Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/daniel-dromm 2019-06-25T02:21:12+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Effort Launched to Elect LGBTQ Members to City Council 2019-05-22T04:00:00+00:00 2019-05-22T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8543-effort-launched-to-elect-lgbt-members-to-the-city-council Ben Max <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/ritchietorres-ch230.jpg" alt="ritchietorres ch230" /></p> <p>&nbsp;(photo: @RitchieTorres)</p> <hr /> <p>On the steps of City Hall Wednesday afternoon, a coalition of LGBTQ rights advocates and current and former City Council members announced the launch of an initiative to elect queer candidates to the Council in 2021, when 35 seats will be open because of term limits.</p> <p>There are currently five members of the 51-member City Council who identify as LGBT, all of whom are a part of the body’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Caucus, and all of whom are not elligible for reelection to the Council: Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Members Danny Dromm, Ritchie Torres, Jimmy Van Bramer, and Carlos Menchaca.</p> <p>The effort launched Wednesday, dubbed “LGBTQ in 2021,” is intended to ensure that the outgoing cohort of Council members from the queer community is replaced by another, larger, and more diverse group of LGBTQ electeds.</p> <p>“We want to make sure that we elect lesbians to the City Council, we want to ensure that we elect transgender women to the City Council, we want to ensure we elect LGBT people of color to the City Council,” Speaker Johnson, who is openly gay and HIV positive, said to cheers from the audience assembled.</p> <p>A number of other Council members were also present at the press conference, including Dromm and Torres of the LGBT Caucus, as well as former Council Members Tom Duane, who was the first openly gay person elected to the City Council, and Elizabeth Crowley, who has helped spearhead the “21 in ‘21” initiative to elect more women to the City Council, which was the inspiration for the project announced Monday. The City Council currently has 12 women out of its 51 members.</p> <p>In the next City Council election in 2021, at least 35 of the body’s 51 seats will be open, meaning no incumbent will be running.</p> <p>Whereas incumbents enjoy incredibly high reelection rates, races for open seats tend to be vastly more competitive, often comprising more candidates and resulting in narrower margins of victory. Initiatives like LGBTQ in 2021 and 21 in ‘21 are harnessing the opportunities of open seats at the same time that they are meant to combat any loss in representation that may result.</p> <p>Coming out is “the deepest political thing anyone can do. And that goes for people who are out in legislative bodies. There is no substitute for a seat at the table,” Duane said at the press conference. “We have elected people here in New York City, but we have many more people that we need to get elected to the City Council.”</p> <p>The coalition, which also includes LGBTQ Democratic political clubs like the Stonewall Demorats and advocacy groups like New York Transgender Advocacy Group and Queer-Amisú, plans to recruit and support queer candidates to run for City Council through training, mentorship, and networking resources. At the moment, LGBTQ in 2021 has a social media presence but an informal operational structure as its members determine its direction. It is currently focused on City Council elections, but may expand its mission in the future.</p> <p>“It’s only been ten years since Queens has had openly gay elected officials,” Dromm reminded the crowd, after acknowledging Duane and other predecessors as rolemodels for him. “And of course we began to see the Council expand in terms of the numbers of openly LGBT people who were in it.”</p> <p>“Invisibility is our biggest enemy,” Dromm added. “We had no role models in those days.”</p> <p>Members of the coalition have drawn lessons from their personal experiences and those of activists in a number of overlapping and intersecting causes -- namely the struggle for LGBTQ rights in New York and nationally, but also the Civil Rights Movement and movements for gender equity.</p> <p>Melissa Sklarz, a transgender activist, 2018 Assembly candidate from Queens, and former president of the Stonewall Democrats, spoke after Dromm. “I don’t think invisibility is a problem. It’s fear! ‘I can’t run for office, Melissa, I don’t know what to do.’ We’ve got a solution for that. We know what to do. We’ve been involved, we have passion, and vision, and experience, and intelligence. We will help you.”</p> <p>Torres, a Bronx Democrat planning to run for Congress in the 2020 election, emphasized the active nature of this type of recruitment and mentorship operation. “Progress doesn’t happen by accident. We have to organize for it, we have to fight for it, we have to recruit candidates, raise funds, knock on doors, and win elections,” Torres said. (Sklarz later told reporters that LGBTQ in 2021 does not have plans to raise money for candidates, but intends to educate them on how to create a campaign, and can assist with staffing and grassroots efforts in their neighborhoods.)</p> <p>Along with the aforementioned groups, the coalition includes Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, Lesbian Gay Democratic Club of Queens, Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, NYC Pride and Power, and LGBT Democrats of Color.</p> <p>“One of the epiphanies of the Civil Rights Movement is the realization that progress is not inevitable even when it has the aura of inevitability,” Torres observed. “We had more LGBT members of the City Council two years ago than we do today. Or when it comes to gender inequality...we had more women in the City Council in the 1990s than we do today.”</p> <p>Despite overall progress made in LGBTQ representation in New York City elected office, members of the coalition pointed to significant shortcomings in the political landscape and barriers that still need to be overcome.</p> <p>Ivy Frias of the New York Transgender Advocacy Group wondered why “only one letter of the LGBT community is represented here in the City Council,” referring to the fact that the City Council’s current queer membership are all gay men. “I think it’s time, as a queer, nonbinary, Dominican person, to tell you guys that it’s time to be here,” Frias said, adding later, “the LGBT community is beautifully diverse and intersectional.”</p> <p>Sklarz also identified barriers. When asked whether she intends to run for City Council after her unsuccessful bid for the Assembly last year, she told Gotham Gazette, “Where I live is a difficult Council race. Neighborhood is everything. So however big my visage may be in the LGBT community, it’s very difficult in my neighborhood to run for City Council.” The 22nd Council District in Queens, where Sklarz lives, has been represented by Costa Constantinides since 2014 and has never had an openly queer Council member. Constantinides is term-limited and likely to run for Queens Borough President.</p> <p>Those dynamics at the neighborhood level can play out in the Council itself. “There continues to be places in New York City where even vicious homophobes can be and have been elected to the City Council,” Torres told the crowd. “The homophobic antics of [City Council Member] Ruben Diaz Sr. is a cautionary tale of what happens when we, as a community, take for granted the inevitability of progress.” (Diaz Sr., who was recently punished by the Council for his latest homophobic remarks, is seeking the same congressional seat as Torres.)</p> <p>“If you think someone’s going to come and save the day for you, then you’re naive. We’re not going take that chance,” Sklarz said to applause. “LGBT people are going to come together, we are going to create a moment, we are going to take care of our own, and make sure something happens.”</p> <p>

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette      

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p>&nbsp;</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/ritchietorres-ch230.jpg" alt="ritchietorres ch230" /></p> <p>&nbsp;(photo: @RitchieTorres)</p> <hr /> <p>On the steps of City Hall Wednesday afternoon, a coalition of LGBTQ rights advocates and current and former City Council members announced the launch of an initiative to elect queer candidates to the Council in 2021, when 35 seats will be open because of term limits.</p> <p>There are currently five members of the 51-member City Council who identify as LGBT, all of whom are a part of the body’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Caucus, and all of whom are not elligible for reelection to the Council: Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Members Danny Dromm, Ritchie Torres, Jimmy Van Bramer, and Carlos Menchaca.</p> <p>The effort launched Wednesday, dubbed “LGBTQ in 2021,” is intended to ensure that the outgoing cohort of Council members from the queer community is replaced by another, larger, and more diverse group of LGBTQ electeds.</p> <p>“We want to make sure that we elect lesbians to the City Council, we want to ensure that we elect transgender women to the City Council, we want to ensure we elect LGBT people of color to the City Council,” Speaker Johnson, who is openly gay and HIV positive, said to cheers from the audience assembled.</p> <p>A number of other Council members were also present at the press conference, including Dromm and Torres of the LGBT Caucus, as well as former Council Members Tom Duane, who was the first openly gay person elected to the City Council, and Elizabeth Crowley, who has helped spearhead the “21 in ‘21” initiative to elect more women to the City Council, which was the inspiration for the project announced Monday. The City Council currently has 12 women out of its 51 members.</p> <p>In the next City Council election in 2021, at least 35 of the body’s 51 seats will be open, meaning no incumbent will be running.</p> <p>Whereas incumbents enjoy incredibly high reelection rates, races for open seats tend to be vastly more competitive, often comprising more candidates and resulting in narrower margins of victory. Initiatives like LGBTQ in 2021 and 21 in ‘21 are harnessing the opportunities of open seats at the same time that they are meant to combat any loss in representation that may result.</p> <p>Coming out is “the deepest political thing anyone can do. And that goes for people who are out in legislative bodies. There is no substitute for a seat at the table,” Duane said at the press conference. “We have elected people here in New York City, but we have many more people that we need to get elected to the City Council.”</p> <p>The coalition, which also includes LGBTQ Democratic political clubs like the Stonewall Demorats and advocacy groups like New York Transgender Advocacy Group and Queer-Amisú, plans to recruit and support queer candidates to run for City Council through training, mentorship, and networking resources. At the moment, LGBTQ in 2021 has a social media presence but an informal operational structure as its members determine its direction. It is currently focused on City Council elections, but may expand its mission in the future.</p> <p>“It’s only been ten years since Queens has had openly gay elected officials,” Dromm reminded the crowd, after acknowledging Duane and other predecessors as rolemodels for him. “And of course we began to see the Council expand in terms of the numbers of openly LGBT people who were in it.”</p> <p>“Invisibility is our biggest enemy,” Dromm added. “We had no role models in those days.”</p> <p>Members of the coalition have drawn lessons from their personal experiences and those of activists in a number of overlapping and intersecting causes -- namely the struggle for LGBTQ rights in New York and nationally, but also the Civil Rights Movement and movements for gender equity.</p> <p>Melissa Sklarz, a transgender activist, 2018 Assembly candidate from Queens, and former president of the Stonewall Democrats, spoke after Dromm. “I don’t think invisibility is a problem. It’s fear! ‘I can’t run for office, Melissa, I don’t know what to do.’ We’ve got a solution for that. We know what to do. We’ve been involved, we have passion, and vision, and experience, and intelligence. We will help you.”</p> <p>Torres, a Bronx Democrat planning to run for Congress in the 2020 election, emphasized the active nature of this type of recruitment and mentorship operation. “Progress doesn’t happen by accident. We have to organize for it, we have to fight for it, we have to recruit candidates, raise funds, knock on doors, and win elections,” Torres said. (Sklarz later told reporters that LGBTQ in 2021 does not have plans to raise money for candidates, but intends to educate them on how to create a campaign, and can assist with staffing and grassroots efforts in their neighborhoods.)</p> <p>Along with the aforementioned groups, the coalition includes Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, Lesbian Gay Democratic Club of Queens, Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, NYC Pride and Power, and LGBT Democrats of Color.</p> <p>“One of the epiphanies of the Civil Rights Movement is the realization that progress is not inevitable even when it has the aura of inevitability,” Torres observed. “We had more LGBT members of the City Council two years ago than we do today. Or when it comes to gender inequality...we had more women in the City Council in the 1990s than we do today.”</p> <p>Despite overall progress made in LGBTQ representation in New York City elected office, members of the coalition pointed to significant shortcomings in the political landscape and barriers that still need to be overcome.</p> <p>Ivy Frias of the New York Transgender Advocacy Group wondered why “only one letter of the LGBT community is represented here in the City Council,” referring to the fact that the City Council’s current queer membership are all gay men. “I think it’s time, as a queer, nonbinary, Dominican person, to tell you guys that it’s time to be here,” Frias said, adding later, “the LGBT community is beautifully diverse and intersectional.”</p> <p>Sklarz also identified barriers. When asked whether she intends to run for City Council after her unsuccessful bid for the Assembly last year, she told Gotham Gazette, “Where I live is a difficult Council race. Neighborhood is everything. So however big my visage may be in the LGBT community, it’s very difficult in my neighborhood to run for City Council.” The 22nd Council District in Queens, where Sklarz lives, has been represented by Costa Constantinides since 2014 and has never had an openly queer Council member. Constantinides is term-limited and likely to run for Queens Borough President.</p> <p>Those dynamics at the neighborhood level can play out in the Council itself. “There continues to be places in New York City where even vicious homophobes can be and have been elected to the City Council,” Torres told the crowd. “The homophobic antics of [City Council Member] Ruben Diaz Sr. is a cautionary tale of what happens when we, as a community, take for granted the inevitability of progress.” (Diaz Sr., who was recently punished by the Council for his latest homophobic remarks, is seeking the same congressional seat as Torres.)</p> <p>“If you think someone’s going to come and save the day for you, then you’re naive. We’re not going take that chance,” Sklarz said to applause. “LGBT people are going to come together, we are going to create a moment, we are going to take care of our own, and make sure something happens.”</p> <p>

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette      

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio's Budget Savings Plan Contains Few Real Efficiencies, Experts Say 2019-05-14T04:00:00+00:00 2019-05-14T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8526-de-blasio-s-budget-savings-plan-contains-minimal-real-efficiencies-experts-say Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/40732865063_d0c02203a9_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio city budget executive plan" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio’s much-touted budget savings program is not what he has made it seem.</p> <p>After rapidly growing the budget over his first five years in office and resisting calls to find significant efficiencies at city agencies, de Blasio this year instituted his first “program to eliminate the gap,” or PEG, to achieve hundreds of millions of dollars in “savings.” But though the mayor boasted at his executive budget presentation of $916 million in identified savings over the current and next fiscal years -- including $629 million in agency PEG savings -- his budget has little by way of true city agency cuts to existing spending.</p> <p>The mayor’s spendthrift approach has led to a $20 billion increase in the city budget since he took power, while savings and rainy day funds, though solid, have remained below optimal levels, according to budget experts. Exceedingly good economic times have allowed the mayor to spend somewhat lavishly on programs and personnel without having to make many tough decisions about cuts.</p> <p>The city is also maintaining about $5.72 billion in reserves each year, though the mayor has not added to them this year and the City Council is pushing for an additional $250 million infusion.</p> <p>The mayor’s latest spending plan, a whopping $92.5 billion executive budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year, is no exception to his spending growth trend. And as de Blasio touts new savings, fiscal watchdogs are casting doubts and poking holes.</p> <p>One in particular, Citizens Budget Commission, says city budget officials are misclassifying savings, passing off re-estimated spending and cost shifts as efficiencies at city agencies.</p> <p>Instituting a targeted PEG for the first time this year, de Blasio required city agencies to make specific spending reductions through various means -- efficiencies, re-estimates of spending and revenue, and service reductions. The mandated PEG, with target amounts for each agency set by the mayor’s budget office, came after years of the administration relying on a Citywide Savings Plan, which had agencies offer voluntary savings, re-estimates, and revenue-raising ideas.</p> <p>All told, the mayor’s executive budget estimated the $916 million in savings between fiscal years 2019 ($419 millions) and 2020 ($496 million). An analysis by Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit fiscal watchdog, of the overall savings plan shows that for 2020 the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget identified about 62.5% of the savings from what it classified as agency efficiencies.</p> <p>Melanie Hartzog, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget, in testimony before the City Council at a budget hearing last month, stressed the “high levels of efficiency savings” at city agencies that were found through the PEG. That included service reduction for the first time under de Blasio.</p> <p>“In Fiscal Year 2020, the first full year impacted by the PEG, efficiencies account for two-thirds of the savings. To achieve these savings agencies streamlined and improved practices, yet maintained service levels,” she said.</p> <p>But CBC’s analysis shows that the estimate of efficiencies in the executive budget savings plan may be overblown. Agency efficiencies in fiscal year 2020 only accounted for about 20.77% of the savings, while re-estimates and funding shifts accounted for the bulk, about 66.4%, according to the analysis, performed by CBC’s Riley Edwards.</p> <p>City Council Member Daniel Dromm, chair of the finance committee, echoed CBC’s concerns about finding true efficiencies at last month’s budget hearing, saying the Council “is struggling to understand the purpose of the PEG.” He noted, as CBC pointed out, that the PEG and savings plan together did not find sufficient efficiencies or recurring savings at agencies. He noted that PEGs are supposed to force administrations to find “true efficiencies and recurring savings.”</p> <p>Dromm pointed out that the mayor has typically relied on the voluntary CSP instead of a PEG, during a period of healthy growth and positive economic conditions.</p> <p>“Since the implementation of that program, the Council has been urging the administration to search for savings more rigorously because the majority of the program consisted of accruals, re-estimates, and increased revenue projections that would have occurred even in the absence of a savings program,” Dromm added. “So, when the administration announced a mandatory PEG this year, the Council was hopeful that the mayor was finally getting serious about reining in inefficient spending. Unfortunately, the result of the PEG is just more of the same.”</p> <p>CBC experts point out that certain categories of savings that OMB classifies as efficiencies aren’t truly that, including swaps where state or federal funds are used in place of city funds or the hiring freeze that OMB says saved about $116 million across fiscal years 2019 and 2020. According to OMB, the hiring freeze involves permanently taking down 1,600 positions in the executive budget (many are currently filled and will be eliminated when they become vacant without affecting agency performance) after 1,000 vacancies were already eliminated in November. The freeze reduced net planned headcount growth this year for the first time under de Blasio and is&nbsp;meant to create savings every year till 2023.