De Blasio debuts $73.7 billion budget
Mayor Bill de Blasio put forward a $73.7 billion budget on Wednesday afternoon, pairing his administration’s laundry list of campaign promises with real numbers while distancing himself even further from his predecessor.
De Blasio called his administration’s inaugural budget “aggressive,” focusing on the core issues of education and social services, all while giving assurances that it would put the city’s financial house back in order.
In defense of his priorities, de Blasio said there was nothing mutually exclusive between fiscal responsibility and his progressive economic agenda, calling them goals to be achieved in tandem.
“They sound counterintuitive to some, but we need a balanced budget and a strong and stable city government to facilitate our fight against inequality,” de Blasio said. “We have to do both at the same time.”
Among de Blasio’s priorities for the next fiscal year are $21.5 million for homeless services, $3 million for the new office of the NYPD inspector general and $1.8 million on an ongoing basis for the Department of Consumer Affairs to maintain the administration’s paid sick leave plan.
De Blasio admitted that the budget wouldn’t reflect the totality of his agenda, particularly on affordable housing, but the overall shift in tone on the subject has some advocates cautiously optimistic.
“We are hopeful that the fine print on this executive budget will include support for permanent housing and rental subsidies,” said Jean Rice, a board member of anti-homelessness group Picture the Homeless.
The budget also assumes $530 million in revenue directed to prekindergarten and after-school programming, as well as $500 million for improvements to the city’s public schools.
While both require approval from Albany, the mayor has already spent the last few weeks waging battle for the right to fund his prekindergarten plan with a tax hike on New Yorkers earning $500,000 or more per year.
The ghost of the previous administration also loomed throughout de Blasio’s presentation, with the mayor making constant references to the budget he inherited from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who ended his term with a $70.1 billion balanced budget.
Specifically, de Blasio lamented the “murky waters” left by Bloomberg’s inaction on the 152 collective bargaining agreements, which have left some city workers without contracts for as many as six years.
The new mayor implicitly accused the Bloomberg administration of being irresponsible and “burnishing the mayor’s legacy” at the tail end of his tenure, adding that it “was given an artificially high level of credit for management — especially in regards to the contract negotiations.”
“The previous mayor’s statement rings hollow in that there was not an honest effort to find cost savings that could lead to the resolution of these outstanding contracts,” de Blasio said.
In the coming weeks, the City Council’s finance committee will coordinate with the other 43 council committees to debate the particulars of the budget.
But where the council struggled with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg over line items such as funding for firehouses, libraries and early education, de Blasio already eased some council members’ concerns by promising to get rid of what lawmakers refer to as “the budget dance,” at the end of which cuts to programming would typically be restored.
“While we will always be blunt about the difficult budget choices we face; we will not shrink from making those choices,” de Blasio said. “This is how we will budget from now on in New York City: responsibly, progressively and honestly.”
That message struck a chord with some council members, who were invited to a private budget presentation before de Blasio’s public event. De Blasio himself walked the members through the budget; Bloomberg relied on staff to present the particulars to the council.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens said that change in procedure alone was exciting, and that he left the sit-down hopeful that the budget dance is a thing of the past.
“There were a lot of things that the mayor talked about, and a lot of his priorities are in line with many of the members,’” Van Bramer said. “It was a smart, measured and yet progressive preliminary budget.”
The city has until July 1 to adopt the budget.
Follow Chester Jesus Soria on Twitter @chestersoria