Every two weeks the New York City Council meets for its Stated Meeting to introduce and pass legislation. As a regular feature, Gotham Gazette covers these meetings and posts a summary of the bills passed.
2007 CITY BUDGET
The New York City Council unanimously approved a $52.9 billion budget for the coming fiscal year at 12:40 a.m. Friday-- the final day of the outgoing fiscal year.
Although the council and the mayor reached agreement (in pdf format) on the budget Tuesday, the council did not begin meeting on the deal until late Thursday night. Preparing documents with the final details -- complicated by mechanical problems - reportedly caused repeated delays, to the irritation of some council members.
In contrast to some recent years when lawmakers were forced to raise taxes and cut spending in order to balance the budget, this year the Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council enjoyed a $3.5 billion surplus, one of the largest in city history.
The bulk of the surplus will be used to pay for health costs for city employees. The mayor and council agreed to create a $2 billion trust fund for long-term health care expenses, which are expected to increase in the future.
In its budget response in April, City Council had proposed an additional $575 million more in spending than Mayor Bloomberg had proposed. The council ended up with about $230 million of that amount and members pointed out the items - or "budget restorations" - that they won in the negotiations.
Council initiatives include:
- 18,000 new bulletproof vests for police officers
- 2,000 universal full-day pre-k slots
- $20 million in funding for the New York City Housing Authority to enable 3,000 families to use Section 8 housing vouchers
- $4.2 million restored to the budgets of the five district attorneys
- And $2 million for child advocacy centers.
The council, of course, did not get all it had requested.
Some of the council initiatives NOT included the budget:
- A commitment to make all pre-kindergarten slots full day
- Funding for a 311 education hotline for parents and students
- An Office of Food Policy to help address hunger and nutrition issues in the city
- Money to hire child advocates to monitor foster care programs
- And tax credits for small businesses and manufacturing sector.
In addition, the council had requested that the mayor "baseline" certain programs, in an effort to ensure that they are not cut in the future. In past years, the mayor has cut programs of specific interest to the council and the council then spends five months seeking to have the money put back in the budget. This process is often referred to as the "budget dance", and Speaker Quinn vowed to end the practice.
The mayor did not commit to save all of programs, but he did agree not to cut $40 million for libraries, $10 million for 7,000 summer jobs for youth, and $3 million for trash collection in next years budget.
The budget also includes an estimated $45 million to $50 million in so-called "member items," specific projects that individual council members gained for their district. While council member say these groups provide iportant neighbrhood services, others say they are a political tool. "It's clear that elected officials use them to build up electoral support in their districts," Megan Quattlebaum of Common Cause/NY has said.
In addition to approving the city's operating budget, which covers the day-to-day expenses of running the city, the council also approved a capital plan, which funds construction projects over the next four years.
The capital budget calls for 66,000 additional classroom seats and new schools and investments in the extension of the number 7 train, $1.3 billion for street resurfacing, and $1.1 billion for a water filtration plant in the Bronx.
Mayor Bloomberg praised the budget agreement, saying it "will be a model for the future. Instead of squandering one-time resources, we are reserving funds for fiscal downturns, investing in our future and protecting our quality of life, public safety and New York's children."
But despite the emphasis on the good news in the budget, some members warned that problems still loom in the future.
Because of growing city debt and pension and health care costs for city workers, the mayor's office projects a deficit for $3.6 billion next year, and $4.2 billion the year after that.