</p> <p>“Because we’re dealing with positions that are already vacant, we consider that a re-estimate rather than an efficiency,” said CBC’s Edwards, in a phone interview.</p> <p>CBC director of city studies Ana Champeny said this savings plan has largely been a “continuation” of past years’ plans. “There was a change in their approach in setting the targets for the agencies but they still haven’t delivered substantially more efficiency savings,” she said. <a href="https://cbcny.org/research/pegging-it-right">According to CBC</a>, these could be achieved through redesigning programs and shrinking or eliminating inefficient ones, as the mayor did by eliminating Extended Time Learning at Renewal and RISE schools; by using technology to improve operations; sharing resources across agencies; finding alternative service providers within or outside the public sector; and strengthening centralized management of cross-agency operations.</p> <p>Champeny said the city should not stop looking for savings through re-estimates or funding shifts, which are “routine budget management that you would expect every administration to be doing. Our criticism is that there should be more PEG savings, more efficiency savings in addition to this routine budget and fiscal management.”</p> <p>Ideally, efficiency savings in one year would equal about one percent of the city-funded budget, she said. “That’s about $700 million in one year, not across two years,” she said.</p> <p>Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank, concurred. “I think the PEG is pretty superficial in the context of this larger budget,” she said, noting that the executive budget increases overall agency spending by about $1.4 billion compared to the mayor’s initial proposal released in January, allowed by higher revenues than earlier projections. Those higher revenues “are giving them some room to increase spending while sticking to this narrative of savings,” she said. “Overall, agency spending is not shrinking by any means. It would be hard to call this an austerity program.”</p> <p>“It would be good if agency spending pretty much kept pace with inflation, going up 1.5-2% a year,” she said.</p> <p>Budget watchdogs have also repeatedly urged the administration to find long-term recurring savings rather than temporary ones. Gelinas pointed out that hiring freezes, in particular, “don’t last forever” as a source of savings.</p> <p>“It’s kind of superficial because the mayor has increased hiring by so much already that it’s kinda time for a pause,” she said. “Hiring freezes are not very good management. This is the same problem at the MTA. If you need a new person to do something, you should hire that person. If there’s something that the government is doing that it shouldn’t be doing anymore, repurpose that person. But just a sort of general hiring freeze oftentimes means positions that should be filled aren’t being filled. So it’s kind of the opposite of efficient.”&nbsp;</p> <p>De Blasio has overseen a large increase in the city workforce, from about 297,000 employees when he took office to roughly 332,000 now. Still, he has budgeted for many more positions at various agencies that have gone unfilled each year, with many of those now “frozen” and the act of keeping them empty being counted toward savings.</p> <p>OMB spokesperson Michael Greenberg said in a statement Tuesday, “Our aggressive approach helped us meet ongoing, fundamental needs, and balance the budget. We will continue to find ways to save money for New Yorkers in future financial plans.”</p> <p>In a Thursday statement, after this article was published, Greenberg pushed back against the criticism from Gelinas and CBC. "The 2,600 positions we have permanently eliminated since November will lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in savings, much of it recurring annually, and agencies will provide the same level of service with fewer employees. Despite what others might say, this is the actual definition of 'efficiency savings,'" he said.&nbsp;</p> <p>Short of creating more efficiencies, the city risks major service reductions should an economic downturn set in. Even without a downturn, the city faces a budget gap of $3.5 billion in 2021 and $3 billion annually in the years after, according to its own documents. While those numbers are manageable and fairly typical, they become much more concerning if there is a recession.</p> <p>“A recession could easily double or triple these out-year budget gaps that we already need to fill,” Champeny said. “Right now you have the ability to take the time and do a careful analysis of where you can make efficiency changes or improve your processes whereas if you’re cutting during a recession, you’re sometimes looking for quick savings and you’re not as precise and you’re going to have more negative impacts in services reduction.”</p> <p>Gelinas added, “The city always depends on revenues coming in higher than expected and then because it says it conservatively budgeted, it has these extra revenues. So these budget deficits basically disappear. But that only happens if the city’s economy is doing well. If we do fall into a recession...then suddenly these are real deficits so you’d need a lot more than a billion dollars in savings in two years. So that’s when you really start to see layoffs and service cuts.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated with additional details about the administration's partial hiring freeze.&nbsp;</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated with additional comment from OMB spokesperson Michael Greenberg.&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/40732865063_d0c02203a9_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio city budget executive plan" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio’s much-touted budget savings program is not what he has made it seem.</p> <p>After rapidly growing the budget over his first five years in office and resisting calls to find significant efficiencies at city agencies, de Blasio this year instituted his first “program to eliminate the gap,” or PEG, to achieve hundreds of millions of dollars in “savings.” But though the mayor boasted at his executive budget presentation of $916 million in identified savings over the current and next fiscal years -- including $629 million in agency PEG savings -- his budget has little by way of true city agency cuts to existing spending.</p> <p>The mayor’s spendthrift approach has led to a $20 billion increase in the city budget since he took power, while savings and rainy day funds, though solid, have remained below optimal levels, according to budget experts. Exceedingly good economic times have allowed the mayor to spend somewhat lavishly on programs and personnel without having to make many tough decisions about cuts.</p> <p>The city is also maintaining about $5.72 billion in reserves each year, though the mayor has not added to them this year and the City Council is pushing for an additional $250 million infusion.</p> <p>The mayor’s latest spending plan, a whopping $92.5 billion executive budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year, is no exception to his spending growth trend. And as de Blasio touts new savings, fiscal watchdogs are casting doubts and poking holes.</p> <p>One in particular, Citizens Budget Commission, says city budget officials are misclassifying savings, passing off re-estimated spending and cost shifts as efficiencies at city agencies.</p> <p>Instituting a targeted PEG for the first time this year, de Blasio required city agencies to make specific spending reductions through various means -- efficiencies, re-estimates of spending and revenue, and service reductions. The mandated PEG, with target amounts for each agency set by the mayor’s budget office, came after years of the administration relying on a Citywide Savings Plan, which had agencies offer voluntary savings, re-estimates, and revenue-raising ideas.</p> <p>All told, the mayor’s executive budget estimated the $916 million in savings between fiscal years 2019 ($419 millions) and 2020 ($496 million). An analysis by Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit fiscal watchdog, of the overall savings plan shows that for 2020 the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget identified about 62.5% of the savings from what it classified as agency efficiencies.</p> <p>Melanie Hartzog, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget, in testimony before the City Council at a budget hearing last month, stressed the “high levels of efficiency savings” at city agencies that were found through the PEG. That included service reduction for the first time under de Blasio.</p> <p>“In Fiscal Year 2020, the first full year impacted by the PEG, efficiencies account for two-thirds of the savings. To achieve these savings agencies streamlined and improved practices, yet maintained service levels,” she said.</p> <p>But CBC’s analysis shows that the estimate of efficiencies in the executive budget savings plan may be overblown. Agency efficiencies in fiscal year 2020 only accounted for about 20.77% of the savings, while re-estimates and funding shifts accounted for the bulk, about 66.4%, according to the analysis, performed by CBC’s Riley Edwards.</p> <p>City Council Member Daniel Dromm, chair of the finance committee, echoed CBC’s concerns about finding true efficiencies at last month’s budget hearing, saying the Council “is struggling to understand the purpose of the PEG.” He noted, as CBC pointed out, that the PEG and savings plan together did not find sufficient efficiencies or recurring savings at agencies. He noted that PEGs are supposed to force administrations to find “true efficiencies and recurring savings.”</p> <p>Dromm pointed out that the mayor has typically relied on the voluntary CSP instead of a PEG, during a period of healthy growth and positive economic conditions.</p> <p>“Since the implementation of that program, the Council has been urging the administration to search for savings more rigorously because the majority of the program consisted of accruals, re-estimates, and increased revenue projections that would have occurred even in the absence of a savings program,” Dromm added. “So, when the administration announced a mandatory PEG this year, the Council was hopeful that the mayor was finally getting serious about reining in inefficient spending. Unfortunately, the result of the PEG is just more of the same.”</p> <p>CBC experts point out that certain categories of savings that OMB classifies as efficiencies aren’t truly that, including swaps where state or federal funds are used in place of city funds or the hiring freeze that OMB says saved about $116 million across fiscal years 2019 and 2020. According to OMB, the hiring freeze involves permanently taking down 1,600 positions in the executive budget (many are currently filled and will be eliminated when they become vacant without affecting agency performance) after 1,000 vacancies were already eliminated in November. The freeze reduced net planned headcount growth this year for the first time under de Blasio and is&nbsp;meant to create savings every year till 2023.</p> <p>“Because we’re dealing with positions that are already vacant, we consider that a re-estimate rather than an efficiency,” said CBC’s Edwards, in a phone interview.</p> <p>CBC director of city studies Ana Champeny said this savings plan has largely been a “continuation” of past years’ plans. “There was a change in their approach in setting the targets for the agencies but they still haven’t delivered substantially more efficiency savings,” she said. <a href="https://cbcny.org/research/pegging-it-right">According to CBC</a>, these could be achieved through redesigning programs and shrinking or eliminating inefficient ones, as the mayor did by eliminating Extended Time Learning at Renewal and RISE schools; by using technology to improve operations; sharing resources across agencies; finding alternative service providers within or outside the public sector; and strengthening centralized management of cross-agency operations.</p> <p>Champeny said the city should not stop looking for savings through re-estimates or funding shifts, which are “routine budget management that you would expect every administration to be doing. Our criticism is that there should be more PEG savings, more efficiency savings in addition to this routine budget and fiscal management.”</p> <p>Ideally, efficiency savings in one year would equal about one percent of the city-funded budget, she said. “That’s about $700 million in one year, not across two years,” she said.</p> <p>Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank, concurred. “I think the PEG is pretty superficial in the context of this larger budget,” she said, noting that the executive budget increases overall agency spending by about $1.4 billion compared to the mayor’s initial proposal released in January, allowed by higher revenues than earlier projections. Those higher revenues “are giving them some room to increase spending while sticking to this narrative of savings,” she said. “Overall, agency spending is not shrinking by any means. It would be hard to call this an austerity program.”</p> <p>“It would be good if agency spending pretty much kept pace with inflation, going up 1.5-2% a year,” she said.</p> <p>Budget watchdogs have also repeatedly urged the administration to find long-term recurring savings rather than temporary ones. Gelinas pointed out that hiring freezes, in particular, “don’t last forever” as a source of savings.</p> <p>“It’s kind of superficial because the mayor has increased hiring by so much already that it’s kinda time for a pause,” she said. “Hiring freezes are not very good management. This is the same problem at the MTA. If you need a new person to do something, you should hire that person. If there’s something that the government is doing that it shouldn’t be doing anymore, repurpose that person. But just a sort of general hiring freeze oftentimes means positions that should be filled aren’t being filled. So it’s kind of the opposite of efficient.”&nbsp;</p> <p>De Blasio has overseen a large increase in the city workforce, from about 297,000 employees when he took office to roughly 332,000 now. Still, he has budgeted for many more positions at various agencies that have gone unfilled each year, with many of those now “frozen” and the act of keeping them empty being counted toward savings.</p> <p>OMB spokesperson Michael Greenberg said in a statement Tuesday, “Our aggressive approach helped us meet ongoing, fundamental needs, and balance the budget. We will continue to find ways to save money for New Yorkers in future financial plans.”</p> <p>In a Thursday statement, after this article was published, Greenberg pushed back against the criticism from Gelinas and CBC. "The 2,600 positions we have permanently eliminated since November will lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in savings, much of it recurring annually, and agencies will provide the same level of service with fewer employees. Despite what others might say, this is the actual definition of 'efficiency savings,'" he said.&nbsp;</p> <p>Short of creating more efficiencies, the city risks major service reductions should an economic downturn set in. Even without a downturn, the city faces a budget gap of $3.5 billion in 2021 and $3 billion annually in the years after, according to its own documents. While those numbers are manageable and fairly typical, they become much more concerning if there is a recession.</p> <p>“A recession could easily double or triple these out-year budget gaps that we already need to fill,” Champeny said. “Right now you have the ability to take the time and do a careful analysis of where you can make efficiency changes or improve your processes whereas if you’re cutting during a recession, you’re sometimes looking for quick savings and you’re not as precise and you’re going to have more negative impacts in services reduction.”</p> <p>Gelinas added, “The city always depends on revenues coming in higher than expected and then because it says it conservatively budgeted, it has these extra revenues. So these budget deficits basically disappear. But that only happens if the city’s economy is doing well. If we do fall into a recession...then suddenly these are real deficits so you’d need a lot more than a billion dollars in savings in two years. So that’s when you really start to see layoffs and service cuts.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated with additional details about the administration's partial hiring freeze.&nbsp;</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated with additional comment from OMB spokesperson Michael Greenberg.&nbsp;</p>
City Council Pushes Its Priorities at First Hearing on De Blasio's Executive Budget 2019-05-06T04:00:00+00:00 2019-05-06T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8504-city-council-pushes-its-priorities-at-first-hearing-on-de-blasio-s-executive-budget Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/spk-co-jo-exec-bud.jpg" alt="spk co jo exec bud" width="600" height="371" /></p> <p>Council Member Dromm and Speaker Johnson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council and budget officials from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration engaged in a familiar push-and-pull on Monday, at the first hearing on the $92.5 billion executive budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year that begins July 1.</p> <p>The Council, disappointed that many of its priorities were not included in the latest spending plan presented by the mayor, pushed for more funding and pointed to hundreds of millions in revenue available to the city, but officials from the Office of Management and Budget urged restraint as they emphasized the dangers of a slowing economy and insisted the Council’s revenue estimate was far rosier than their own.</p> <p>De Blasio <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8477-de-blasio-92-5-billion-executive-budget-with-agency-savings-response-state" target="_blank" rel="noopener">presented</a> his executive budget last month with $300 million more in proposed spending than his preliminary plan released in February. The $92.5 billion proposal would mark yet another record high in city spending, up nearly $3.4 billion from the current fiscal year and about $20 billion from the budget that de Blasio inherited from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.</p> <p>The budget included, for the first time under de Blasio, a PEG (Program to Eliminate the Gap) that identified $629 million in savings in agency spending.</p> <p>But the executive budget excludes funding for most of the items that the City Council had listed in its <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8443-city-council-response-de-blasio-budget-calling-for-investments-in-workers-ferries-thrive-nyc" target="_blank" rel="noopener">response, issued last month</a>, to de Blasio’s preliminary budget plan, and Council members made their frustration clear at Monday’s hearing.</p> <p>The Council found the executive budget “incredibly insulting,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson, in his opening remarks. The Council had called for pay parity and wage equity for several categories of city-funded workers (including nonprofit human service providers, assistant district attorneys, indigent defense attorneys, and daycare workers), investments in a variety of social service and local programs, $250 million more in reserves, more transparency across the budget, and 100 percent “Fair Student Funding” to aid local schools.</p> <p>Johnson noted that though most of the Council’s priorities were ignored, “The Administration saw fit to implement our ideas from the response for how to save money, and then took those savings to fund even more of the mayor’s priorities.”</p> <p>Even requests that would have cost nothing -- for instance, more transparency for multi-agency programs such as ThriveNYC, and spending on the new ferry system -- were rejected, Johnson said.</p> <p>He did, however, point to a bright spot in the negotiations with the administration. The Council had called for continuing $155 million in “one-shot” funding that is in the current fiscal year budget for various purposes -- adult literacy programs, summer youth employment, post-arrest diversion programs, social workers for homeless students, and more. After the Council’s push, the city added $77 million to restore some of those programs, but Johnson indicated that negotiations would be tough regardless.</p> <p>“Typically, we try to get this budget adopted by the first week of June. I doubt that’s possible and I’m willing to wait until just before July 1,” Johnson said, referring to the start of the next fiscal year and the deadline for approving the budget. “This needs to be done the right way,” he added. Over the next few weeks, the Council will continue to examine the budget at agency-specific hearings where administration officials will testify, while public rallies are held and op-eds are written advocating for certain expenditures and private negotiations continue among stakeholders.</p> <p>A central dispute of the hearing was over the amount of revenue available to the city from personal income tax collections, which came in higher than earlier projections. Through April, the city received $474 million more than initially estimated, which the Council repeatedly said should be put to use to fund their demands. But OMB Director Melanie Hartzog repeatedly pointed out that other tax revenue came in lower, and that actual revenues only increased by about $200 million.