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Queens Chronicle

Budget ball back in council’s court

Bloomberg orders all departments to cut; layoffs possible this year

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Posted: Thursday, September 20, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 10:56 am, Thu Sep 27, 2012.

In the four weeks since a judge threw out Mayor Bloomberg’s Outer Borough Taxi plan, many had speculated about just how the mayor would make up for the more than $635 million that was instantly eliminated from the current fiscal year’s budget.

On Friday, they found out.

Bloomberg ordered every department to cut current expenses, and to reduce projected spending by as much as 8 percent out into the second quarter of 2014.

The Daily News and The Wall Street Journal have reported that Bloomberg has ordered most departments to cut 5.4 percent out of what they had intended this year and 8 percent from next year’s projections.

The police, fire, sanitation and correction departments have been directed to cut 2.7 percent this year and 4 percent one year out.

The Department of Education has been told to cut 1.6 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

Layoffs likely would be part of any spending reduction.

The Outer Borough Taxi plan was an effort by the administration and the Taxi and Limousine Commission to bring more taxi service to the four outer boroughs and northern Manhattan, which are chronically underserved by yellow cabs.

The plan would have allowed specially licensed livery cab owners to take street hails, which now are the exclusive right of yellow medallion cab drivers.

The medallion cab industry opposed the move, which still would have granted it exclusive rights to midtown and lower Manhattan as well as Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, and filed the lawsuit to stop the plan.

The court ruled that Bloomberg and the TLC violated so-called “home rule” regulations by having the bill passed by the state Legislature rather than the City Council.

The state has allowed municipal governments to regulate taxi service since the days of Henry Ford.

Bloomberg blamed the council for not agreeing to vote on the measure. Speaker Christine Quinn, an all but declared candidate for mayor next year, has received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the taxi industry in the past.

But stopping the law also stopped the sale of 2,000 new medallions, from which the city was counting on taking in $635 million this year and more than $800 million combined in fiscal years 2014 and 2015.

Even with that money budgeted, the city already was looking at a deficit of well over $2 billion next year.

Brian Browne, an adjunct professor of politics and government at St. John’s University, said Bloomberg’s cuts are probably just the opening volley.

“It is routine for governments to project revenue, and even after a budget is in place they go back and adjust it a couple of times a year,” Browne said. “This was a bit of a gamble on a large sum of money that they hoped to recoup, knowing it was subject to a lawsuit.”

Browne said the entire home rule issue has been unclear, with the council claiming it was never asked to pass the bill on to the Legislature, and Bloomberg saying such a request was not needed.

But he also believes that it could be a year or more before an appellate ruling is received, and that Bloomberg’s actions on Friday have placed the matter of budget cuts squarely in the council’s lap.

“Ultimately the burden is now on Speaker Quinn and the council to close the budget gap,” he said. “I thought they would just go back and start over again on the outer borough taxi plan. The mayor may be forcing the council’s hand.”

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