De Blasio unveiled his $84.86 billion budget. Here are five questions it didn't answer.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his $84.86 billion executive budget proposal Wednesday afternoon, noting that his administration labored over how to invest city money and will be instituting a managerial and administrative hiring freeze as part of its efforts to limit spending.
De Blasio said he was taking a cautious approach to the budget because of policies coming from Washington, D.C., that he believes are weakening the city economy, potential federal funding cuts and a decline in the growth of some city revenue streams.
“You’re going to hear about choices that were made, priorities that were set,” de Blasio said during a press conference in the Blue Room at City Hall. “We know we cannot invest in everything, but we have to invest where our dollars will go farthest, where we have the biggest impact for the money that we have.”
The $84.86 billion proposal is $2.76 billion more than fiscal plan adopted by the Council and de Blasio last summer, but less than the $85.45 billion the city expects to wind up spending this fiscal year.
However, the mayor presented a $95.85 10-year capital plan proposal that is dramatically larger than the $83.8 billion 10-year capital plan outlined and undertaken in fiscal year 2016. The growth accounts for several new proposed projects, including funding for a new Department of Correction training academy, $300 million to renovate homeless shelters and $100 million for connecting more of the greenways lining Manhattan, with the goal of eventually creating one contiguous promenade and bike path.
The City Council will hold public hearings on de Blasio’s proposal and continue negotiating over what it contains in coming weeks. Lawmakers and de Blasio must reach an agreement by the end of June. Here’s a look at some of the more pressing budget matters they will look to resolve before then.
1. How widespread will the hiring freeze be?
De Blasio said the hiring freeze will mostly be achieved through attrition and choosing not to fill vacant positions. He said the policy will target “certain managerial and administrative staff” and will vary from agency to agency. The mayor declined to estimate how much he hoped to save through the freeze, but said he and the Council will work out those details before they adopt a final budget.
“This is really focusing on an area, more bluntly, where the government always needs to look: at the managerial and administrative level,” de Blasio said. “Traditionally, there’s been too much money invested in that level, not always enough invested at the grassroots, at the direct service level.”
2. How much savings will the City Council deem sufficient?
De Blasio touted $5.25 billion that his proposal would collectively stash away in various reserve funds, saying it will put rainy day funds at “unprecedented” levels. He noted that his team has identified $2.8 billion in savings over the past six months, including $587 through city agency moves like in-sourcing work, improving procurement practices and finding other efficiencies. Budget watchdogs focus on savings within city agencies because they tend to recur from year to year, as opposed to one-time revenue-generating moves like refinancing debt.
However, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Finance Committee Chairwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland called for the city to go further and increase its reserves. Carol Kellermann, president of the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission, seconded this notion, saying de Blasio should have cut spending further.
“The budget adds more than $700 million in new agency needs,” Kellerman said in a statement. “This spending growth is not accompanied by any additional increase to the city's budget reserves, and budget gaps projected in future years have grown. If approved, the proposed budget would increase the size of the budget by $12.4 billion, or 17 percent, since (former) Mayor Michael Bloomberg's final budget in November 2014.”
3. What will happen to de Blasio’s 3-K plan?
The mayor revisited his recently announced plans for a universal, full-day pre-kindergarten program for three-year-olds. Under de Blasio’s so-called 3-K for All program, the city would spend $36 million in the upcoming fiscal year and put $700 million from the state and federal governments towards rolling out 3-K classes this September in the South Bronx and Brownsville, Brooklyn. De Blasio wants to increase funding and expand enrollment so that all 3-year-olds may be offered a seat by 2021.
During his budget proposal, de Blasio argued the school system would benefit financially from 3-K. He suggested the schools spend time, effort and funding working with struggling students, who may not have fallen behind if they were enrolled in a program like 3-K. That’s because children’s brains are developing fastest at a young age, so educating them at age 3 would have a great positive impact, de Blasio said.
But it’s unclear whether this argument will win over the state and federal officials.
4. How quickly will the city spend money on closing Rikers?
De Blasio’s capital plan includes $1.1 billion for designing new jails, which will be needed as the city advances a 10-year effort to close the detention complex on Rikers Island. The mayor, however, was vague about when and where he envisioned designing and constructing the replacement jails. De Blasio only said he had begun to discuss the topic with the Council and that several lawmakers seemed willing to develop plans for new jails.
“It’s an important conversation we’re going to have with the City Council in the coming days and weeks to determine their readiness to act on specific sites,” de Blasio said. “If there are specific sites that there’s an agreement between the mayoralty and the Council that could be activated, then we need a very specific timeline for beginning the (Uniformed Land Use Review Procedure) timeline.”
5. Will the Council succeed in expanding summer job slots?
How many Summer Youth Employment slots the city offers seems to be a perennial budget debate, and this year it’s shaping up to be a pitched battle.
Hours before de Blasio presented his proposal, he and Mark-Viverito published report recommending ways to improve the Summer Youth Employment Program, which provides youths with a six-week, paid positions, and Work, Learn, Grow, which offers young New Yorkers who have been involved in the criminal justice, foster care or homeless shelter systems year-long career-readiness training and paid jobs. The report, however, did not detail plans to expand the Work, Learn, Grow Program or to add more than the 65,000 Summer Youth Employment Program slots included in the mayor’s preliminary budget released earlier this year. And many lawmakers have been looking to offer more employment opportunities.
De Blasio said he believes the Summer Youth Employment Program will be at “capacity” in summer 2017, when it is budgeted to add 5,000 slots from summer 2016 for a total of 65,000 positions. But he said he and the Council can discuss ways to increase the number of positions offered in future years.
But Mark-Viverito, Ferreras-Copeland and City Councilman Jumaane Williams want the city to help employ more youths this summer. Williams expressed frustration with delays in releasing the report, which was written after convening a task force on youth employment initiatives, and which Williams contended pushed back negotiations over how many job slots the city will offer.
“Unfortunately, the report skips over the primary question of when and by how much the programs should be expanded,” Williams said in a statement. “In addition, having missed the original deadline for the release, and given the proximity ... to the budget deadline, we must now negotiate this priority of how many jobs will be available unnecessarily longer.”