</p> <p>“We continue to face uncertainty related to economic conditions at home and abroad,” Hartzog said in her opening remarks, pointing to a weak housing market and slowing consumption. She emphasized that much of the new spending in the budget was required because of $300 million in unfunded mandates and cost shifts from the state, and about $150 million in additional needs that were not factored in to the preliminary budget.</p> <p>Council Member Daniel Dromm, chair of the finance committee, didn’t hold back in criticizing the executive budget’s approach towards the Council, pointing out that the Council had urged the administration for years to rein in costs, increase reserves, and find agency efficiencies. He noted that the PEG made cuts in areas where the Council wanted more spending, including cultural institutions, youth services, and senior centers.</p> <p>“The PEG was couched in the context of a potentially worsening economic position for the city and the need for us all to tighten our belts in anticipation,” he added. “So what is truly baffling is that in light of this sentiment, the administration has chosen not to add even a single dollar towards our reserves.” That increases the likelihood, he said, that the administration will have to slash services when an economic downturn hits in earnest.</p> <p>“It was a challenging budget,” Hartzog said, a position she had to repeatedly rely on as Council members pressed her on a slew of specific priorities, whether funding for social workers and guidance counsellors in schools, or support services for youth in the foster care system. She did however promise to work with the Council in finding more savings and to address their individual issues.</p> <p>And the issues were many. Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, chair of the cultural affairs committee, said $6 million in proposed cuts to cultural institutions were “disrespectful to this body.” Hartzog said they were “relatively modest,” noting that the overall budget for those institutions is about $139 million and that the administration wanted to avoid cuts in library service.&nbsp;</p> <p>Council Member Mark Treyger, chair of the education committee, lambasted the lack of funding for pay parity for universal pre-kindergarten teachers, Title IX coordinators, for busing for foster care students, for new school counsellors, to baseline Teacher’s Choice funding, and more education-related programs. “How can you say this is a schools-not-jails budget?,” he wondered, with apparent reference to the fact that the mayor’s updated capital budget plan, $117 billion over 10 years, includes billions in funding for jail construction as the city moves off of Rikers Island.</p> <p>Council Member Helen Rosenthal noted that nonprofit service providers need at least $250 million more from the city or they risk fiscal insolvency. Hartzog, in response, noted that the de Blasio administration previously gave nonprofit providers cost-of-living-raises for the first time in years and that the administration is negotiating issues with the nonprofit sector.&nbsp;</p> <p>Council Member Barry Grodenchik, chair of the parks committee, said the parks and recreation budget “continues to go sideways,” and called for modest and targeted investments in parks infrastructure.</p> <p>Council Members Carlina Rivera and Carlos Menchaca, co-chairs of the Council’s census task force, called for more funding for 2020 Census outreach, insisting that the $26 million over two years that the administration is funding is inadequate compared to the Council’s $40 million request. Hartzog said the amount was sufficient -- $8 million will go to community-based organizations, $10 million to a media outreach campaign and the rest to staffing needs -- particularly in tandem with $20 million in overall state funding, but said the administration was open to adding more funding if needed down the line.</p> <p>Hartzog told Council Member Mark Levine that funding for so-called safe injection sites wasn’t included because the city was waiting for approval from the state health department.</p> <p>The OMB director did agree to providing a measure of more transparency in the budget, and said her office had identified 34 new units of appropriation at the Council’s urging.</p> <p>Hartzog similarly said the administration had made new “Capital Detail Data Reports” available online, in response to a request from Council Member Vanessa Gibson, who chairs the subcommittee on the capital budget. Gibson and others have critiqued the city’s ten-year capital planning process, insisting that it frontloads investments in early years and underfunds them in the second half of the plan. The ten-year capital plan reached $116.9 billion in the executive budget, of which 78% is planned for the first five years, Gibson noted.</p> <p>But Hartzog said the city was working to distribute capital spending more evenly, with $3.9 billion redistributed from fiscal years 2019-2021 into later years. The administration has also proposed rescinding $2.3 billion pledged in previous capital budgets, she said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/spk-co-jo-exec-bud.jpg" alt="spk co jo exec bud" width="600" height="371" /></p> <p>Council Member Dromm and Speaker Johnson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council and budget officials from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration engaged in a familiar push-and-pull on Monday, at the first hearing on the $92.5 billion executive budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year that begins July 1.</p> <p>The Council, disappointed that many of its priorities were not included in the latest spending plan presented by the mayor, pushed for more funding and pointed to hundreds of millions in revenue available to the city, but officials from the Office of Management and Budget urged restraint as they emphasized the dangers of a slowing economy and insisted the Council’s revenue estimate was far rosier than their own.</p> <p>De Blasio <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8477-de-blasio-92-5-billion-executive-budget-with-agency-savings-response-state" target="_blank" rel="noopener">presented</a> his executive budget last month with $300 million more in proposed spending than his preliminary plan released in February. The $92.5 billion proposal would mark yet another record high in city spending, up nearly $3.4 billion from the current fiscal year and about $20 billion from the budget that de Blasio inherited from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.</p> <p>The budget included, for the first time under de Blasio, a PEG (Program to Eliminate the Gap) that identified $629 million in savings in agency spending.</p> <p>But the executive budget excludes funding for most of the items that the City Council had listed in its <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8443-city-council-response-de-blasio-budget-calling-for-investments-in-workers-ferries-thrive-nyc" target="_blank" rel="noopener">response, issued last month</a>, to de Blasio’s preliminary budget plan, and Council members made their frustration clear at Monday’s hearing.</p> <p>The Council found the executive budget “incredibly insulting,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson, in his opening remarks. The Council had called for pay parity and wage equity for several categories of city-funded workers (including nonprofit human service providers, assistant district attorneys, indigent defense attorneys, and daycare workers), investments in a variety of social service and local programs, $250 million more in reserves, more transparency across the budget, and 100 percent “Fair Student Funding” to aid local schools.</p> <p>Johnson noted that though most of the Council’s priorities were ignored, “The Administration saw fit to implement our ideas from the response for how to save money, and then took those savings to fund even more of the mayor’s priorities.”</p> <p>Even requests that would have cost nothing -- for instance, more transparency for multi-agency programs such as ThriveNYC, and spending on the new ferry system -- were rejected, Johnson said.</p> <p>He did, however, point to a bright spot in the negotiations with the administration. The Council had called for continuing $155 million in “one-shot” funding that is in the current fiscal year budget for various purposes -- adult literacy programs, summer youth employment, post-arrest diversion programs, social workers for homeless students, and more. After the Council’s push, the city added $77 million to restore some of those programs, but Johnson indicated that negotiations would be tough regardless.</p> <p>“Typically, we try to get this budget adopted by the first week of June. I doubt that’s possible and I’m willing to wait until just before July 1,” Johnson said, referring to the start of the next fiscal year and the deadline for approving the budget. “This needs to be done the right way,” he added. Over the next few weeks, the Council will continue to examine the budget at agency-specific hearings where administration officials will testify, while public rallies are held and op-eds are written advocating for certain expenditures and private negotiations continue among stakeholders.</p> <p>A central dispute of the hearing was over the amount of revenue available to the city from personal income tax collections, which came in higher than earlier projections. Through April, the city received $474 million more than initially estimated, which the Council repeatedly said should be put to use to fund their demands. But OMB Director Melanie Hartzog repeatedly pointed out that other tax revenue came in lower, and that actual revenues only increased by about $200 million.</p> <p>“We continue to face uncertainty related to economic conditions at home and abroad,” Hartzog said in her opening remarks, pointing to a weak housing market and slowing consumption. She emphasized that much of the new spending in the budget was required because of $300 million in unfunded mandates and cost shifts from the state, and about $150 million in additional needs that were not factored in to the preliminary budget.</p> <p>Council Member Daniel Dromm, chair of the finance committee, didn’t hold back in criticizing the executive budget’s approach towards the Council, pointing out that the Council had urged the administration for years to rein in costs, increase reserves, and find agency efficiencies. He noted that the PEG made cuts in areas where the Council wanted more spending, including cultural institutions, youth services, and senior centers.</p> <p>“The PEG was couched in the context of a potentially worsening economic position for the city and the need for us all to tighten our belts in anticipation,” he added. “So what is truly baffling is that in light of this sentiment, the administration has chosen not to add even a single dollar towards our reserves.” That increases the likelihood, he said, that the administration will have to slash services when an economic downturn hits in earnest.</p> <p>“It was a challenging budget,” Hartzog said, a position she had to repeatedly rely on as Council members pressed her on a slew of specific priorities, whether funding for social workers and guidance counsellors in schools, or support services for youth in the foster care system. She did however promise to work with the Council in finding more savings and to address their individual issues.</p> <p>And the issues were many. Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, chair of the cultural affairs committee, said $6 million in proposed cuts to cultural institutions were “disrespectful to this body.” Hartzog said they were “relatively modest,” noting that the overall budget for those institutions is about $139 million and that the administration wanted to avoid cuts in library service.&nbsp;</p> <p>Council Member Mark Treyger, chair of the education committee, lambasted the lack of funding for pay parity for universal pre-kindergarten teachers, Title IX coordinators, for busing for foster care students, for new school counsellors, to baseline Teacher’s Choice funding, and more education-related programs. “How can you say this is a schools-not-jails budget?,” he wondered, with apparent reference to the fact that the mayor’s updated capital budget plan, $117 billion over 10 years, includes billions in funding for jail construction as the city moves off of Rikers Island.</p> <p>Council Member Helen Rosenthal noted that nonprofit service providers need at least $250 million more from the city or they risk fiscal insolvency. Hartzog, in response, noted that the de Blasio administration previously gave nonprofit providers cost-of-living-raises for the first time in years and that the administration is negotiating issues with the nonprofit sector.&nbsp;</p> <p>Council Member Barry Grodenchik, chair of the parks committee, said the parks and recreation budget “continues to go sideways,” and called for modest and targeted investments in parks infrastructure.</p> <p>Council Members Carlina Rivera and Carlos Menchaca, co-chairs of the Council’s census task force, called for more funding for 2020 Census outreach, insisting that the $26 million over two years that the administration is funding is inadequate compared to the Council’s $40 million request. Hartzog said the amount was sufficient -- $8 million will go to community-based organizations, $10 million to a media outreach campaign and the rest to staffing needs -- particularly in tandem with $20 million in overall state funding, but said the administration was open to adding more funding if needed down the line.</p> <p>Hartzog told Council Member Mark Levine that funding for so-called safe injection sites wasn’t included because the city was waiting for approval from the state health department.</p> <p>The OMB director did agree to providing a measure of more transparency in the budget, and said her office had identified 34 new units of appropriation at the Council’s urging.</p> <p>Hartzog similarly said the administration had made new “Capital Detail Data Reports” available online, in response to a request from Council Member Vanessa Gibson, who chairs the subcommittee on the capital budget. Gibson and others have critiqued the city’s ten-year capital planning process, insisting that it frontloads investments in early years and underfunds them in the second half of the plan. The ten-year capital plan reached $116.9 billion in the executive budget, of which 78% is planned for the first five years, Gibson noted.</p> <p>But Hartzog said the city was working to distribute capital spending more evenly, with $3.9 billion redistributed from fiscal years 2019-2021 into later years. The administration has also proposed rescinding $2.3 billion pledged in previous capital budgets, she said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Preliminary Budget Hearings End with City Council Clamor for More Detail on Agency Cuts 2019-03-29T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-29T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8410-preliminary-city-budget-hearings-end-with-council-clamor-for-more-detail-on-agency-cuts Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/council-holds-prelim.jpg" alt="council holds prelim" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>OMB Director Hartzog testifies (photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council)</p> <hr /> <p>As usual, the City Council’s March agenda was mostly dominated by preliminary budget hearings, evaluating the mayor’s initial spending plan for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. This stage of the city budget process started and finished with a general hearing held by the Council’s Finance Committee, along with its Capital Budget Subcommittee, with a series of more specific agency- and service-related hearings in between.</p> <p>The preliminary budget hearings finished where they began, with Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, and other Council members looking for more details about cuts and efficiencies the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to make across city agencies. When he presented a $92.2 billion preliminary budget in early February, de Blasio said he was instituting a $750 million PEG (program to eliminate the (budget) gap), the first PEG of de Blasio’s tenure, during which a very healthy economy has allowed the mayor and Council to increase spending very quickly, while also keeping reserves fairly high.</p> <p>But where will that $750 million come from? De Blasio and his top budget officials said they would give each agency, from the NYPD to the Department of Education, targets to meet and there would be more detail by the mayor’s executive budget, which is due toward the end of April. Yet City Council members want more detail now.</p> <p>The PEG was brought on, the mayor said, because the city’s recent revenue collections have not met the Office of Management and Budget’s growth projections. The city collected $46.5 billion in revenue for the previous fiscal year, which was a 1.2% increase from the year before. However, OMB had forecasted a 2.6% growth rate.</p> <p>At the City Council’s final preliminary budget hearing, Jacques Jiha, the commissioner of the Department of Finance (DOF), attributed this to the “weakness” in personal income tax collection (especially senior payments) and the “softness” of unincorporated business tax collection. Jiha also noted the recent inversion of the bond yield curve, which could signal a potential recession, as another sign that “the budget should be approached with caution.”</p> <p>City budget director Melanie Hartzog later echoed Jiha’s cautionary tone, highlighting three “economic risks” that led to the PEG. She clarified -- and repeatedly stressed -- that OMB and economists are forecasting an “economic slow-down,” not a recession, amid a national economy that has appeared vulnerable in recent years. Still, she called such a slow-down “a substantial threat to the budget.” Second, she also attributed the slowing of city revenue growth to a decline in income tax collections, noting recent changes to the federal tax code.</p> <p>Finally, Hartzog also discussed OMB’s expectations that state and federal contributions to the city budget would decline. According to Hartzog, the mayor’s executive budget will include cuts to health care and education programs unless the city can secure additional funding from the state. Also, while President Trump’s budget proposal would be detrimental to the city, OMB does not believe that it will pass through Congress. Hartzog said OMB would work with the city’s congressional representatives to secure federal funding.</p> <p>Council Finance Chair Danny Dromm, a Queens Democrat, said that he hoped Hartzog’s testimony would answer questions that came up in previous budget hearings over the past month. Speaker Johnson summarized the previous month’s hearings by saying that “most agency heads were unwilling or unable” to discuss what would be affected by the city’s $750 million PEG. When Hartzog said that these details would appear in de Blasio’s executive budget, Johnson said that he was “incredibly frustrated to be stonewalled.”</p> <p>Many questions that Council members had at the first preliminary budget hearing still went unanswered at the final preliminary budget hearing. Hartzog said that it was “too early in the process” for the Council to be given details about what particular cuts will be made at each agency. Agencies have submitted their preliminary drafts for savings, but the OMB still has to review those proposals. Similarly, Hartzog could not yet answer what percentage of the cuts would affect services and programs.</p> <p>Dromm said that cuts to programs such as summer employment for students and adult literacy “will be a non-starter.” Johnson agreed that the Council would not support cuts that would affect “vulnerable New Yorkers.” He warned Hartzog, “I don’t want a level of game-playing” over cuts and said that it would “be a big waste of time.” Hartzog said that “neither I nor the mayor want to play that budget dance.”</p> <p>When asked if she was confident that the city’s reserves would be able to prevent budget cuts to programs during a potential recession, Hartzog reiterated that economists were forecasting an economic slow-down not an economic recession and that she had confidence in the city “weathering an economic slow down” without programmatic cuts.</p> <p>Hartzog appeared less concerned about the potential for a recession than Johnson. Like Jiha previously stated, Johnson noted that an inversion of the bond yield curve is usually an indicator of an approaching recession. Hartzog conceded that a recession was “certainly possible,” but said that economists were forecasting a slow down, which would not be as severe. She also took the opportunity to state that the city has “built up our reserves and continued to have savings plans” during economic growth periods.</p> <p>Johnson brought up a Citizens Budget Commission report, which said that a recession could cause revenue shortfalls of $15-20 billion over three years. This would use up the entirety of the city’s reserves. When asked if the administration thought that more should be added to the reserves, Hartzog reiterated that the reserves were sufficient to weather an economic slow down and said that the city was planning to add to the reserves moving forward.</p> <p>Johnson also called out a <a href="https://nypost.com/2019/03/09/new-york-city-is-edging-toward-financial-disaster-experts-warn/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Post article</a> that claimed the city “is careening closer to all-out financial bankruptcy.” Johnson called the article “irresponsible” and Hartzog concurred. “We think there does need to be a level of improvement in transparency,” Johnson said, suggesting that OMB should provide “best estimates” of future revenue reserves because of OMB’s tendency towards conservative estimates. Hartzog said she does not believe that would be necessary.</p> <p>Between the testimonies of Jiha and Hartzog, Lorraine Grillo made her first appearance before a City Council committee as commissioner of the Department of Design and Construction (DDC). Grillo has also retained her role as head of the School Construction Authority (SCA), therefore leading the two main city agencies responsible for construction projects. Council Member Vanessa Gibson, a Bronx Democrat and chair of the Capital Budget Subcommittee, praised the SCA under Grillo’s leadership for its “strong capital delivery.”</p> <p>Grillo told the committee that the varied scale of projects, which include everything from sewers to playgrounds, presented a challenge for the DDC, which she said “should not neglect smaller projects,” because many affect New Yorkers’ quality of life. She also expressed frustration that the state has not granted “blanket design-build authority” for the city’s capital projects, saying that it would streamline the capital delivery process.</p> <p>Jamie Torres-Springer, the first deputy DDC Commissioner, said that the state’s granting of design-build authority for the construction of four community-based jails, which are planned to replace the Rikers Island jails is “a really important opportunity for the city “to demonstrate the effectiveness” of design-build. Grillo added, “but imagine if we could use it for all projects?”</p> <p>Grillo also noted that there are “layers of policy and red tape” at DDC that SCA does not have. She has ordered an agency-wide review. She also pointed to the DDC’s Strategic Blueprint, which she labeled a “far-reaching plan” and “broad outline of improvements” with “common-sense fixes.” One area of improvement that she highlighted was front-end planning. The DDC has expanded its front-end planning unit and now works with agencies before they submit their project initiation requests. According to Grillo, “we are beginning to see a difference.”</p> <p>With preliminary budget hearings over, the next steps in the city budget process are seeing the results of the new state budget, due by April 1, followed by the City Council releasing its formal preliminary budget response. Soon after, the mayor will release his executive budget plan, setting off another round of Council hearings as well as public and private negotiations.</p> <p>

