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Queens Chronicle

Budget dance delayed by Koch? Or by ennui?

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Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2013 10:30 am

Maybe the lawmakers were too distracted by the death of former Mayor Ed Koch and their tributes to his tenure and tenacity that followed. Maybe the activists are too tired of the game. Maybe they’re all just confident that a lame-duck mayor won’t be able to get done things he’s tried and failed to get done year after year.

Whatever the reason, the remarkable thing is that so far, the dogs have done nearly nothing in the nighttime when it comes to Mayor Bloomberg’s budget plan for the next fiscal year, which he released last week.

As always, the mayor boasted that he’s keeping controllable spending in check without raising taxes, and blamed the nonetheless continuing rise in expenditures on items and programs the city is forced to fund by either other levels of government or prior contractual obligations — public employee pensions and health coverage, Medicaid and the like.

Controllable spending would drop 1.1 percent under the mayor’s $70.1 billion plan, while the uncontrollables would go up 6.8 percent.

And, as always, that drop in controllable spending would come down to cuts in employees and services, particularly at the Department of Education, where up to 1,800 jobs would be lost through attrition and after-school programs would be slashed. And the mayor is making one last attempt to achieve his annual failed goal of closing 20 fire companies throughout the city.

The usual game over the last few years is that the mayor proposes these cuts; the people who would bear the brunt of the reductions, such as teachers and firefighters, decry them; their allies on the City Council and in the nonprofit and activist worlds go apoplectic, claiming Bloomberg is endangering citizens’ safety and the children’s future; they all get together to host pro-status quo rallies that draw media coverage like bug lights draw moths; the money to keep things as they are is magically found somewhere as budget talks go on; the lawmakers send out self-congratulatory press releases on “restoring the funding”; and the mayor waits a couple months until he can order other mid-year cuts not subject to City Council approval.

Most if not all the programs keep their funding, all the fire companies stay open and the city’s obligations toward pensions and benefits continue to rise as a share of the budget, keeping the squeeze on discretionary spending and ensuring the battle never ends.

But now Bloomberg has proposed his final budget plan, and aside from a few of his most reliable critics — such as City Comptroller and mayoral hopeful John Liu, who sent out the obligatory press release saying the mayor could balance the books by cutting consultants’ contracts — we’re not seeing the usual stir yet. No “Save the fire company” or “Save the Beacon after-school program” rally press advisories have appeared in our in boxes to date.

OK, activists, our pencils are sharpened and cameras charged. We’re waiting.

Weprin: End mayoral school control

Meanwhile, back in Albany, one Queens politico has had enough of the other constant battles foisted on the city by the mayor, those deriving from his control of the school system and his efforts — whether they’re productive or not — to improve education.

Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) has introduced a bill that would end mayoral control of the schools, which Bloomberg won 11 years ago, claiming that revoking it would lead to more accountability, transparency and input on policy from parents and education experts.

Whether it would lead to better education Weprin does not say.

The bill, A.00792, is mirrored in the state Senate as S.01406 by Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn) and co-sponsored there by Sens. Bill Perkins (D-Manhattan), Kevin Parker (D-Brooklyn) and Martin Dilan (D-Brooklyn). It has no co-sponsors in the Assembly yet.

The measure would cut the mayor’s appointments to the 13-member Panel for Educational Policy (which Weprin refers to as the Board of Education) from eight to four, thus ending his guaranteed majority on issues that require a vote, such as school closures. The City Council would instead appoint four members, one of whom would represent a college or university, one of whom would be a member of a parent organization and one of whom would be a member of a Community Education Council.

The borough presidents would continue to each make one appointment, making for 13 members all told.

The bill would also have the board, rather than the mayor, appoint the schools chancellor. Another bill by Weprin, A.00872, which has no Senate version, would allow the mayor to keep naming the chancellor, but only with the approval of the City Council, following a public hearing.

Weprin had introduced both bills in the Legislature’s last session, but they went nowhere. The new versions he put on the table this session have been referred to the Assembly Education Committee, and Montgomery’s companion bill has gone to the Senate Education Committee.

The original mayoral control law, approved by the Legislature in 2002, sunset in 2009. The policy was then renewed through 2015. Efforts by some legislators to nix it last year failed.

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