commitment from Council Speaker Christine Quinn that the bill will get a hearing.

But, she added, “I think it will get its due process.”
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By on May 25, 2010, 3:13 pm
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A Budget Breakdown
May 24th, 2010

Not all is fair in fiscal year 2011 — at least to the hordes of advocates and politicians vying to save their favorite projects and programs.

Below you can find out how your favorite agency has fared, whether its proposed cuts are deeper than other departments and how much it’s slated to spend this year.

Click on the chart to interact. You can click through agencies on the side and roll over the graphic to view the funding level by fiscal year. If you want an expanded view, you can click on the title.

Enjoy!

By on May 24, 2010, 12:13 pm
In category: Albany,City Hall,Crime & Safety,Economy,Education,Electoral Politics,Environment,Gotham City,Governing,Health,Housing,Immigrants,Law,nextNY,Parks,Public Finance,Social Services,Tech,Transportation | 3 Comments »

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New Yorkers Disapprove of Budget Handling
May 21st, 2010

Less than half of New York City voters approve of the way Mayor Michael Bloomberg is handling the budget, according to a new poll from Quinnipiac University.

According to the poll, released this morning, 47 percent of voting New Yorkers approve of Bloomberg’s budget tactics, while 44 percent disapprove. The mayor’s overall approval rating fell to 57 from 61 percent in March.

The mayor’s approval rating dip appears to be driven by the city’s budget woes. Earlier this month, the mayor released a $62.9 billion budget that slashes 20 fire companies and could cut 6,700 teachers. At the time, the mayor blamed Albany.

But New Yorkers are taking it out on Bloomberg.
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By on May 21, 2010, 1:25 pm
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Fire Company Closures Delayed For Now
May 17th, 2010

fire

Photo (cc) 2008 dietrich.

To Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley, no news on the mayor’s decision to close fire companies is good news.

“She thinks it’s a good sign,” said Crowley spokesperson Meredith Burak. “We’ve rallied in every borough. Firefighters are the ones that are protesting these cuts.” Crowley chairs the council’s Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said today he won’t release the list of 20 fire companies the administration proposes to close until more is known about the state budget.

The Fire Department must notify the City Council 45 days before it decides to close any company. Given this timeline, fire companies will stay open until at least July 2. According to the executive budget, closing 20 companies would save the city $5.6 million in fiscal year 2011.

Last year, the mayor proposed to shutter 16 companies to help close a budget gap. The City Council restored the Fire Department’s funding to save them.

By on May 17, 2010, 4:13 pm
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Issue Forums Scheduled
May 14th, 2010

To dig deep into the nitty-gritty of the City Charter, the Charter Revision Commission will host five issue forums on specific areas it plans to focus on.

They announced the schedule yesterday. Just a refresher, the topics are: term limits, voter participation, government structure, public integrity and land use. There will be one forum in every borough. First up, the ever-popular term limits issue, which will be at Brooklyn Borough Hall.

The full list is after the jump.
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By on May 14, 2010, 10:52 am
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Budget Hearings Breakdown
May 13th, 2010

The City Council kicked off its executive budget hearings this morning, and over the next month there will be dozens more.

This schedule is subject to change, but here is how it’s laid out now.

Friday, May 14

Human Rights Commission, 10 a.m.
City University of New York, 10:30 a.m.
Education and School Construction Authority (Capital), 12 p.m.

Monday, May 17
Citywide Administrative Services, 10 a.m.
Board of Elections, 10:45 a.m.
Campaign Finance Board, 11:45 a.m.
Aging, 12:30 p.m.
Juvenile Justice, 2 p.m.
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By on May 13, 2010, 6:00 pm
In category: Albany,City Hall,Community Development,Crime & Safety,Economy,Education,Electoral Politics,Eye Opener,Gotham City,Governing,Health,Housing,Land Use,Law,nextNY,Parks,Public Finance,Social Services,sustainability,Tech,Transportation | 1 Comment »

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Communty Boards Get a Pass
May 12th, 2010

It’s not just cops that are getting a pass in this year’s budget.

Community boards are off the chopping block too.

Mayoral Spokesperson Marc LaVorgna just sent over the following comments made by Mayor Michael Bloomberg on his radio show last Friday:

“Well, Ive looked carefully community boards are really a voice for people, and you know, they give a lot of good input to the City, they give people a chance to say what they want to say in front of other people who come from their neighborhoods and everybody learns from each other. We believe it or not really do change what we do based on input from the community boards. Not every time and you cant agree with every community board. Theres 59 of them and a lot go one way, a lot go another so you cant do it every time. But we will, I think, not cut the funding for the community boards this year. In the very difficult budget times its hard to exempt anybody, but community boards really dont get that much money out of the 63 or 64 billion dollar budget, and I think they really do provide a lot. And its just not community boards. There are some small City agencies where, you know, if theyve got five people cutting them to four is a 20% cut in their staff and their ability to do things and it saves you a small amount of money. So I think community boards will come out of this budget cycle. You know, theyll always want more, but they wont get less and thats a positive, you know, given the environment we have.”

When the mayor was slashing at the boards last year, we reported on speculation that he was trying to do away with them altogether. At least for now, that doesn’t seem likely.

The boards will be a subject of the city’s Charter Review Commission, which has made government authority and power one of the five issues it will look at.

By on May 12, 2010, 3:56 pm
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Quinn Mum on Budget (update)
May 12th, 2010

Council Speaker Christine Quinn isn’t letting anything slip out about this year’s budget negotiations.

“We’re in the beginning of the budget negotiation process,” said Quinn. “We take the cuts that are proposed to any and all entities in government and outside of government seriously. We’ll be reviewing them and our final decision will be reflected in the budget.”

Quinn was responding to a question on whether the council would move to restore a cut to the public advocate’s office, which is slated to get $1.75 million in fiscal year 2011. The budget for the office in fiscal year 2010 is about $2.8 million, according to the mayor’s executive budget. Much of that did not go to newly minted Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, but to his predecessor Betsy Gotbaum, who failed to curb spending at her office after a 40 percent cut in the budget last year.

In March, the adminsitration infused the public advocate’s office with $850,000 so it could continue to operate.

Last year, the council did not step in to save Betsy. Asked if it would consider stepping in to help out de Blasio, Quinn wouldn’t say.

“I am not going to negotiate the budget in the press,” Quinn said.

De Blasio’s office will also have to compete against other agencies and departments for the council’s budget love. It very well could be the public advocate versus 20 fire companies threatened with closure, 16 day care centers set to shutter and thousands of classrooms without teachers.

UPDATE: de Blasio’s office sent over this comment from the public advocate.

I completely understand that the city is facing tough economic times and all branches of government should cut spending, but it is misleading to say that the Public Advocates Office is receiving the same cuts as other agencies. The Office has seen a 45 percent budget reduction in the past two years, and has lost more than half of its staff. This not the way we should fund a Charter-mandated office.

By on May 12, 2010, 2:20 pm
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