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

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</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/council-holds-prelim.jpg" alt="council holds prelim" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>OMB Director Hartzog testifies (photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council)</p> <hr /> <p>As usual, the City Council’s March agenda was mostly dominated by preliminary budget hearings, evaluating the mayor’s initial spending plan for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. This stage of the city budget process started and finished with a general hearing held by the Council’s Finance Committee, along with its Capital Budget Subcommittee, with a series of more specific agency- and service-related hearings in between.</p> <p>The preliminary budget hearings finished where they began, with Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, and other Council members looking for more details about cuts and efficiencies the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to make across city agencies. When he presented a $92.2 billion preliminary budget in early February, de Blasio said he was instituting a $750 million PEG (program to eliminate the (budget) gap), the first PEG of de Blasio’s tenure, during which a very healthy economy has allowed the mayor and Council to increase spending very quickly, while also keeping reserves fairly high.</p> <p>But where will that $750 million come from? De Blasio and his top budget officials said they would give each agency, from the NYPD to the Department of Education, targets to meet and there would be more detail by the mayor’s executive budget, which is due toward the end of April. Yet City Council members want more detail now.</p> <p>The PEG was brought on, the mayor said, because the city’s recent revenue collections have not met the Office of Management and Budget’s growth projections. The city collected $46.5 billion in revenue for the previous fiscal year, which was a 1.2% increase from the year before. However, OMB had forecasted a 2.6% growth rate.</p> <p>At the City Council’s final preliminary budget hearing, Jacques Jiha, the commissioner of the Department of Finance (DOF), attributed this to the “weakness” in personal income tax collection (especially senior payments) and the “softness” of unincorporated business tax collection. Jiha also noted the recent inversion of the bond yield curve, which could signal a potential recession, as another sign that “the budget should be approached with caution.”</p> <p>City budget director Melanie Hartzog later echoed Jiha’s cautionary tone, highlighting three “economic risks” that led to the PEG. She clarified -- and repeatedly stressed -- that OMB and economists are forecasting an “economic slow-down,” not a recession, amid a national economy that has appeared vulnerable in recent years. Still, she called such a slow-down “a substantial threat to the budget.” Second, she also attributed the slowing of city revenue growth to a decline in income tax collections, noting recent changes to the federal tax code.</p> <p>Finally, Hartzog also discussed OMB’s expectations that state and federal contributions to the city budget would decline. According to Hartzog, the mayor’s executive budget will include cuts to health care and education programs unless the city can secure additional funding from the state. Also, while President Trump’s budget proposal would be detrimental to the city, OMB does not believe that it will pass through Congress. Hartzog said OMB would work with the city’s congressional representatives to secure federal funding.</p> <p>Council Finance Chair Danny Dromm, a Queens Democrat, said that he hoped Hartzog’s testimony would answer questions that came up in previous budget hearings over the past month. Speaker Johnson summarized the previous month’s hearings by saying that “most agency heads were unwilling or unable” to discuss what would be affected by the city’s $750 million PEG. When Hartzog said that these details would appear in de Blasio’s executive budget, Johnson said that he was “incredibly frustrated to be stonewalled.”</p> <p>Many questions that Council members had at the first preliminary budget hearing still went unanswered at the final preliminary budget hearing. Hartzog said that it was “too early in the process” for the Council to be given details about what particular cuts will be made at each agency. Agencies have submitted their preliminary drafts for savings, but the OMB still has to review those proposals. Similarly, Hartzog could not yet answer what percentage of the cuts would affect services and programs.</p> <p>Dromm said that cuts to programs such as summer employment for students and adult literacy “will be a non-starter.” Johnson agreed that the Council would not support cuts that would affect “vulnerable New Yorkers.” He warned Hartzog, “I don’t want a level of game-playing” over cuts and said that it would “be a big waste of time.” Hartzog said that “neither I nor the mayor want to play that budget dance.”</p> <p>When asked if she was confident that the city’s reserves would be able to prevent budget cuts to programs during a potential recession, Hartzog reiterated that economists were forecasting an economic slow-down not an economic recession and that she had confidence in the city “weathering an economic slow down” without programmatic cuts.</p> <p>Hartzog appeared less concerned about the potential for a recession than Johnson. Like Jiha previously stated, Johnson noted that an inversion of the bond yield curve is usually an indicator of an approaching recession. Hartzog conceded that a recession was “certainly possible,” but said that economists were forecasting a slow down, which would not be as severe. She also took the opportunity to state that the city has “built up our reserves and continued to have savings plans” during economic growth periods.</p> <p>Johnson brought up a Citizens Budget Commission report, which said that a recession could cause revenue shortfalls of $15-20 billion over three years. This would use up the entirety of the city’s reserves. When asked if the administration thought that more should be added to the reserves, Hartzog reiterated that the reserves were sufficient to weather an economic slow down and said that the city was planning to add to the reserves moving forward.</p> <p>Johnson also called out a <a href="https://nypost.com/2019/03/09/new-york-city-is-edging-toward-financial-disaster-experts-warn/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Post article</a> that claimed the city “is careening closer to all-out financial bankruptcy.” Johnson called the article “irresponsible” and Hartzog concurred. “We think there does need to be a level of improvement in transparency,” Johnson said, suggesting that OMB should provide “best estimates” of future revenue reserves because of OMB’s tendency towards conservative estimates. Hartzog said she does not believe that would be necessary.</p> <p>Between the testimonies of Jiha and Hartzog, Lorraine Grillo made her first appearance before a City Council committee as commissioner of the Department of Design and Construction (DDC). Grillo has also retained her role as head of the School Construction Authority (SCA), therefore leading the two main city agencies responsible for construction projects. Council Member Vanessa Gibson, a Bronx Democrat and chair of the Capital Budget Subcommittee, praised the SCA under Grillo’s leadership for its “strong capital delivery.”</p> <p>Grillo told the committee that the varied scale of projects, which include everything from sewers to playgrounds, presented a challenge for the DDC, which she said “should not neglect smaller projects,” because many affect New Yorkers’ quality of life. She also expressed frustration that the state has not granted “blanket design-build authority” for the city’s capital projects, saying that it would streamline the capital delivery process.</p> <p>Jamie Torres-Springer, the first deputy DDC Commissioner, said that the state’s granting of design-build authority for the construction of four community-based jails, which are planned to replace the Rikers Island jails is “a really important opportunity for the city “to demonstrate the effectiveness” of design-build. Grillo added, “but imagine if we could use it for all projects?”</p> <p>Grillo also noted that there are “layers of policy and red tape” at DDC that SCA does not have. She has ordered an agency-wide review. She also pointed to the DDC’s Strategic Blueprint, which she labeled a “far-reaching plan” and “broad outline of improvements” with “common-sense fixes.” One area of improvement that she highlighted was front-end planning. The DDC has expanded its front-end planning unit and now works with agencies before they submit their project initiation requests. According to Grillo, “we are beginning to see a difference.”</p> <p>With preliminary budget hearings over, the next steps in the city budget process are seeing the results of the new state budget, due by April 1, followed by the City Council releasing its formal preliminary budget response. Soon after, the mayor will release his executive budget plan, setting off another round of Council hearings as well as public and private negotiations.</p> <p>

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

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City Council Pushes on De Blasio Savings Program During First Budget Hearing 2019-03-06T05:00:00+00:00 2019-03-06T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8331-city-council-pushes-on-de-blasio-savings-program-during-first-budget-hearing Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/city-council-j-mccarten-premlim.jpg" alt="city council j mccarten premlim" width="600" height="365" /></p> <p>(Photo:&nbsp;John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>City Council Speaker Corey Johnson appeared frustrated on Wednesday with the de Blasio administration budget at the Council’s first hearing to examine the mayor’s $92.2 billion preliminary budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year, which begins July 1 of this year.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio released his preliminary budget proposal last month <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8266-citing-several-causes-for-concern-de-blasio-presents-still-growing-budget-plan-of-92-2-billion" target="_blank" rel="noopener">warning</a> of the “tough choices” the city faces as it heads towards an economic slowdown, with revenues already coming in lower than last year. For the first time since he took office, the mayor instituted a Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG), which is meant to find the majority of $750 million in additional savings the mayor promised by the time the executive budget is released in April.</p> <p>Nonetheless, the mayor’s budget increases spending by $3 billion owing largely to costs from new contracts with labor unions, education spending, debt service costs, and fringe benefits. There are few new initiatives that add costs, while the threat of state budget cuts and cost shifts continue to loom -- the state is in a tougher fiscal situation than the city. The de Blasio administration also did not include any additional allocations to the city’s reserves, which remain strong but not as robust as some watchdogs believe they must be in order to withstand a recession.</p> <p>“The Council agrees that we need to be cautious but that caution needs to be exercised with precision,” Johnson said in his opening remarks at Wednesday’s hearing, worried about the possibility that the mayor’s PEG program could lead to cuts in social services. He criticized Melanie Hartzog, director of the Office of Management and Budget, for her lack of specific answers about the PEG, and expressed frustration that the mayor seemed intent on finding millions of dollars in such savings after years of having ignored similar calls from the City Council.</p> <p>Johnson also noted that the mayor’s signature initiatives, such as universal pre-kindergarten, 3-K, and the ThriveNYC mental health plan spearheaded by First Lady Chirlane McCray “are flush with funding” and safe from the PEG, compared with the rest of the budget. “Just because a program or initiative is new, transformative, or a mayoral priority, should not shield it from oversight,” he said. “The Council is not a rubber stamp. Everyone else is being asked to tighten their belts, while a few key initiatives seem exempt.”</p> <p>“Everything must go under a microscope,” he said of the PEG program, but insisting that the city should not take away funding from agencies “where funding is already spread thin and agencies are already struggling to meet their core missions.” He noted that, as a result of the city’s focus on particular priorities, other larger issues are ignored. For instance, the de Blasio administration has focused on affordable housing through the Housing New York plan but NYCHA residents continue to live in deplorable conditions, he said. “Inattention to issues considered secondary and to longstanding problems can lead to a remarkable phenomenon of governing by monitor,” he said. “There are now federal monitors for NYCHA, the FDNY hiring process, the city’s jails, and police reform, to name a few.”</p> <p>Hartzog, the administration’s top budget official, acknowledged early on in response to Johnson’s questioning that the city may have to find additional savings once the state budget is finalized (it is due by April 1) and personal income tax revenues become clearer.</p> <p>Of the $750 million savings target, she said $544 million constituted the PEG and was to come from agencies finding efficiencies and cuts (the rest will be achieved through continuing a partial hiring freeze the mayor put in place last year and through debt service payments). Those target amounts for individual agencies were released on Tuesday. They include, for instance, $123 million from uniformed forces including the NYPD, FNDY and others; Health and welfare agencies, including the Administration for Children's Services and Health + Hospitals, will have to find nearly $147 million in savings; The DOE and CUNY will have to identify $110 million; Agencies in charge of housing and economic development will have to find $52 million in savings; Another $40 million will have to come from infrastructure, libraries and cultural institutions; and several other agencies will together have to find about $70 million. Even the mayor's office will reduce spending, by about $1.6 million.&nbsp;</p> <p>But Hartzog could not specifically say where each agency would have to look, which frustrated Johnson. “If we’re gonna have a real hearing on these cuts and do our job of oversight on the city’s budget, we can’t have a conversation with you today about whether those cuts make sense or are valuable when you’re not giving us specific programs,” he said. “This is strange to me.”</p> <p>Hartzog, though, emphasized that OMB was working with agencies on the PEG and would have all the information by the executive budget. “This is not anything new that we have done,” she said.</p> <p>Tensions seemed to rise between Johnson and Hartzog at times, including when he suggested that top OMB officials don’t treat Council finance staff with respect and have long ignored the Council’s recommendations on finding new revenues and agency efficiencies. When Hartzog refused to state her opinion on the city’s dearth of funding for outreach efforts for the 2020 Census, Johnson asked rhetorically, “Why are we having this hearing?”</p> <p>Johnson and his colleagues, Council Member Daniel Dromm, who chairs the finance committee, and Council Member Vanessa Gibson, who chairs the capital budget subcommittee, also raised concerns about the city’s ten-year capital strategy and the lack of planned investments in the latter half of the plan.</p> <p>Dromm pointed to several expenses that were missing from the budget including discretionary Council funding, which was $391.3 million last year; additional costs for school bus services as the Department of Education is in the process of securing new contracts; several one-time education programs funded up to $122.6 million last year; and an overtime budget worth $1.3 billion, $400 million lower than the average overtime spending from the last five years.</p> <p>“More than ever we need to keep growing our reserves to protect against shortfalls and painful mid-year cuts to vital services,” he said. “Indeed, we can’t afford not to.”</p> <p>Gibson, whose subcommittee was created last year to specifically examine the problem-ridden capital process, said the administration “continues to fail to comply with the letter and the spirit of our charter” in providing the necessary documents about the capital budget. The $104.1 billion preliminary ten-year capital strategy is $14.5 billion more than the last ten-year strategy that was approved by the Council.</p> <p>Hartzog did have one piece of good news about the city’s capital budget. She noted that Moody’s Investors Service upgraded the city’s general obligation bond rating, which would lower the city’s borrowing costs. Dromm later said the Council projected about $343 million in savings from that rating upgrade though OMB did not have its own projection.</p> <p>But the strategy, Gibson said, includes several instances of “unrealistic planning,” noting that $75.5 billion or 72.6 percent of the ten-year capital strategy is outlined for just the first five years. For instance, it includes $853 million for NYPD facilities in the first three years and only $160 million for the same need in the next seven years. The capital budget also includes “significant excess appropriations” and does not track capital project spending or completion, Gibson noted.</p> <p>“This issue is not new to this administration,” she said, though she did praise officials for reducing excess appropriations last year by $5.9 billion and adding new budget lines to give more clarity to the process.</p> <p>Hartzog conceded that capital planning has been a challenge for the city but that the administration has been working to distribute capital expenditures across the ten-year plan. “We’re gonna continue to work on that so that you will see over time that the...out-years of the ten-year plan smooth out and it wouldn’t be as high in the first five years,” she said.</p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer and officials from the Independent Budget Office (which released <a href="https://ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/overview-an-analysis-of-the-mayors-preliminary-budget-for-2020-and-financial-plan-march-2019.