Mayor Bloomberg released his latest budget proposal May 3, setting off a familiar chain of events: The mayor boasts that his administration’s economic prudence is keeping the city financially afloat, institutions whose budgets would be reduced decry cuts in the amount of public spending they receive, and City Council members associated with those groups echo the claims and vow to maintain the funding.
The mayor’s plan, called the executive budget, totals $68.7 billion for fiscal year 2013, which begins July 1, with the city funding $49.2 billion of that. Expenses under city control would be cut by $110 million, Bloomberg said, but those that are not, such as pensions, healthcare costs, Medicaid contributions and payments on existing debt, would rise by $1.9 billion, a 7.2 percent increase over fiscal 2012.
The mayor stressed that the plan would not increase any taxes, even while tax revenue edges up, from $24.2 billion to $25.2 billion, because of improvements in the economy. And he credited his policies during 10 years at the helm with allowing spending in certain areas, such as education, to increase without putting the city in the red.
“Our budget won’t impose any new taxes on New Yorkers, maintains the strength of the NYPD and continues our strong support for public schools,” Bloomberg said in a prepared statement. “We’re able to make all of those commitments as a result of fiscal care, foresight and a constructive partnership with the City Council, as we began setting aside savings and reducing spending well before most other city and state governments heeded the economic storm warnings.”
The mayor went on to say that diversifying the city’s economy, especially in the areas of high technology, entertainment, tourism and higher education, has been helpful because in the past, “a drop like the one we saw this year in Wall Street profits would have been a devastating blow.”
The mayor said the cuts in the executive budget are all ones that had already been put on the table in November, when he released his mid-year savings plan. He said those had saved $464 million in fiscal 2012 and would save $1 billion next fiscal year.
After the release of the executive budget, the administration and City Council will work to hammer out a final plan for fiscal 2013. Traditionally, members of the council fight against budget reductions and win restoration of some funding, resulting in more spending than the mayor planned but less than what the council and organizations that rely on taxpayer funding would prefer.
As always, some officials and institutions sent out statements decrying the planned cuts almost immediately after the mayor announced his proposal.
“Closing even a single fire company in New York City will lead to increased response times, more fire fatalities and millions of dollars in property damage,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), chairwoman of the Fire and Criminal Justice Committee.“We simply cannot accept a budget proposal that puts the safety of New Yorkersin jeopardy. I have always been, and will remain, committed topreventing even a single firehouse from closing.”
The mayor has proposed closing a number of fire companies citywide for several years in a row, including, typically, four in Queens. Each time the City Council has refused to go along, saying doing so would undermine public safety. The mayor counters with statistics supposed to demonstrate that safety would not be compromised. In the end, however, following rallies led by area elected officials, the fire companies are kept open.
Crowley is one of several Democrats vying for the Sixth Congressional District nomination, and has the support of the firefighters’ union.
Libraries are another area where proposed cuts draw ire. Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), vowed to fight the reductions in a statement issued by his office.
“As Chair of the New York City Council’s Cultural Affairs and Libraries Committee, I strongly object to the mayor’s proposed cuts which threaten to slash $100 million in funding to our three prestigious public library systems as well as $50 million to our museums, zoos and other cultural organizations,” Van Bramer said. “Such cuts would decimate library hours, devastate nearly 1,000 nonprofit cultural groups, and lead to over 1,000 layoffs of hardworking New Yorkers.”
The Queens Library actually has reduced the hours its branches are open in response to previous reductions in its funding, and says that if the mayor’s plan is approved as is, it would be devastating to the system. Van Bramer was a high-ranking library official before winning his seat on the City Council.
Councilman James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton) took a more circumspect approach, saying in an interview on Tuesday that he wants to hear from the city unions what the impact of the various cuts would be before taking a stand.
On the revenue side, however, he said the city should stop giving out what he called “corporate welfare” — usually property tax breaks provided so a particular firm will come to or stay in New York. Sanders said he differentiates between corporate welfare that doesn’t get results or is no longer necessary, like tax breaks designed to keep Disney in Times Square, and effective subsidies that save jobs, such as those that boost the city’s television and film industry and that kept JetBlue from leaving town this year.
He said the city could save as much as $100 million a year by “standing up to the lobby” that demands the tax breaks.
Comptroller John Liu also said the city should spend less on subsidies to private companies.
“In this challenging economic environment one of the best ways to maintain critical services for New Yorkers like daycare, fire protection, and libraries is to strengthen our fight against the waste of taxpayer funds and wasted subsidies to large corporations,” Liu said in a prepared statement.
The comptroller, however, owes the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for signs his campaign illegally posted throughout the city during his run for office, and refuses to pay up.