The Queens Borough Board on Monday approved a $258.6 million budget priorities package, as well as a $1.23 billion in “revenue and savings options” that members and Borough President Helen Marshall claim could pay for it all.
All they need now is the full cooperation of the mayor, City Council, an unspecified number of labor unions, the state Legislature, Gov. Cuomo and lobbyists for the insurance industry, healthcare industry and Madison Square Garden, respectively.
The Borough Board is made up of Marshall, City Council members and the chairpersons of all 14 community boards in Queens.
Council members do not vote on the borough budget proposal as they eventually must vote on the city budget in its entirety.
“This priorities package, which will now be sent to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council, is meant to build our borough,” Marshall said in a statement issued on Tuesday.
The presentation at Borough Hall was made Monday night by Alexandra Rosa, Marshall’s chief of staff.
Rosa said the dual aims are to restore funding that has been recommended for cuts by the Bloomberg administration, and to finally get the city to place Queens on a par with the other boroughs in terms of funding equity.
As only one example of the latter, she pointed to funding for the arts and cultural institutions. Manhattan receives a whopping $8.80 per capita in funding, while Queens is the lowest at $1.34. The Bronx at $5.18, Staten Island at $4.18 and Brooklyn at $2.87 all come in with higher per capita arts funding.
“This I can understand, given the number of institutions [Manhattan has],” Rosa said afterward, pointing to huge section of a pie chart.
“These,” she added, pointing to Staten Island and the Bronx, “I can’t.”
She, Councilman Leroy Comrie Jr (D-St. Albans) and others said Queens is short-funded by the city in numerous areas. Rosa said if Marshall’s office, funded at $2.08 per capita, had the same funding as Staten Island at $8.32, that Queens would receive an additional $1.7 million in that office alone.
The 272-page plan calls on the city to restore money to four fire companies set to close in Queens, including Engine 294 in Richmond Hill, Engine 306 in Bayside, Ladder 128 in Long Island City and Engine 328 in Far Rockaway.
It calls for the restoration of funds to keep open six senior centers, four adult day care centers and numerous senior services; restoration of $8.9 million in proposed cuts for youth and community development programs; massive cuts to funding for the Queens Library System; nearly $20 million to restore programs at the Administration for Child Services; and funding of all community board priority projects.
As to just how Marshall would pay for the board’s request, both Rosa’s presentation on Monday and a press release issued by Marshall’s office Tuesday said the budget document approved at the meeting “also includes revenue and savings options to fund the board’s priorities.”
The figure given in both is $1.23 billion citywide, though borough officials, when pressed, admitted that the number is speculative.
The figure includes “up to $600 million” that it says the mayor’s budget director hopes can be recouped in a settlement in the CityTime overtime scandal.
Other items include savings of $12 million by placing some juvenile offenders in programs that do not include incarceration; $2.4 million by exempting city teachers from jury duty during the school year; and $2.9 million by reworking multiple dwelling registration fees.
But other items listed in the report and the press release — totalling more than $562 million of the $1.23 billion — might not be so easy to come by.
Rosa said the City’s Independent Budget Office has projected that the city could achieve $300 million in revenue by extending its general corporation tax to business revenue at insurance companies.
The insurance companies are exempt under state law and have been since at least 1974. Extending the tax would require adoption by the legislature and the signature of Gov. Cuomo — and probably a compliant insurance industry.
Madison Square Garden, which has been exempt from city property taxes since 1982, would produce an estimated $15.4 million this year if the exemption were removed.
That exemption too is written into state law, MSG has successfully fought repeated efforts to change it since 2007.
A proposed tax on cosmetic surgery, often referred to as a Bo-tax, would provide $50 million per year. The procedures would not include reconstructive or medically necessary operations.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in January signed legislation that will phase out his state’s 6 percent tax on such procedures by July 1, 2013. Published reports say the tax had been in the Garden State for eight years.
The medical industry has regularly lobbied against such tax proposals on state and national levels, and even some women’s groups have opposed them. The tax was considered under President Obama’s affordable healthcare initiative, but was dropped in 2010.
The budget request also cites a Citizens Budget Commission recommendation that a streamlined procurement process would eliminate duplication, increase efficiency and increase oversight on vendors in a system that sometimes has vendors dealing with up to 10 different offices and reams of paperwork.
The CBC, a nonpartisan civic organization that seeks constructive changes to finances and provision of services in New York City and New York State, says such streamlining could achieve nearly $200 million in savings for the city due to lower overhead, lower costs to bidders and more bidders willing to do business with the city. Marshall’s office places the figure at $197 million.
Rosa said she did not know what input would have to be received from city unions whose members now work in the city’s various purchasing and procurement offices.
“We’re not saying all these things will happen,” she said after the presentation. “We’re saying these are recommendations by groups like the CBC.”
Marshall spokesman Dan Andrews also denied that the numbers or options are pie-in-the-sky.
“We are required to submit a budget,” Andrews said. “This year we feel that will cost $258 million. And the first question somebody will raise their hand and ask is ‘How do you intend to pay for that?’”
“Will we get it? Maybe not,” he said. “We’re saying what the city could do, because if not we’re relying on the Council to fund things like fire companies. The council did that last year. And they’re only funded through June.”
On the subject of equal funding for Queens vis-a-vis the other boroughs, Marshall and Rosa said they and members of the City Council delegation are making their views known to Bloomberg.
“People are hearing us,” Marshall said. Comrie, however, wonders if the administration is listening as well.
“Equal funding has to be achieved at the executive level,” he said. “We can talk with other members of the Council and they can agree, but they’re not going to vote for anything if they think we’re cutting into their pie.”