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a report</a> on the budget on Wednesday) also testified before the Council on Wednesday. Stringer, who released <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8325-calling-for-more-savings-stringer-releases-analysis-of-de-blasio-budget-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">his own analysis</a> of the mayor’s preliminary budget last week, continued to emphasize the need for a greater budget cushion by putting away more funding in reserves. “Given the uncertainty on the horizon, I am increasingly concerned that we simply have not done enough to hedge against the risks,” he said in his testimony.</p> <p>The Council will continue to evaluate the preliminary budget over the next several weeks, with specific agency heads being called to testify, before the Council issues its response. The mayor’s updated executive budget in April will then go through another round of Council hearings before the final spending plan for the next year is adopted.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p> <p>Note - this article has been updated with PEG targets released by the mayor's office and to clarify that the PEG is meant to find $544 million in savings, not the total $750 million.</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/city-council-j-mccarten-premlim.jpg" alt="city council j mccarten premlim" width="600" height="365" /></p> <p>(Photo:&nbsp;John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>City Council Speaker Corey Johnson appeared frustrated on Wednesday with the de Blasio administration budget at the Council’s first hearing to examine the mayor’s $92.2 billion preliminary budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year, which begins July 1 of this year.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio released his preliminary budget proposal last month <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8266-citing-several-causes-for-concern-de-blasio-presents-still-growing-budget-plan-of-92-2-billion" target="_blank" rel="noopener">warning</a> of the “tough choices” the city faces as it heads towards an economic slowdown, with revenues already coming in lower than last year. For the first time since he took office, the mayor instituted a Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG), which is meant to find the majority of $750 million in additional savings the mayor promised by the time the executive budget is released in April.</p> <p>Nonetheless, the mayor’s budget increases spending by $3 billion owing largely to costs from new contracts with labor unions, education spending, debt service costs, and fringe benefits. There are few new initiatives that add costs, while the threat of state budget cuts and cost shifts continue to loom -- the state is in a tougher fiscal situation than the city. The de Blasio administration also did not include any additional allocations to the city’s reserves, which remain strong but not as robust as some watchdogs believe they must be in order to withstand a recession.</p> <p>“The Council agrees that we need to be cautious but that caution needs to be exercised with precision,” Johnson said in his opening remarks at Wednesday’s hearing, worried about the possibility that the mayor’s PEG program could lead to cuts in social services. He criticized Melanie Hartzog, director of the Office of Management and Budget, for her lack of specific answers about the PEG, and expressed frustration that the mayor seemed intent on finding millions of dollars in such savings after years of having ignored similar calls from the City Council.</p> <p>Johnson also noted that the mayor’s signature initiatives, such as universal pre-kindergarten, 3-K, and the ThriveNYC mental health plan spearheaded by First Lady Chirlane McCray “are flush with funding” and safe from the PEG, compared with the rest of the budget. “Just because a program or initiative is new, transformative, or a mayoral priority, should not shield it from oversight,” he said. “The Council is not a rubber stamp. Everyone else is being asked to tighten their belts, while a few key initiatives seem exempt.”</p> <p>“Everything must go under a microscope,” he said of the PEG program, but insisting that the city should not take away funding from agencies “where funding is already spread thin and agencies are already struggling to meet their core missions.” He noted that, as a result of the city’s focus on particular priorities, other larger issues are ignored. For instance, the de Blasio administration has focused on affordable housing through the Housing New York plan but NYCHA residents continue to live in deplorable conditions, he said. “Inattention to issues considered secondary and to longstanding problems can lead to a remarkable phenomenon of governing by monitor,” he said. “There are now federal monitors for NYCHA, the FDNY hiring process, the city’s jails, and police reform, to name a few.”</p> <p>Hartzog, the administration’s top budget official, acknowledged early on in response to Johnson’s questioning that the city may have to find additional savings once the state budget is finalized (it is due by April 1) and personal income tax revenues become clearer.</p> <p>Of the $750 million savings target, she said $544 million constituted the PEG and was to come from agencies finding efficiencies and cuts (the rest will be achieved through continuing a partial hiring freeze the mayor put in place last year and through debt service payments). Those target amounts for individual agencies were released on Tuesday. They include, for instance, $123 million from uniformed forces including the NYPD, FNDY and others; Health and welfare agencies, including the Administration for Children's Services and Health + Hospitals, will have to find nearly $147 million in savings; The DOE and CUNY will have to identify $110 million; Agencies in charge of housing and economic development will have to find $52 million in savings; Another $40 million will have to come from infrastructure, libraries and cultural institutions; and several other agencies will together have to find about $70 million. Even the mayor's office will reduce spending, by about $1.6 million.&nbsp;</p> <p>But Hartzog could not specifically say where each agency would have to look, which frustrated Johnson. “If we’re gonna have a real hearing on these cuts and do our job of oversight on the city’s budget, we can’t have a conversation with you today about whether those cuts make sense or are valuable when you’re not giving us specific programs,” he said. “This is strange to me.”</p> <p>Hartzog, though, emphasized that OMB was working with agencies on the PEG and would have all the information by the executive budget. “This is not anything new that we have done,” she said.</p> <p>Tensions seemed to rise between Johnson and Hartzog at times, including when he suggested that top OMB officials don’t treat Council finance staff with respect and have long ignored the Council’s recommendations on finding new revenues and agency efficiencies. When Hartzog refused to state her opinion on the city’s dearth of funding for outreach efforts for the 2020 Census, Johnson asked rhetorically, “Why are we having this hearing?”</p> <p>Johnson and his colleagues, Council Member Daniel Dromm, who chairs the finance committee, and Council Member Vanessa Gibson, who chairs the capital budget subcommittee, also raised concerns about the city’s ten-year capital strategy and the lack of planned investments in the latter half of the plan.</p> <p>Dromm pointed to several expenses that were missing from the budget including discretionary Council funding, which was $391.3 million last year; additional costs for school bus services as the Department of Education is in the process of securing new contracts; several one-time education programs funded up to $122.6 million last year; and an overtime budget worth $1.3 billion, $400 million lower than the average overtime spending from the last five years.</p> <p>“More than ever we need to keep growing our reserves to protect against shortfalls and painful mid-year cuts to vital services,” he said. “Indeed, we can’t afford not to.”</p> <p>Gibson, whose subcommittee was created last year to specifically examine the problem-ridden capital process, said the administration “continues to fail to comply with the letter and the spirit of our charter” in providing the necessary documents about the capital budget. The $104.1 billion preliminary ten-year capital strategy is $14.5 billion more than the last ten-year strategy that was approved by the Council.</p> <p>Hartzog did have one piece of good news about the city’s capital budget. She noted that Moody’s Investors Service upgraded the city’s general obligation bond rating, which would lower the city’s borrowing costs. Dromm later said the Council projected about $343 million in savings from that rating upgrade though OMB did not have its own projection.</p> <p>But the strategy, Gibson said, includes several instances of “unrealistic planning,” noting that $75.5 billion or 72.6 percent of the ten-year capital strategy is outlined for just the first five years. For instance, it includes $853 million for NYPD facilities in the first three years and only $160 million for the same need in the next seven years. The capital budget also includes “significant excess appropriations” and does not track capital project spending or completion, Gibson noted.</p> <p>“This issue is not new to this administration,” she said, though she did praise officials for reducing excess appropriations last year by $5.9 billion and adding new budget lines to give more clarity to the process.</p> <p>Hartzog conceded that capital planning has been a challenge for the city but that the administration has been working to distribute capital expenditures across the ten-year plan. “We’re gonna continue to work on that so that you will see over time that the...out-years of the ten-year plan smooth out and it wouldn’t be as high in the first five years,” she said.</p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer and officials from the Independent Budget Office (which released <a href="https://ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/overview-an-analysis-of-the-mayors-preliminary-budget-for-2020-and-financial-plan-march-2019.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a report</a> on the budget on Wednesday) also testified before the Council on Wednesday. Stringer, who released <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8325-calling-for-more-savings-stringer-releases-analysis-of-de-blasio-budget-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">his own analysis</a> of the mayor’s preliminary budget last week, continued to emphasize the need for a greater budget cushion by putting away more funding in reserves. “Given the uncertainty on the horizon, I am increasingly concerned that we simply have not done enough to hedge against the risks,” he said in his testimony.</p> <p>The Council will continue to evaluate the preliminary budget over the next several weeks, with specific agency heads being called to testify, before the Council issues its response. The mayor’s updated executive budget in April will then go through another round of Council hearings before the final spending plan for the next year is adopted.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - this article has been updated with PEG targets released by the mayor's office and to clarify that the PEG is meant to find $544 million in savings, not the total $750 million.</p>
Without Chair, Council Committee Hears Bills Aimed to Help Discharged Military Veterans 2018-11-29T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-29T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8106-without-chair-council-committee-hears-bills-aimed-to-help-discharged-military-veterans Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/45051878725_27fd651644_z.jpg" alt="Council Member Chaim Deutsch" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Deutsch (photo:&nbsp;Emil Cohen/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>A bill that would require the New York City Department of Veterans Services to help veterans discharged from the military solely for their LGBTQ status to upgrade or change the narrative of their discharge status and “extend all city benefits and services” to them was introduced to the City Council’s Committee on Veterans at a hearing on Monday.</p> <p>Introduced alongside it was a bill that would require DVS to create a unit to assist veterans with discharge characterization upgrades and offer legal advice for those pursuing meritorious appeals. Almost all of the activists, city officials, and other members of the veterans community who attended the meeting supported the sentiment of the bills — but almost none of them supported them as written.</p> <p>Other than retiring, most people leave military service through the discharge process. When a veteran is first discharged, they can be given one of five statuses: honorable, general, other than honorable, bad conduct, and dishonorable. Discharge status is given at the discretion of the commanding officer. A less than honorable discharge, often referred to as a ‘bad paper discharge,’ can be given for any number of reasons — including being injured or ill — and results in a veteran being disqualified for certain federal Veterans Affairs benefits.</p> <p>President of the American Veterans for Equal Rights’ New York Chapter Denny Meyer stated in his testimony that between World War II and the era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” 100,000 LGBTQ American soldiers were less than honorably discharged for being gay. During the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era, another 14,000 were involuntarily discharged for the same reason, and although most of these veterans received honorable discharge paperwork, the narrative of the paperwork listed their homosexuality as the reason for being discharged.</p> <p>The bill related to LGBTQ discharge and reparations, Intro. 479, was proposed by Council Member Daniel Dromm, a Democrat from Queens and chair of the Council’s LGBT Caucus. The bill would seek to address discriminatory practices by requiring the city’s DVS to offer assistance to those less than honorably discharged solely for their sexual orientation or gender identity in upgrading their status or changing the narrative of that discharge.</p> <p>This effort complements Intro. 1218, a bill sponsored by Council Member Chaim Deutsch, the chair of the Council’s veterans services committee, which would require DVS to create a unit with the sole purpose of giving legal advice to any veteran seeking discharge upgrades. <br />Deutsch did not chair the hearing on the bills, despite not only being the committee chair but also having one of his own bills on the docket. A conservative Democrat from Brooklyn, Deutsch did not provide an on-the-record explanation of his absence from the hearing despite repeated inquiries by Gotham Gazette. The City Council speaker’s office did not provide comment for this article when asked. Council Member Dromm’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment about Deutsch’s absence. It is rare that a Council committee will hold a hearing without the chair.</p> <p>The hearing was chaired by Council Member Justin Brannan, a Brooklyn Democrat and member of the committee. Council Members Dromm and Alan Maisel, another member of the committee, were also in attendance at the beginning of the hearing, though Dromm left for state Senator Jose Peralta’s wake shortly after discussing his bill, with Maisel leaving not long after as well. Council Member Mathieu Eugene, a committee member, came for a short time later in the meeting, leaving after asking a few questions concerning the logistics of discharge statuses. The only other member of the veterans committee, Council Member Paul Vallone, was not present at all.</p> <p>Testimony on the two bills was first given by DVS Commissioner Loree Sutton, who in part responded to Dromm’s discussion of his bill.</p> <p>During the testimony, Sutton brought up two major issues with the bills that would be echoed throughout the hearing by advocates.</p> <p>First, although the language of Dromm’s Intro. 479 implies that some city benefits depend on discharge status, this is not the case, according to Sutton.</p> <p>“Discharge status and LGBTQ status are not identifiers used to screen out applicants for city resources,” Sutton said.</p> <p>The bill states: “A veteran with any discharge status less than honorable, for example, cannot access the full range of benefits offered by the VA and, often, are denied benefits by the state and local veterans affairs bodies as well.”</p> <p>Dromm said that part of the intention of the bill was to codify LGBTQ veterans’ rights into law. Mentioning how the Trump administration has set back LGBTQ rights, he said that this bill would prevent a similar occurrence at the city level.</p> <p>“One of the reasons why we put this legislation forward is because while we recognize Mayor de Blasio's commitment to LGBT rights and [Sutton’s] personal involvement in it as well, we don’t know what the next mayor’s going to bring,” Dromm said. “We’ve seen an administration in Washington D.C. that is already attempting to take away our rights and God forbid something like that should happen here in New York City, and all the work that either [Sutton has] done or the Council has done could be lost if in fact we don’t codify it.”</p> <p>When it came to the bill proposed by Deutsch, Sutton and others mentioned that it would have DVS provide a service already provided by non-profits, some of which had representatives at the hearing. The service of providing legal advice and guidance in regards to discharge status upgrades is somewhat specialized and requires intricate knowledge of the legal system, according to Director of the Veteran Advocacy Project Coco Culhane, whose non-profit provides said legal advice.</p> <p>“We do not believe that a unit within DVS would be an efficient use of city funds or city employees’ time,” Culhane said, going on to note that DVS was not originally intended to be a service-based agency, and so should not be advising veterans even if it had the legal expertise. The original mission of the still-new agency is to educate veterans about the services they are applicable for, largely federal, and help connect them with the resources they need.</p> <p>Sutton agreed with this sentiment.</p> <p>“DVS is not a subject-matter expert on evaluating the legitimacy of discharge upgrade claims,” Sutton said. “This bill would require that DVS provide what is actually legal advice and counselling, which is beyond its capacity and is inappropriate because city agencies do not provide direct legal counsel to members of the state.”</p> <p>Systems DVS already has in place to assist veterans seeking discharge upgrades mainly rely on reaching out to attorneys for their advice, and helping link veterans to appropriate legal services. <a href="https://vetconnectnyc.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">VetConnect</a>, an online website that seeks to connect veterans with services they need, is also part of these efforts.</p> <p>Ashton Stewart, coordinator with SAGE Vets Program, an LGBT veterans advocacy group created for the purpose of helping veterans who had been less-than-honorably discharged due to their sexual orientation, supported the legislation.</p> <p>“SAGE wholeheartedly supports the discharge characterization upgrade assistance legislation.” Stewart said. “We believe that taking this step will bring profile to the important issue of LGBT service members wrongfully discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation.”</p> <p>Vadim Panasyuk, Senior Veteran Transition Manager at the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, added to the concerns about the bills, saying that if DVS were to provide legal advice concerning discharge upgrades it may complicate things for veterans and nonprofits.</p> <p>“There are already processes in the nonprofit sector that will help veterans upgrade their discharge status free of charge,” Panasyuk said. “IAVA is concerned that passage of these bills could create confusion among the nonprofit and veterans community. DVS may be better served to complement these existing services rather than competing or duplicating them.”</p> <p>The larger problem, according to both Culhane and Kent Eiler, Project Director of the City Bar Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project, is the lack of qualified lawyers in the field of veteran law.</p> <p>“The demand for able, experienced accredited representatives is vastly outstripped by the demand of veterans who need assistance,” Eiler said.</p> <p>According to Sutton, so far in 2018, 105 veterans contacted DVS about discharge status. However, both Eiler and Culhane expressed that this number is not representative of the actual need. Eiler mentioned that those who come to the City Bar Justice Center are often put on an eight- to ten-month waiting list, while Culhane said that the Veteran Advocacy Project has had as many as 650 veterans waiting at a time just for the non-profit to investigate the merit of their case. Culhane said in just under two years, 500 veterans had contacted her association seeking assistance with a discharge upgrade.</p> <p>With only two members of the Council remaining by the time the last panel of activists testified, Brannan brought the meeting to a close, with the fate of the bills unclear -- they can be voted on by the committee at a future meeting, amended and reheard by the committee, or laid over indefinitely.</p> <p>Meyer, who was the last to give testimony, representing the American Veterans for Equal RIghts’ New York Chapter, expressed that having heard the testimony given at the meeting, his thoughts on the bills had changed. However, his feeling that LGBTQ veterans needed to be repaid for their service even in light of unjust treatment, remained.</p> <p>“Someone is going to have to decide who is going to help them, who is going to rectify this, it’s as simple as that,” Meyer said.</p> <p>

