Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council reached an agreement Monday on a $68.5 billion budget that would avoid tax increases, firehouse closings, widespread layoffs and the cutting of child care and after-school programs.
The legislators reached the deal, which covers the fiscal year that begins July 1, days before the deadline. The City Council is expected to vote on the budget agreement this week.
The deal left advocates and councilmembers grinning.
“Our city is only as strong as our weakest citizens and it was important to me that our budgetary priorities served to empower and uplift middle-and working-class families who continue to struggle in the wake of this difficult economy,” said Councilman James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton).
Funding for day-care and after-school programs, which had been the topic of intense public pressure, was increased by about $150 million to a total of about $417 million. More than 50,000 children from low-income families will get day care, which is 7,000 more than initially planned. More than 30,000 slots for after-school programs were restored.
The Campaign for Children, a group that has advocated against the proposed cutting of after-school programs in the city, applauded the announcement.
“This investment in child care and after-school programs is an investment in our city’s future,” the campaign said in a statement. “We’re grateful that New York City’s leaders put children first in a difficult budget year.”
While City Council offices are still awaiting confirmation of which programs will be saved, ones that are on the chopping block now have much more hope.
“This good budget agreement will long be remembered as the ‘children and families’ budget,” said Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows). “It would have been a tremendous burden for those who rely on these services.”
The Queens Community House Pomonok Center in Flushing, which held protests against budget cuts to its after-school program last month, was saved, according to Gennaro.
“That was one that I was worried about the most,” he said.
Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said that 300 after-school seats will be added in District 25.
“That part of the budget is what I am most proud of,” Dromm said.
Citing ongoing issues in his district, he was also proud of the fact that $4 million will be funded toward the Immigrant Opportunities Initiative, a measure that supports English-language education, citizenship and legal services for immigrants. In addition, $600,000 will go toward the City University of New York’s Citizenship Now! program, which provides similar services.
Twenty fire companies that were threatened will be restored at the cost of $59.2 million.
The budget agreement maintains the increases for education funding included in the Mayor’s May Executive Budget, which will allow the city to increase the total number of teachers in the school system this coming year by about 1,000, and maintain overall funding levels to schools, Bloomberg said.
The jobs of 400 teacher aides were saved, partly because DC-37, the largest union of city workers, agreed to cut the amount of time they work each day by half an hour, said city Council Speaker Christine Quinn on Monday.
The agreement also restored nearly $90 million, of a proposed $96 million cut, to public libraries citywide. All libraries will remain open at least five days a week. More than 600 library staff jobs were saved because of the agreement, according to Queens Library President Thomas Galante.
More than 85,000 people signed petitions, wrote postcards and attended rallies over the past few months in Queens to support libraries, according to Galante.
Funding for cultural institutions, such as museums, rose slightly to $50 million.
Although taxes were not increased, the idea that other fees such as parking meters and the cost of water would rise has been downplayed.
“I don’t think that would happen,” Dromm said. “I’m hopeful that it won’t.”
The budget was balanced with the help of cuts made in city agencies, about $2.5 billion in money saves from previous years and additional one-time revenue boosts from such things as the sale of 2,000 new medallions for city taxis, or licenses to operate cabs. The city was able to save $240 million in debt costs through low interest rates, and collected $70 million more than anticipated in permits, licenses and fees.
The city also received about $150 million from a settlement between ING Bank and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
The budget is predicated on collecting $635 million in revenue in the first year, and an additional $825 million in the next two years, from the expected sale of the 2,000 yellow taxi medallions as part of a plan to expand street hail service throughout the five boroughs. A judge’s ruling, however, this month has temporarily blocked the taxi plan, on a jurisdictional question about whether such policy should be set by the City Council or the state Legislature.
Members of the council are confident the sale will happen despite its uncertain status.
“There’s good reason to believe the sale will go through,” Dromm said. “So we remain hopeful.”
“It was thoughtful and prudent. I do not regard this as a gamble,” Gennaro said.
Still, Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) cautioned that the budget had “achieved short-term victories at the expense of the long-term.”
“We need a more forward-thinking budget process that lives within our present means and doesn’t assume some future pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” he said.
• Total spending: $68.5 billion
• Day-care and after-school funding: $417 million (up $150 million)
• Library funding: $6 million reduction citywide (proposed cut: $96 million)