Council members pushing priorities early as de Blasio plans on avoiding budget extension

William Alatriste/New York City Council
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio briefs the City Council on his budget proposal.

Council members pushing priorities early as de Blasio plans on avoiding budget extension

Council members pushing priorities early as de Blasio plans on avoiding budget extension
May 22, 2016

In New York City, annual legislation extending the June 5 budget deadline in the city charter has become so routine that June 30 has become the only budget deadline known to some New York City Council staffers and budget watchdogs.

But this budget season, the City Council has not passed an extender, sent to the mayor at the end of April during the past two budget seasons, that ensures money is allocated for city services until a budget agreement is voted on. Several sources said Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration and the City Council aim to reach a budget agreement by June 5 or 6, possibly avoiding an extension. The administration did not respond when asked about the deadline, though a spokesman for the Council confirmed an extension had not been passed.

Given this year’s tighter timeline, City Council members have begun publicly pushing for their top priorities, including expanding youth employment programs, doubling the amount of money for soup kitchens and food pantries, increasing the budget for cultural organizations and allocating enough for library branches to remain open six days a week. Fiscal year 2017 budget negotiations are expected to start in earnest after the Council’s budget hearings conclude midway through this week.

Several lawmakers joined youth advocates on the steps of City Hall last week and called for the city to increase the number of job slots available to youth during the summer and fund improvements to the program, with the goal of having enough positions – about 100,000 – so all who apply can be hired by fiscal year 2019.  The ramp-up plan endorsed by the City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus and the Progressive Caucus would require an increase of nearly $38 million for a total of almost $75 million in the upcoming budget, according to a report put out by coalition of advocates called the Campaign for Summer Jobs, .

City Councilman Jumaane Williams said studies have shown jobs are the most effective way to curb death rates and support youth growing up in violent areas. Given the city’s decision to spend $170 million hiring more police last year, Williams, the co-chair of the Council’s Task Force to Combat Gun Violence, argued the city should invest a similar amount in programs that prevent some of the need for policing.

Last year, the city increased summer employment slots to about 54,000 positions, but the current budget plan only funds about 35,100 jobs. Beyond the money, Williams said a public commitment to have “universal” summer jobs by fiscal year 2019 was paramount.

“I’m disappointed that the mayor didn’t put any of it in in the executive budget,” Williams said. “We fail if we don’t get that commitment to fully fund it by 2019. … We always seem to cut from the type of programs we’re talking about here. So we want to make sure that it’s fully funded, so that it can survive the kind of cuts they’re usually talking about.”

De Blasio spokeswoman Rosemary Boeglin said the city has increased the number of youth job slots and community center hours during summer months, but she did not directly address the Council members’ most recent request. “Last year’s additional seats for summer programming were for one year only,” Boeglin said in a statement. “We gave parents and providers a year’s notice to plan ahead for this summer.”

In the push for  money for soup kitchens and food pantries, City Councilman Stephen Levin, the chairman of the General Welfare Committee, sent a letter to the administration last week requesting a total of $22 million for the emergency food assistance program. Forty-seven of his colleagues signed onto the memo, which Levin described as the most signatures he recalled getting on a single letter.

Currently, the budget includes nearly $8.5 million for the program, which received $11 million last year. Levin said the Council believes food pantries and soup kitchens are struggling amid cuts to the federal SNAP food assistance program and that the city should double the support it currently provides them.

City Councilman Barry Grodenchik said he brought up the issue during a briefing on the mayor’s preliminary budget, so the administration has been aware of lawmakers’ concerns.

“I said to him I was appalled to see that that the amount of money – and this is before he cut it back – was about $1.30 or $1.40 per New Yorker,” Grodenchik said. “We have teachers, parks, sanitation workers, and the list goes on forever, and those things are needed … but there’s nothing more important than feeding people.”

De Blasio spokeswoman Aja Worthy-Davis said the city has been working to enroll as many people as possible in the SNAP program and that  last year’s budget increased funding so that high-demand food items could be purchased in larger quantities in an attempt to help emergency food providers. “We are doing more than ever before to ensure that those in need do not go hungry,” she said in a statement.

The administration also received a letter from City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer and Minority Leader Steven Matteo urging the city to increase funding for cultural organizations by $40 million. A total of 46 lawmakers signed the letter, which pointed out that support for museums, arts organizations and other cultural groups has remained flat for several years despite population growth and inflation.

Additionally, Van Bramer said the city’s public library systems needs at least $22 million to ensure all branches are open six days a week, which has only recently become a reality across the boroughs thanks to increases in library funding in last year’s budget. Still, Van Bramer contended a $43 million increase for a total of $65 million should be set aside to restore libraries to pre-recession budget levels.

Although Van Bramer said there was a significant amount of support for the funding requests, he said he was doing everything he could to convince the administration the money was needed.

“I am never optimistic when it comes to the budget,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to be lulled into a false sense of security or optimism.  … I think we have to continue to apply a lot of pressure and push the administration to make libraries and cultural organizations the higher priority.”

Boeglin responded that the de Blasio administration has increased funding for arts education and helped more New Yorkers visit arts organizations through its municipal ID program.

We look forward to continuing our close work with partner organizations and the City Council to provide access to awe-inspiring and mind-opening cultural experiences for all New Yorkers, and look forward to discussing all of the City Council's budget priorities as we approach budget adoption,” she said in a statement.

Sarina Trangle