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/45051878725_27fd651644_z.jpg" alt="Council Member Chaim Deutsch" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Deutsch (photo:&nbsp;Emil Cohen/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>A bill that would require the New York City Department of Veterans Services to help veterans discharged from the military solely for their LGBTQ status to upgrade or change the narrative of their discharge status and “extend all city benefits and services” to them was introduced to the City Council’s Committee on Veterans at a hearing on Monday.</p> <p>Introduced alongside it was a bill that would require DVS to create a unit to assist veterans with discharge characterization upgrades and offer legal advice for those pursuing meritorious appeals. Almost all of the activists, city officials, and other members of the veterans community who attended the meeting supported the sentiment of the bills — but almost none of them supported them as written.</p> <p>Other than retiring, most people leave military service through the discharge process. When a veteran is first discharged, they can be given one of five statuses: honorable, general, other than honorable, bad conduct, and dishonorable. Discharge status is given at the discretion of the commanding officer. A less than honorable discharge, often referred to as a ‘bad paper discharge,’ can be given for any number of reasons — including being injured or ill — and results in a veteran being disqualified for certain federal Veterans Affairs benefits.</p> <p>President of the American Veterans for Equal Rights’ New York Chapter Denny Meyer stated in his testimony that between World War II and the era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” 100,000 LGBTQ American soldiers were less than honorably discharged for being gay. During the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era, another 14,000 were involuntarily discharged for the same reason, and although most of these veterans received honorable discharge paperwork, the narrative of the paperwork listed their homosexuality as the reason for being discharged.</p> <p>The bill related to LGBTQ discharge and reparations, Intro. 479, was proposed by Council Member Daniel Dromm, a Democrat from Queens and chair of the Council’s LGBT Caucus. The bill would seek to address discriminatory practices by requiring the city’s DVS to offer assistance to those less than honorably discharged solely for their sexual orientation or gender identity in upgrading their status or changing the narrative of that discharge.</p> <p>This effort complements Intro. 1218, a bill sponsored by Council Member Chaim Deutsch, the chair of the Council’s veterans services committee, which would require DVS to create a unit with the sole purpose of giving legal advice to any veteran seeking discharge upgrades. <br />Deutsch did not chair the hearing on the bills, despite not only being the committee chair but also having one of his own bills on the docket. A conservative Democrat from Brooklyn, Deutsch did not provide an on-the-record explanation of his absence from the hearing despite repeated inquiries by Gotham Gazette. The City Council speaker’s office did not provide comment for this article when asked. Council Member Dromm’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment about Deutsch’s absence. It is rare that a Council committee will hold a hearing without the chair.</p> <p>The hearing was chaired by Council Member Justin Brannan, a Brooklyn Democrat and member of the committee. Council Members Dromm and Alan Maisel, another member of the committee, were also in attendance at the beginning of the hearing, though Dromm left for state Senator Jose Peralta’s wake shortly after discussing his bill, with Maisel leaving not long after as well. Council Member Mathieu Eugene, a committee member, came for a short time later in the meeting, leaving after asking a few questions concerning the logistics of discharge statuses. The only other member of the veterans committee, Council Member Paul Vallone, was not present at all.</p> <p>Testimony on the two bills was first given by DVS Commissioner Loree Sutton, who in part responded to Dromm’s discussion of his bill.</p> <p>During the testimony, Sutton brought up two major issues with the bills that would be echoed throughout the hearing by advocates.</p> <p>First, although the language of Dromm’s Intro. 479 implies that some city benefits depend on discharge status, this is not the case, according to Sutton.</p> <p>“Discharge status and LGBTQ status are not identifiers used to screen out applicants for city resources,” Sutton said.</p> <p>The bill states: “A veteran with any discharge status less than honorable, for example, cannot access the full range of benefits offered by the VA and, often, are denied benefits by the state and local veterans affairs bodies as well.”</p> <p>Dromm said that part of the intention of the bill was to codify LGBTQ veterans’ rights into law. Mentioning how the Trump administration has set back LGBTQ rights, he said that this bill would prevent a similar occurrence at the city level.</p> <p>“One of the reasons why we put this legislation forward is because while we recognize Mayor de Blasio's commitment to LGBT rights and [Sutton’s] personal involvement in it as well, we don’t know what the next mayor’s going to bring,” Dromm said. “We’ve seen an administration in Washington D.C. that is already attempting to take away our rights and God forbid something like that should happen here in New York City, and all the work that either [Sutton has] done or the Council has done could be lost if in fact we don’t codify it.”</p> <p>When it came to the bill proposed by Deutsch, Sutton and others mentioned that it would have DVS provide a service already provided by non-profits, some of which had representatives at the hearing. The service of providing legal advice and guidance in regards to discharge status upgrades is somewhat specialized and requires intricate knowledge of the legal system, according to Director of the Veteran Advocacy Project Coco Culhane, whose non-profit provides said legal advice.</p> <p>“We do not believe that a unit within DVS would be an efficient use of city funds or city employees’ time,” Culhane said, going on to note that DVS was not originally intended to be a service-based agency, and so should not be advising veterans even if it had the legal expertise. The original mission of the still-new agency is to educate veterans about the services they are applicable for, largely federal, and help connect them with the resources they need.</p> <p>Sutton agreed with this sentiment.</p> <p>“DVS is not a subject-matter expert on evaluating the legitimacy of discharge upgrade claims,” Sutton said. “This bill would require that DVS provide what is actually legal advice and counselling, which is beyond its capacity and is inappropriate because city agencies do not provide direct legal counsel to members of the state.”</p> <p>Systems DVS already has in place to assist veterans seeking discharge upgrades mainly rely on reaching out to attorneys for their advice, and helping link veterans to appropriate legal services. <a href="https://vetconnectnyc.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">VetConnect</a>, an online website that seeks to connect veterans with services they need, is also part of these efforts.</p> <p>Ashton Stewart, coordinator with SAGE Vets Program, an LGBT veterans advocacy group created for the purpose of helping veterans who had been less-than-honorably discharged due to their sexual orientation, supported the legislation.</p> <p>“SAGE wholeheartedly supports the discharge characterization upgrade assistance legislation.” Stewart said. “We believe that taking this step will bring profile to the important issue of LGBT service members wrongfully discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation.”</p> <p>Vadim Panasyuk, Senior Veteran Transition Manager at the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, added to the concerns about the bills, saying that if DVS were to provide legal advice concerning discharge upgrades it may complicate things for veterans and nonprofits.</p> <p>“There are already processes in the nonprofit sector that will help veterans upgrade their discharge status free of charge,” Panasyuk said. “IAVA is concerned that passage of these bills could create confusion among the nonprofit and veterans community. DVS may be better served to complement these existing services rather than competing or duplicating them.”</p> <p>The larger problem, according to both Culhane and Kent Eiler, Project Director of the City Bar Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project, is the lack of qualified lawyers in the field of veteran law.</p> <p>“The demand for able, experienced accredited representatives is vastly outstripped by the demand of veterans who need assistance,” Eiler said.</p> <p>According to Sutton, so far in 2018, 105 veterans contacted DVS about discharge status. However, both Eiler and Culhane expressed that this number is not representative of the actual need. Eiler mentioned that those who come to the City Bar Justice Center are often put on an eight- to ten-month waiting list, while Culhane said that the Veteran Advocacy Project has had as many as 650 veterans waiting at a time just for the non-profit to investigate the merit of their case. Culhane said in just under two years, 500 veterans had contacted her association seeking assistance with a discharge upgrade.</p> <p>With only two members of the Council remaining by the time the last panel of activists testified, Brannan brought the meeting to a close, with the fate of the bills unclear -- they can be voted on by the committee at a future meeting, amended and reheard by the committee, or laid over indefinitely.</p> <p>Meyer, who was the last to give testimony, representing the American Veterans for Equal RIghts’ New York Chapter, expressed that having heard the testimony given at the meeting, his thoughts on the bills had changed. However, his feeling that LGBTQ veterans needed to be repaid for their service even in light of unjust treatment, remained.</p> <p>“Someone is going to have to decide who is going to help them, who is going to rectify this, it’s as simple as that,” Meyer said.</p> <p>

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Assembly Race Poses Another Test for Queens Machine 2018-07-16T04:00:00+00:00 2018-07-16T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7805-assembly-race-poses-another-test-for-queens-machine Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/catalina_cruz_parade.jpg" alt="catalina cruz parade Queens" width="600" height="338" /></p> <p>Catalina Cruz (photo: @CatalinaCruzNY)</p> <hr /> <p>Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Democratic primary victory over Rep. Joe Crowley last month in New York’s 14th congressional district sent shockwaves throughout the country and signalled a monumental shift in Queens politics, where the Crowley-led county party has held significant sway in local elections for many years. The effects of Ocasio-Cortez’s win and Crowley’s loss, both nationally and locally, are still developing, but reverberations are certainly being felt in the already-competitive Democratic primary for New York Assembly District 39, where a county-backed incumbent is facing an independent challenger.</p> <p>The district -- part of the 150-seat lower house of the state Legislature, all of which are on the ballot this fall, first in September 13 primaries -- covers the immigrant-heavy neighborhoods of Corona, Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights, and large parts of those fall within Crowley’s congressional district. It is currently represented by Assembly Member Ari Espinal, who was elected in a <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/Elections/2018/Special/April242018SpecialElectionResults.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">low-turnout special election</a> barely three months ago, with fewer than 800 votes. Espinal was previously an aide to Francisco Moya, who held the Assembly seat before being elected to the New York City Council last year.</p> <p>Espinal’s challenger in the primary is Catalina Cruz, an attorney with government experience who most recently served as chief of staff to former City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.</p> <p>Espinal, whose cousin is Brooklyn City Council Member Rafael Epsinal, ran unopposed for the Assembly seat, having been endorsed by the Queens Democratic Party, which is chaired by Crowley and has played an influential role in not just Queens, but city and state elections for decades, as well as the selection of the powerful City Council speaker and a variety of other appointed positions. For a special election to the state Legislature, there are no party primaries, instead the party county committee selects its candidate for what is a singular public vote. In a heavily Democratic district like most in New York City, the party’s nominee is virtually &nbsp;assured victory in a special election, and therefore gains at least some of the benefits of incumbency ahead of any subsequent intra-party challenges.</p> <p>But the power of the Queens County Democrats’ endorsement is under question following Crowley’s landslide defeat to Ocasio-Cortez as he finishes his tenth term in the House. Queens Democratic insiders say Cruz is in important ways a stronger candidate than Espinal and that the Queens county machine -- a descriptor some take issue with -- is playing a minimal role in the race and has a far less threatening presence in the immediate aftermath of last month’s election. Some also point to the fact that the Queens county party has been defeated in a number of elections over the years by strong insurgent candidates, such as the victories of current City Council Members Daniel Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer, as well as Ferreras-Copeland’s first win. Moya, meanwhile, helped orchestrate Espinal’s ascension and is actively campaigning on her behalf in an area where he has won several recent elections.</p> <p>For her part, Espinal is confident about the race. “I welcome any challenge,” she said in a phone interview. “I’m from Corona, Queens. I was raised in this neighborhood. I welcome any challenge and it’s exciting. I feel like it’s the Democratic process, too. Why wouldn’t you want a challenge? You would want your voters to get engaged. This is how they get engaged more when they have to pick, to choose and say, ‘Who’s going to represent me the way I want to be represented?’”</p> <p>Having been in office just under three months, Espinal has been prime sponsor on one bill that was passed by both legislative chambers, to extend a labor law relating to unemployment insurance proceedings, and another, called Carlos’ Law, which enacts punishments for developers that put workers at risk of injury or death, which passed only the Assembly. Espinal has also allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars to her community, she said. She signed on to the Dream Act, which aims to provide state financial aid to undocumented immigrants seeking higher education. She’s received support for her reelection bid from Moya, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Bronx Rep. Jose Serrano, and the Working Families Party.</p> <p>Espinal is relying on her experience as a longtime community organizer and former Democratic district leader, promising voters that she will bring resources back to her community. She has pledged to fight for immigrant protections, affordable housing, school funding, small businesses, and workers rights, and other locally-important issues. And she pushed back against the notion that she is the establishment candidate in the race. “Quite so often you have politicians who are not from the area and just want to run for office because they just want the power. I’m not looking for the power,” she said. “What I’m looking for is to actually engage my community and tell them, ‘I’m here. I’m here for you because I’ve lived here and I know the issues...because I’m your neighbor.’”</p> <p>Cruz, Espinal’s opponent, strikes a similar chord with her campaign pitch. “My entire life is a spectrum of the people of Jackson Heights, Corona and Elmhurst,” she said in a phone interview. But one thing that sets her far apart from Espinal is that Cruz herself is a “Dreamer,” a child of undocumented immigrants who came to New York at the age of nine and who only recently gained permanent resident status in 2009. “I went from being an undocumented child who picked cans in the street with her mom to survive, to being a Dreamer who was going to undergrad and paying for school for herself to a working poor lawyer...to being a middle-class New Yorker, which is basically the spectrum of the people who are here in our community,” she said.</p> <p>After graduating law school and working as a housing attorney, Cruz joined the Attorney General’s office, then headed by Andrew Cuomo, before he was elected governor. Cruz served afterwards in the Department of Labor as counsel in the division of immigrant affairs. She worked with former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito -- who has endorsed her -- to write the legislation that kicked ICE agents off Rikers Island. She also returned to working for Cuomo, heading up his Exploited Workers Task Force, after which she joined Council Member Ferreras-Copeland’s staff. Her former boss has endorsed her, as have Council Members Dromm and Van Bramer, Helen Rosenthal, and Margaret Chin.</p> <p>“We’re a people-driven campaign,” Cruz said of her approach to the race. “We start with people and we end with people. We start with the idea that all of our policies should be informed by people.” Though her policy platform largely resembles Espinal’s, Cruz says she sets herself apart by virtue of her independence, experience, her focus on the residents of the district who cannot vote, and her pledge to refuse corporate and luxury developer money (the latter a promise like one made by Ocasio-Cortez, who attacked Crowley for the large corporate donations he received).</p> <p>“We are running a campaign that’s very much driven by people that live in the district and we’re independent from any ties to a political organization,” Cruz said.</p> <p>Those ties or the lack thereof may not be determinative in the Assembly race that does again put the power of the Queens County Democrats in the spotlight, observers who spoke with Gotham Gazette said. One former Assembly candidate from Queens said the path to victory lies in a robust ground game and organization. “You knock on enough doors, you meet enough people, and you raise enough money, and the barriers to entry are very low,” the former candidate said. “How many people are gonna vote in an Assembly race? A few thousand? How much money do you need to raise for an assembly race? $100,000? How many doors are you gonna knock on?...You put your walking shoes on and you can do it. So I think party power is very limited and Ari and Catalina will win or lose on the strengths of their own organic, local operation.”</p> <p>Democratic insiders pointed out that the Queens Democratic Party’s endorsement comes with political validation but not necessarily the resources to bolster a campaign, such as funding or boots on the ground. It’s why they disputed the characterization of the county party as a machine that can determine the course of campaigns. The party does, however, pressure potential contenders against considering a challenge to an incumbent and often brings with its endorsement a slew of loyal elected officials who coalesce around the county’s candidate and use their own resources and networks to boost them. The party also has connections at the Board of Elections and often attempts to knock challengers off the ballot and at times activates a network of district leaders and county committee members to help with ballot petition signature-gathering, door-knocking, and flyering.</p> <p>“It seems like [Cruz] has real momentum and...everyone’s going to attest the strength of her campaign to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez but I think the reality of it is the dynamics of that race were shaped well before the congressional race,” said a Queens Democratic operative who asked to remain anonymous to discuss things freely.</p> <p>“I think people have an impression of the Queens county organization as a faulty machine,” the operative said, insisting that a loss by a county-backed candidate did not mean the so-called machine is faltering. “I think the reality is that’s not what the organization is...In my experience, they support somebody and their support will provide the significant assistance of validation from other elected officials. That’s very helpful...but it was never designed to overcome bad campaigns or great opposing candidates.”