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Queens Chronicle

Mayor, City Council reach budget deal

On-time $66 billion plan averts teacher layoffs and FDNY closures

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Posted: Thursday, June 30, 2011 12:00 pm

Seven weeks after detailing an executive budget fraught with some of the most severe cuts the city has ever seen, Mayor Bloomberg, joined by members of the City Council, announced last Friday night that they had reached an agreement on an on-time fiscal year 2012 plan that averts teacher layoffs and the closure of fire companies and senior centers.

In May, Bloomberg blamed the proposal to give more than 4,000 teachers pink slips and shutter 20 FDNY companies — four of which are located in Queens — on decreased federal and state aid. As a result of the executive budget, he was roundly criticized in a series of rallies organized by City Council members and the United Federation of Teachers.

So where did they find the money?

The administration attributed the deal, in large part, to “prudent past budgeting” by both branches of government, and UFT concessions. The balanced $66 billion plan, hailed by both Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) as “fiscally responsible,” boasts no tax increases, while relying on more than $5 billion in savings from past gap-closing actions by individual agencies; more than $4 billion from the 2011 surplus and the Retiree Health Benefit Trust fund; and an increase in revenues to protect services.

“We are able to produce a budget that will keep our city strong through difficult economic circumstances because of our unwavering commitment to fiscal responsibility over the years, which produced savings that are now allowing us to avert the most severe cuts,” the mayor said in a prepared statement. “Across the city, families are still struggling to recover from the national recession — and they are cutting back on expenses, and finding savings wherever they can. City government owes taxpayers a budget that does the same — and that is exactly what we are delivering.”

Quinn noted that nearly one-third of the cost of preventing layoffs will be covered by the UFT. Further funding was found within the Department of Education, with decreases to school busing contract costs and other efficiencies.

“Even in these difficult fiscal times, New Yorkers expect us to protect the most vital services without putting our future economic stability at risk,” said Quinn, an expected major player in the 2013 mayoral race.

Additionally, all senior centers, including 10 new ones, will be fully funded, Quinn said.

However, not all the news was good. Though no libraries will close, service at most will be cut to five days from six. The budget agreement also includes more than 1,000 total layoffs; it is believed the Administration for Children’s Services will be hit hard. Some of the layoffs can be averted with union cooperation on savings, Bloomberg said.

State elected officials praised the agreement which saved the FDNY units, including Ladder Co. 128 in Long Island City, Engine Co. 294 in Woodhaven, Engine Co. 306 in Bayside and Engine Co. 328 in Far Rockaway.

“Ladder 128 is vital to our community and I am thankful it will remain open to ensure our neighborhood receives the fire protection it requires,” state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) said of the Long Island City company. “It goes to show what can be accomplished when our community comes together to fight to protect our quality of life.”

While state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) were thankful that Engine Co. 306 will continue serving northern Queens for at least another year, they blasted Bloomberg for even considering closing it.

“I find it disgraceful that the mayor would threaten the safety of communities like Bayside in order to gain concessions in the budget process,” said Avella, a former city councilman and one-time candidate for mayor. “Bartering with residents’ safety is irresponsible and dangerous governing and, unfortunately, the Bloomberg administration has turned it into a habit.”

The freshman senator’s assertion speaks to what has become an annual affair: The mayor, now in his third term and 10th year at the helm, proposes deep cuts to core services, and after weeks of demonstrations and political back-and-forth, a balanced budget is passed on time, replete with funding for those services.

Some pundits, such as former state Comptroller Carl McCall, say the practice may hurt Bloomberg in the future.

“It certainly affects his credibility a good deal,” he said Tuesday on NY1’s “Inside City Hall.”

But McCall’s NY1 colleague, former Mayor Ed Koch, called it a negotiating tactic that forces the municipal unions to come to the table.

The fiscal year 2012 budget begins this Friday, July 1. In his announcement, Bloomberg noted that the deficit for 2013 is currently estimated at nearly $5 billion.

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