New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer wants the city budget to allocate money to directly fund access to abortions, which would make New York the first city in the country to do so. New York is one of 17 states that allows Medicaid to cover abortions, so state funds already go towards funding abortions, but no city has approached funding from a local level. Stringer joined with women’s health and abortion advocates to call for a $250,000 investment in the nonprofit New York Abortion Access Fund, which helps women gain access to and pay for abortions. In the past, the fund has relied largely on private donations and small-dollar individual contributions.
Advocates have been pushing for the initiative since September, but Stringer said he was spurred to action by recently passed bills and laws in Alabama, Georgia and Ohio that would greatly restrict access to abortions and potentially overturn Roe v. Wade. “Our city budget is a reflection of who we are as a city, what our priorities are for the future,” Stringer said. “And to be the first city in the nation to fight back with direct funding could change the course of history in America.”
City & State caught up with Stringer after the announcement and spoke with him about the "abortion care" initiative, the upcoming city budget and the city pension fund.
City & State: The advocacy groups say they have been pushing this for months. Attaching your name to the effort, do you think that will help get it over the final hurdle?
Scott Stringer: I hope so. I, from time to time, when I think I can be helpful, try to push initiatives. This isn’t the first time I’ve stepped out and said I do think we need a funding stream. You can’t help but be moved by what’s happening around the country, and if we can do something that’s big and precedent-setting to give women access to a safe abortion, I think we all have responsibility to speak out.
C&S: Did 2021 mayoral ambitions have any impact on your thinking? To have a big, precedent-setting initiative that could set you apart?
SS: I have many precedent-setting initiatives that I could draw upon.
C&S: Perhaps something more recent then.
SS: I have many recent precedent-setting initiatives that I can draw upon. I don’t wake up and think, ‘Add another precedent-setting initiative.’ If you go back to my time as an Assemblymember, borough president and now, I don’t think that’s the issue. The issue really is, with that time that you have in government, are you making a big difference? I think that’s a different question. And I’d like to think that our office thinks in terms of some bold initiatives that can help people. That’s why we’re doing this.
C&S: Do you think the mayor and the City Council members will be willing to be as bold?
SS: Yes, I do. The Council has a great history of stepping up and we’re providing Council members with information and political support for them to do this.
C&S: And if this gets included in the budget this year, what’s the next step?
SS: Like many first-time initiatives, you measure the success of that initiative, and if it’s working, you keep funding it. That’s sort of my job too. We’ll look at, have we made an impact? I’m very excited that if New York does this first, perhaps LA, Atlanta, San Francisco, big cities and then perhaps small cities who are feeling the heat against a woman’s right to choose (will follow).
C&S: Looking at the budget, there seems to be some butting heads between the mayor and the Council. Speaker Corey Johnson has said he’s willing to go down to the wire. Are you concerned at all about a late budget?
SS: No. I have every confidence in the Council and the mayor to act in a mature, focused way to get an on-time budget. This is part of the traditional budget dance between the Council and the mayor, so there’s nothing alarming in it. I’d be shocked if we didn’t have a little back and forth between the handshake.
C&S: You’ve put out your own analysis, but what do you want to see changed in the budget before it passes?
SS: I do think the Council and the mayor should put more money for savings. I think the $250 million is paltry given the challenges we could have down the road, we’ve spoken a lot about that. So I hope there’s going to be more money set aside because these surpluses won’t last forever. We don’t know what’s coming out (President Donald) Trump’s mouth or Washington that could further erode our economic confidence. We don’t know what’s happening with Brexit and the international market, so I want to err on the side of caution there. So I’ll continue to work with the Council.
C&S: With regards to ThriveNYC, which has received a lot of scrutiny recently, do you think it’s as big an issue as people make it out to be, or are there more pressing things in the budget that should be addressed?
SS: Not particular to Thrive, but part of what I’ve been saying is that when you have big initiatives that we support, we also have an obligation to measure the success of those initiatives. I’m not against Thrive, I support mental health funding, but I want to make sure those programs are operating at maximum value. I want to make sure that the ferry contract, for example, is in the best interest of the city financially. I support ferries, it’s an important transportation mode. But I question a contract that allows the operator all the economic benefit while we buy the boat. I want a homeless budget that reflects success. You can’t just manage a crisis, you have to solve the crisis.
C&S: In addition to fossil fuel companies, are there other companies or businesses that you want to divest the city pension fund from?
SS: We have our Boardroom Accountability Project. It’s an extraordinary success – we united public pension funds from around the country, we targeted companies that have basically all-male, Caucasian boards, no women or people of color. We changed the debate on that issue. We worked not just on divestment, but what’s exciting is that we worked on investment. We’ve doubled the amount of money we’re spending on green technologies, solar roofing, the kind of infrastructure projects that are good for our pension fund, but also good for the environment. And the other initiative that I’d love to talk to you about because we have to do more with this mayor is we need a green bonds initiative for our capital programs. I’m finding that in the market, a lot of investors are looking for infrastructure products. And having a green bonds initiative would create a lot of interest. And then I want to double down – I actually want to do a blue bond initiative so that we can look to possibly investing in issues relating to the waterfront or our coastal waters. So there’s a lot that the comptroller’s office is doing.