</p> <p>If the incumbent candidate backed by the Queens Democrats loses to an independent challenger, the optics are far from ideal coming so close on the heels of Crowley’s loss. But the county has invested little in the race, said another Democratic insider from Queens who knows both Espinal and Cruz and who decried the term “machine” as a “loaded expression” for a county party that simply tries to elect its own members to office.</p> <p>But the Queens county organization is undoubtedly powerful. The “machine” moniker stems from the fact that the party holds sway over more than just candidate endorsements -- its backing often also means a candidate will not receive a primary challenger. The county organization selects judicial nominees, and allies of Crowley <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lawyers-controlled-queens-dems-party-30-years-article-1.3017007" target="_blank" rel="noopener">have made hefty profits</a> from being appointed as guardians in Surrogate’s Court. The party’s executive secretary is Michael Reich, whose partner Gerard Sweeney in the law firm Sweeney, Reich and Bolz, has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of Surrogate’s Court business. The county also <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6944-crowley-appointee-to-board-of-elections-sees-spike-in-queens-court-profits" target="_blank" rel="noopener">selects one of the ten commissioners on the New York City Board of Elections</a>, who decide which candidates qualify to appear on the ballot.</p> <p>The City Council speaker’s race has more often than not also been decided by the influence of the Queens and Bronx county parties; Council central staffers are frequently picked from the county’s ranks; and Council committee chairs are influenced by county allegiances. And though Crowley may no longer represent the House next year, <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/new-york-city/joe-crowley-queens-machine-democratic-chairman.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">City &amp; State reported</a> that he’s expected to be reelected county chair by district leaders for another two-year term in September. The county organization did not return a request for comment for this article about its support for Espinal.</p> <p>“I don’t think it would be a fair characterization to say this is a test of the county organization because I’m not sure they have all hands on deck for this one,” the insider said. The insider insisted that neither candidate needs the county party’s help to win the race, which would be won on the merits of their candidacies, and that Crowley’s fall is more likely to have an effect on the state Senate District 13 race, where Jessica Ramos is challenging Senator Jose Peralta, formerly of the rogue Independent Democratic Conference, which empowered Republicans. “I don’t think the Catalina-Ari race is affected by the Crowley result as much,” the insider said. “I just don’t get the sense that that changed everything...They weren’t dependent on Crowley for the win. Peralta was kinda depending on the county guys propping him up, keeping him strong and I feel like that has turned and now Ramos, if I had to bet, will win that race.”</p> <p>Cruz herself drew a parallel with Ocasio-Cortez’s win, noting that voters turned out in higher numbers for the progressive challenger than Crowley in his own backyard, which encompasses large parts of the Assembly district, to vote out the incumbent. “[Ocasio-Cortez] believed in the everyday person and the everyday person believed in her so much that they went out and overwhelmingly voted for her,” she said. “And that’s where we find ourselves, in the exact same situation.”</p> <p>But even she denied that she was poking the bear through her candidacy. “I wouldn’t call it testing their power because I never said I’m running against the machine,” Cruz said. “I’ve always said I’m running for the people. We have an organization that was just shown what people powered campaigns can do and we’re about to show them a second time.”</p> <p>If anything, the race may show that the Queens party’s once-coveted support has turned sour, seen by some as a signal of establishment politics that has been too out of touch with regular voters. “I think it definitely suffered,” said the Democratic insider of the county party’s endorsement. “It’s very raw and very recent, the whole Joe thing...I don’t know if this is a permanent problem or just a temporary one. But the timing right now is bad for those people.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/catalina_cruz_parade.jpg" alt="catalina cruz parade Queens" width="600" height="338" /></p> <p>Catalina Cruz (photo: @CatalinaCruzNY)</p> <hr /> <p>Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Democratic primary victory over Rep. Joe Crowley last month in New York’s 14th congressional district sent shockwaves throughout the country and signalled a monumental shift in Queens politics, where the Crowley-led county party has held significant sway in local elections for many years. The effects of Ocasio-Cortez’s win and Crowley’s loss, both nationally and locally, are still developing, but reverberations are certainly being felt in the already-competitive Democratic primary for New York Assembly District 39, where a county-backed incumbent is facing an independent challenger.</p> <p>The district -- part of the 150-seat lower house of the state Legislature, all of which are on the ballot this fall, first in September 13 primaries -- covers the immigrant-heavy neighborhoods of Corona, Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights, and large parts of those fall within Crowley’s congressional district. It is currently represented by Assembly Member Ari Espinal, who was elected in a <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/Elections/2018/Special/April242018SpecialElectionResults.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">low-turnout special election</a> barely three months ago, with fewer than 800 votes. Espinal was previously an aide to Francisco Moya, who held the Assembly seat before being elected to the New York City Council last year.</p> <p>Espinal’s challenger in the primary is Catalina Cruz, an attorney with government experience who most recently served as chief of staff to former City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.</p> <p>Espinal, whose cousin is Brooklyn City Council Member Rafael Epsinal, ran unopposed for the Assembly seat, having been endorsed by the Queens Democratic Party, which is chaired by Crowley and has played an influential role in not just Queens, but city and state elections for decades, as well as the selection of the powerful City Council speaker and a variety of other appointed positions. For a special election to the state Legislature, there are no party primaries, instead the party county committee selects its candidate for what is a singular public vote. In a heavily Democratic district like most in New York City, the party’s nominee is virtually &nbsp;assured victory in a special election, and therefore gains at least some of the benefits of incumbency ahead of any subsequent intra-party challenges.</p> <p>But the power of the Queens County Democrats’ endorsement is under question following Crowley’s landslide defeat to Ocasio-Cortez as he finishes his tenth term in the House. Queens Democratic insiders say Cruz is in important ways a stronger candidate than Espinal and that the Queens county machine -- a descriptor some take issue with -- is playing a minimal role in the race and has a far less threatening presence in the immediate aftermath of last month’s election. Some also point to the fact that the Queens county party has been defeated in a number of elections over the years by strong insurgent candidates, such as the victories of current City Council Members Daniel Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer, as well as Ferreras-Copeland’s first win. Moya, meanwhile, helped orchestrate Espinal’s ascension and is actively campaigning on her behalf in an area where he has won several recent elections.</p> <p>For her part, Espinal is confident about the race. “I welcome any challenge,” she said in a phone interview. “I’m from Corona, Queens. I was raised in this neighborhood. I welcome any challenge and it’s exciting. I feel like it’s the Democratic process, too. Why wouldn’t you want a challenge? You would want your voters to get engaged. This is how they get engaged more when they have to pick, to choose and say, ‘Who’s going to represent me the way I want to be represented?’”</p> <p>Having been in office just under three months, Espinal has been prime sponsor on one bill that was passed by both legislative chambers, to extend a labor law relating to unemployment insurance proceedings, and another, called Carlos’ Law, which enacts punishments for developers that put workers at risk of injury or death, which passed only the Assembly. Espinal has also allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars to her community, she said. She signed on to the Dream Act, which aims to provide state financial aid to undocumented immigrants seeking higher education. She’s received support for her reelection bid from Moya, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Bronx Rep. Jose Serrano, and the Working Families Party.</p> <p>Espinal is relying on her experience as a longtime community organizer and former Democratic district leader, promising voters that she will bring resources back to her community. She has pledged to fight for immigrant protections, affordable housing, school funding, small businesses, and workers rights, and other locally-important issues. And she pushed back against the notion that she is the establishment candidate in the race. “Quite so often you have politicians who are not from the area and just want to run for office because they just want the power. I’m not looking for the power,” she said. “What I’m looking for is to actually engage my community and tell them, ‘I’m here. I’m here for you because I’ve lived here and I know the issues...because I’m your neighbor.’”</p> <p>Cruz, Espinal’s opponent, strikes a similar chord with her campaign pitch. “My entire life is a spectrum of the people of Jackson Heights, Corona and Elmhurst,” she said in a phone interview. But one thing that sets her far apart from Espinal is that Cruz herself is a “Dreamer,” a child of undocumented immigrants who came to New York at the age of nine and who only recently gained permanent resident status in 2009. “I went from being an undocumented child who picked cans in the street with her mom to survive, to being a Dreamer who was going to undergrad and paying for school for herself to a working poor lawyer...to being a middle-class New Yorker, which is basically the spectrum of the people who are here in our community,” she said.</p> <p>After graduating law school and working as a housing attorney, Cruz joined the Attorney General’s office, then headed by Andrew Cuomo, before he was elected governor. Cruz served afterwards in the Department of Labor as counsel in the division of immigrant affairs. She worked with former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito -- who has endorsed her -- to write the legislation that kicked ICE agents off Rikers Island. She also returned to working for Cuomo, heading up his Exploited Workers Task Force, after which she joined Council Member Ferreras-Copeland’s staff. Her former boss has endorsed her, as have Council Members Dromm and Van Bramer, Helen Rosenthal, and Margaret Chin.</p> <p>“We’re a people-driven campaign,” Cruz said of her approach to the race. “We start with people and we end with people. We start with the idea that all of our policies should be informed by people.” Though her policy platform largely resembles Espinal’s, Cruz says she sets herself apart by virtue of her independence, experience, her focus on the residents of the district who cannot vote, and her pledge to refuse corporate and luxury developer money (the latter a promise like one made by Ocasio-Cortez, who attacked Crowley for the large corporate donations he received).</p> <p>“We are running a campaign that’s very much driven by people that live in the district and we’re independent from any ties to a political organization,” Cruz said.</p> <p>Those ties or the lack thereof may not be determinative in the Assembly race that does again put the power of the Queens County Democrats in the spotlight, observers who spoke with Gotham Gazette said. One former Assembly candidate from Queens said the path to victory lies in a robust ground game and organization. “You knock on enough doors, you meet enough people, and you raise enough money, and the barriers to entry are very low,” the former candidate said. “How many people are gonna vote in an Assembly race? A few thousand? How much money do you need to raise for an assembly race? $100,000? How many doors are you gonna knock on?...You put your walking shoes on and you can do it. So I think party power is very limited and Ari and Catalina will win or lose on the strengths of their own organic, local operation.”</p> <p>Democratic insiders pointed out that the Queens Democratic Party’s endorsement comes with political validation but not necessarily the resources to bolster a campaign, such as funding or boots on the ground. It’s why they disputed the characterization of the county party as a machine that can determine the course of campaigns. The party does, however, pressure potential contenders against considering a challenge to an incumbent and often brings with its endorsement a slew of loyal elected officials who coalesce around the county’s candidate and use their own resources and networks to boost them. The party also has connections at the Board of Elections and often attempts to knock challengers off the ballot and at times activates a network of district leaders and county committee members to help with ballot petition signature-gathering, door-knocking, and flyering.</p> <p>“It seems like [Cruz] has real momentum and...everyone’s going to attest the strength of her campaign to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez but I think the reality of it is the dynamics of that race were shaped well before the congressional race,” said a Queens Democratic operative who asked to remain anonymous to discuss things freely.</p> <p>“I think people have an impression of the Queens county organization as a faulty machine,” the operative said, insisting that a loss by a county-backed candidate did not mean the so-called machine is faltering. “I think the reality is that’s not what the organization is...In my experience, they support somebody and their support will provide the significant assistance of validation from other elected officials. That’s very helpful...but it was never designed to overcome bad campaigns or great opposing candidates.”</p> <p>If the incumbent candidate backed by the Queens Democrats loses to an independent challenger, the optics are far from ideal coming so close on the heels of Crowley’s loss. But the county has invested little in the race, said another Democratic insider from Queens who knows both Espinal and Cruz and who decried the term “machine” as a “loaded expression” for a county party that simply tries to elect its own members to office.</p> <p>But the Queens county organization is undoubtedly powerful. The “machine” moniker stems from the fact that the party holds sway over more than just candidate endorsements -- its backing often also means a candidate will not receive a primary challenger. The county organization selects judicial nominees, and allies of Crowley <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lawyers-controlled-queens-dems-party-30-years-article-1.3017007" target="_blank" rel="noopener">have made hefty profits</a> from being appointed as guardians in Surrogate’s Court. The party’s executive secretary is Michael Reich, whose partner Gerard Sweeney in the law firm Sweeney, Reich and Bolz, has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of Surrogate’s Court business. The county also <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6944-crowley-appointee-to-board-of-elections-sees-spike-in-queens-court-profits" target="_blank" rel="noopener">selects one of the ten commissioners on the New York City Board of Elections</a>, who decide which candidates qualify to appear on the ballot.</p> <p>The City Council speaker’s race has more often than not also been decided by the influence of the Queens and Bronx county parties; Council central staffers are frequently picked from the county’s ranks; and Council committee chairs are influenced by county allegiances. And though Crowley may no longer represent the House next year, <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/new-york-city/joe-crowley-queens-machine-democratic-chairman.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">City &amp; State reported</a> that he’s expected to be reelected county chair by district leaders for another two-year term in September. The county organization did not return a request for comment for this article about its support for Espinal.</p> <p>“I don’t think it would be a fair characterization to say this is a test of the county organization because I’m not sure they have all hands on deck for this one,” the insider said. The insider insisted that neither candidate needs the county party’s help to win the race, which would be won on the merits of their candidacies, and that Crowley’s fall is more likely to have an effect on the state Senate District 13 race, where Jessica Ramos is challenging Senator Jose Peralta, formerly of the rogue Independent Democratic Conference, which empowered Republicans. “I don’t think the Catalina-Ari race is affected by the Crowley result as much,” the insider said. “I just don’t get the sense that that changed everything...They weren’t dependent on Crowley for the win. Peralta was kinda depending on the county guys propping him up, keeping him strong and I feel like that has turned and now Ramos, if I had to bet, will win that race.”</p> <p>Cruz herself drew a parallel with Ocasio-Cortez’s win, noting that voters turned out in higher numbers for the progressive challenger than Crowley in his own backyard, which encompasses large parts of the Assembly district, to vote out the incumbent. “[Ocasio-Cortez] believed in the everyday person and the everyday person believed in her so much that they went out and overwhelmingly voted for her,” she said. “And that’s where we find ourselves, in the exact same situation.”</p> <p>But even she denied that she was poking the bear through her candidacy. “I wouldn’t call it testing their power because I never said I’m running against the machine,” Cruz said. “I’ve always said I’m running for the people. We have an organization that was just shown what people powered campaigns can do and we’re about to show them a second time.”</p> <p>If anything, the race may show that the Queens party’s once-coveted support has turned sour, seen by some as a signal of establishment politics that has been too out of touch with regular voters. “I think it definitely suffered,” said the Democratic insider of the county party’s endorsement. “It’s very raw and very recent, the whole Joe thing...I don’t know if this is a permanent problem or just a temporary one. But the timing right now is bad for those people.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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City Council Push for Budget Transparency Falls Far Short 2018-06-20T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-20T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7756-city-council-push-for-budget-transparency-falls-far-short Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/41843779605_e3c8577c07_z.jpg" alt="De Blasio City Council members" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Johnson, de Blasio, Dromm (l-r) (photo: John McCarten)</p> <hr /> <p>At several budget hearings earlier this year, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson took a hard line on transparency. He insisted that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration was being less than forthcoming on how money is spent and was hampering the Council’s charter-mandated authority to review and approve the city’s spending plan. To wit, in its official response to the mayor’s preliminary budget in April, the Council proposed adding 123 new units of appropriation -- budget lines that explain expenditures -- in order to more clearly and specifically show what the city is spending money on.</p> <p>When the city’s <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7731-de-blasio-and-city-council-agree-on-89-2-billion-budget-funding-key-council-priorities" target="_blank" rel="noopener">new $89.2 billion budget</a> was approved last week, however, the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget only added a total of five new units.</p> <p>“We’re going to work with the Council,” de Blasio promised at at the release of his executive budget proposal in late April, two weeks after the Council’s response, when Gotham Gazette inquired about the push for more units of appropriations. “We have, over the years, been adding. We’re open to adding more. That’s an ongoing discussion, which we’ve had again today with the Council. Stay tuned.”</p> <p>But there was little news to stay tuned for. The five new lines in the adopted budget include four under the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications -- two each for the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MoME) and the NYC Cyber Command office which both fall under DoITT’s purview. Those units are for personal services (PS) which covers salaries and wages of agency employees, and other than personal services (OTPS) which includes costs such as office supplies, equipment, maintenance, and the like. In total, those budget lines cover $25.2 million in expenditures for MoME and $65.8 million for the Cyber Command.</p> <p>The fifth unit of appropriation was created under the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, to allow the Council to look at expense funding allocated for the New York City Housing Authority, about $255.4 million for the 2019 fiscal year, which begins July 1 of this year.</p> <p>It should be noted that the separate capital budget, which outlines city spending on infrastructure,includes six new budget lines -- one for the Brooklyn Public Library and five within Parks Department expenditures.</p> <p>In April, at a hearing on a mid-year modification to the current annual expense budget, the Council <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7651-city-council-takes-harder-line-on-mid-year-budget-modifications" target="_blank" rel="noopener">first showed indications</a> that it wouldn’t approve OMB’s requests without greater disclosure from the administration. Then, at a May hearing on the executive budget, prior to the new units of appropriation being added, Council Member Daniel Dromm, the chair of the Council’s finance committee, which leads the budget process at the Council, excoriated OMB officials for their refusal to be more transparent, insisting that the administration “must discontinue the longstanding practice of using vague and overbroad units of appropriation” over more specific ones.</p> <p>Dromm continued, “While such a shift is understandably resisted by the Mayor because it would restrict his ability to transfer funds between programs without oversight and to avoid seeking budget modification approval from the Council, it is necessary to facilitate the Council’s and the public’s understanding of agency spending and performance and to more transparently track the Administration’s priorities.”</p> <p>But the Council’s response to Gotham Gazette’s queries about the units of appropriation were more tempered. “[The] Council is very pleased with the end results of this budget process and is committed to more transparency measures, including continuing the push for more lines of appropriation,” said Jennifer Fermino, a spokesperson for the speaker, in a statement.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Council Member Dromm did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>Maria Doulis, vice president of Citizens Budget Commission, an independent fiscal watchdog that advocates for increased budget transparency, among other changes, said the Council’s push for transparency likely fell by the wayside as it negotiated larger priorities such as discounted MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers.</p> <p>“It might be best to come to some sort of agreement about this outside the budget because when you’re negotiating a budget, it’s all about the dollars and cents and not necessarily how the dollars and cents are presented,” Doulis said in a phone interview. She said the five new units are a “micro step forward” and that the Council must remain committed to a long-term approach, which could happen through a dedicated working group.</p> <p>She also noted that the City Council has failed to push for transparency at crucial moments. She pointed out, for instance, that the mayor announced a new labor deal with the United Federation of Teachers on Wednesday but without details of how the spending will be reflected in the city budget. “So all these Council members are on this press release and they’re happy to laud and support this effort,” Doulis said, “but I didn’t hear any of them saying, ‘And we’d like to see a full accounting of what exactly the city will be paying for on this.’ So I don’t know that transparency is any better or worse than it was last year, or a couple of years ago under Mayor Bloomberg. In my mind it’s pretty much the same or marginally better.”</p> <p>Although Doulis did say that the city’s budget is enormous and complex, and that the administration does publish more budget documents than other local governments, she said there should nonetheless be improvements. “The question is, can the average citizen ask a basic question about services that he or she cares about and their costs and look in the budget to find an answer fairly simply and easily,” she said, “and the answer to that is ‘no.’”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/41843779605_e3c8577c07_z.jpg" alt="De Blasio City Council members" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Johnson, de Blasio, Dromm (l-r) (photo: John McCarten)</p> <hr /> <p>At several budget hearings earlier this year, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson took a hard line on transparency. He insisted that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration was being less than forthcoming on how money is spent and was hampering the Council’s charter-mandated authority to review and approve the city’s spending plan. To wit, in its official response to the mayor’s preliminary budget in April, the Council proposed adding 123 new units of appropriation -- budget lines that explain expenditures -- in order to more clearly and specifically show what the city is spending money on.</p> <p>When the city’s <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7731-de-blasio-and-city-council-agree-on-89-2-billion-budget-funding-key-council-priorities" target="_blank" rel="noopener">new $89.2 billion budget</a> was approved last week, however, the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget only added a total of five new units.</p> <p>“We’re going to work with the Council,” de Blasio promised at at the release of his executive budget proposal in late April, two weeks after the Council’s response, when Gotham Gazette inquired about the push for more units of appropriations. “We have, over the years, been adding. We’re open to adding more. That’s an ongoing discussion, which we’ve had again today with the Council. Stay tuned.”</p> <p>But there was little news to stay tuned for. The five new lines in the adopted budget include four under the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications -- two each for the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MoME) and the NYC Cyber Command office which both fall under DoITT’s purview. Those units are for personal services (PS) which covers salaries and wages of agency employees, and other than personal services (OTPS) which includes costs such as office supplies, equipment, maintenance, and the like. In total, those budget lines cover $25.2 million in expenditures for MoME and $65.8 million for the Cyber Command.</p> <p>The fifth unit of appropriation was created under the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, to allow the Council to look at expense funding allocated for the New York City Housing Authority, about $255.4 million for the 2019 fiscal year, which begins July 1 of this year.</p> <p>It should be noted that the separate capital budget, which outlines city spending on infrastructure,includes six new budget lines -- one for the Brooklyn Public Library and five within Parks Department expenditures.</p> <p>In April, at a hearing on a mid-year modification to the current annual expense budget, the Council <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7651-city-council-takes-harder-line-on-mid-year-budget-modifications" target="_blank" rel="noopener">first showed indications</a> that it wouldn’t approve OMB’s requests without greater disclosure from the administration. Then, at a May hearing on the executive budget, prior to the new units of appropriation being added, Council Member Daniel Dromm, the chair of the Council’s finance committee, which leads the budget process at the Council, excoriated OMB officials for their refusal to be more transparent, insisting that the administration “must discontinue the longstanding practice of using vague and overbroad units of appropriation” over more specific ones.</p> <p>Dromm continued, “While such a shift is understandably resisted by the Mayor because it would restrict his ability to transfer funds between programs without oversight and to avoid seeking budget modification approval from the Council, it is necessary to facilitate the Council’s and the public’s understanding of agency spending and performance and to more transparently track the Administration’s priorities.”</p> <p>But the Council’s response to Gotham Gazette’s queries about the units of appropriation were more tempered. “[The] Council is very pleased with the end results of this budget process and is committed to more transparency measures, including continuing the push for more lines of appropriation,” said Jennifer Fermino, a spokesperson for the speaker, in a statement.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Council Member Dromm did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>Maria Doulis, vice president of Citizens Budget Commission, an independent fiscal watchdog that advocates for increased budget transparency, among other changes, said the Council’s push for transparency likely fell by the wayside as it negotiated larger priorities such as discounted MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers.</p> <p>“It might be best to come to some sort of agreement about this outside the budget because when you’re negotiating a budget, it’s all about the dollars and cents and not necessarily how the dollars and cents are presented,” Doulis said in a phone interview. She said the five new units are a “micro step forward” and that the Council must remain committed to a long-term approach, which could happen through a dedicated working group.</p> <p>She also noted that the City Council has failed to push for transparency at crucial moments. She pointed out, for instance, that the mayor announced a new labor deal with the United Federation of Teachers on Wednesday but without details of how the spending will be reflected in the city budget. “So all these Council members are on this press release and they’re happy to laud and support this effort,” Doulis said, “but I didn’t hear any of them saying, ‘And we’d like to see a full accounting of what exactly the city will be paying for on this.’ So I don’t know that transparency is any better or worse than it was last year, or a couple of years ago under Mayor Bloomberg. In my mind it’s pretty much the same or marginally better.”</p> <p>Although Doulis did say that the city’s budget is enormous and complex, and that the administration does publish more budget documents than other local governments, she said there should nonetheless be improvements. “The question is, can the average citizen ask a basic question about services that he or she cares about and their costs and look in the budget to find an answer fairly simply and easily,” she said, “and the answer to that is ‘no.’”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
New York City Must Protect Due Process for All in The Trump Era 2018-06-08T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-08T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7725-new-york-city-will-protect-due-process-for-all-in-the-trump-era Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mayorsoffice-rikers-island.jpg" alt="mayorsoffice rikers island" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Under the Trump administration, we are seeing escalated attacks against immigrant communities across the country. Raids, workplace sweeps, and the detention of Dreamers, asylum seekers, and other immigrants have led to the daily separation of families.</p> <p>More than any other city, New York City has been proactive in responding to these attacks. At the center of our efforts to support our immigrant community is the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) — the nation’s first universal legal defense program for immigrants facing deportation.</p> <p>Over the last four years, NYIFUP has set the national standard for protecting the due process rights of immigrants and keeping families together. &nbsp;</p> <p>Research shows that detained immigrants with access to legal counsel have a 48% probability of success in immigration court, as compared to 4% without access to counsel. &nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, the New York City Council has made significant investments in complementary initiatives, including providing representation to immigrant children, survivors of domestic violence, asylum seekers, and those applying for U.S. citizenship. &nbsp;</p> <p>Our comprehensive legal services effort ensures income is not a barrier to obtaining quality, trustworthy representation for many immigrants at risk of deportation.</p> <p>Unfortunately, Mayor de Blasio has dangerously limited due process to many more at risk of deportation by quietly implementing a policy that excludes immigrants, including veterans, with certain convictions from qualifying for representation through our legal defense programs.</p> <p>New York City already mandates universal appointment of counsel in Family Court and Housing Court. Appointed counsel in those courts is based on financial need, not on a person’s criminal record.</p> <p>A criminal record may, at times, be a factor for a judge deciding the merits of the case, but it’s never a factor in deciding who deserves an attorney. We must have the same standard in our immigration courts that we do in family and housing.</p> <p>Elected officials, especially those who proclaim a progressive identity, should not fuel the nation’s deportation machine by limiting due process at a time like this.</p> <p>Instead, we have a duty to do everything in our power to ensure a level playing field in a system that is heavily weighted against people of color and immigrants, who all too often are ensnared by a system set up to criminalize them.</p> <p>The mayor’s approach is dangerous. We reject his exclusionary policy and urge him to restore our legal services programs to universal representation models without discriminatory exclusions.</p> <p>Our legal services programs do not determine who gets to stay in the country and who doesn’t — that is the role of our courts. Instead, our publicly funded programs help immigrants understand the proceedings they are in, as well as their legal rights and obligations.</p> <p>Making certain individuals ineligible for legal services strips them of a meaningful opportunity to have their day in court — leaving immigrants subject to deportation to countries where their lives may be at risk and allowing for the senseless separation of families.</p> <p>We would do well to remember the words of retired Immigration Judge Paul Grussendorf, who explained, “it is un-American to detain someone, send them to a remote facility where they have no contact with family, place them in legal proceedings where they are often unable to comprehend, and not to provide counsel for them.”</p> <p>U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said that states are the laboratories of democracy. We add that cities are the spark of genius that drives innovation in our democracy.</p> <p>New York City has led the way in protecting the rights of immigrants. We must expand on that progress — not turn back. Other cities across the nation are looking to us as beacons of progress.</p> <p>As descendants of immigrants and LGBTQ members of the New York City Council, and as New Yorkers, we are committed to eradicating inequality, discrimination, and barriers to fairness in our great city.</p> <p>We are committed to universal representation and due process for all immigrant New Yorkers.</p> <p>Justice is on our side.</p> <p>***<br /> Carlos Menchaca and Daniel Dromm are members of the New York City Council, representing parts of Brooklyn and Queens, respectively. Menchaca chairs the Council’s immigration committee, while Dromm is chair of the finance committee. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/cmenchaca" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@cmenchaca</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/dromm25" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@Dromm25</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mayorsoffice-rikers-island.jpg" alt="mayorsoffice rikers island" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Under the Trump administration, we are seeing escalated attacks against immigrant communities across the country. Raids, workplace sweeps, and the detention of Dreamers, asylum seekers, and other immigrants have led to the daily separation of families.</p> <p>More than any other city, New York City has been proactive in responding to these attacks. At the center of our efforts to support our immigrant community is the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) — the nation’s first universal legal defense program for immigrants facing deportation.</p> <p>Over the last four years, NYIFUP has set the national standard for protecting the due process rights of immigrants and keeping families together. &nbsp;</p> <p>Research shows that detained immigrants with access to legal counsel have a 48% probability of success in immigration court, as compared to 4% without access to counsel. &nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, the New York City Council has made significant investments in complementary initiatives, including providing representation to immigrant children, survivors of domestic violence, asylum seekers, and those applying for U.S. citizenship. &nbsp;</p> <p>Our comprehensive legal services effort ensures income is not a barrier to obtaining quality, trustworthy representation for many immigrants at risk of deportation.</p> <p>Unfortunately, Mayor de Blasio has dangerously limited due process to many more at risk of deportation by quietly implementing a policy that excludes immigrants, including veterans, with certain convictions from qualifying for representation through our legal defense programs.</p> <p>New York City already mandates universal appointment of counsel in Family Court and Housing Court. Appointed counsel in those courts is based on financial need, not on a person’s criminal record.</p> <p>A criminal record may, at times, be a factor for a judge deciding the merits of the case, but it’s never a factor in deciding who deserves an attorney. We must have the same standard in our immigration courts that we do in family and housing.</p> <p>Elected officials, especially those who proclaim a progressive identity, should not fuel the nation’s deportation machine by limiting due process at a time like this.</p> <p>Instead, we have a duty to do everything in our power to ensure a level playing field in a system that is heavily weighted against people of color and immigrants, who all too often are ensnared by a system set up to criminalize them.</p> <p>The mayor’s approach is dangerous. We reject his exclusionary policy and urge him to restore our legal services programs to universal representation models without discriminatory exclusions.</p> <p>Our legal services programs do not determine who gets to stay in the country and who doesn’t — that is the role of our courts. Instead, our publicly funded programs help immigrants understand the proceedings they are in, as well as their legal rights and obligations.</p> <p>Making certain individuals ineligible for legal services strips them of a meaningful opportunity to have their day in court — leaving immigrants subject to deportation to countries where their lives may be at risk and allowing for the senseless separation of families.</p> <p>We would do well to remember the words of retired Immigration Judge Paul Grussendorf, who explained, “it is un-American to detain someone, send them to a remote facility where they have no contact with family, place them in legal proceedings where they are often unable to comprehend, and not to provide counsel for them.”</p> <p>U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said that states are the laboratories of democracy. We add that cities are the spark of genius that drives innovation in our democracy.</p> <p>New York City has led the way in protecting the rights of immigrants. We must expand on that progress — not turn back. Other cities across the nation are looking to us as beacons of progress.</p> <p>As descendants of immigrants and LGBTQ members of the New York City Council, and as New Yorkers, we are committed to eradicating inequality, discrimination, and barriers to fairness in our great city.</p> <p>We are committed to universal representation and due process for all immigrant New Yorkers.</p> <p>Justice is on our side.</p> <p>***<br /> Carlos Menchaca and Daniel Dromm are members of the New York City Council, representing parts of Brooklyn and Queens, respectively. Menchaca chairs the Council’s immigration committee, while Dromm is chair of the finance committee. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/cmenchaca" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@cmenchaca</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/dromm25" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@Dromm25</a>.</p> <p>

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>