Council Members Hail Promised End to “Budget Dance”

During his first preliminary budget announcement at City Hall on Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to put an end to the annual “budget dance.” The process had been a staple at City Hall for the last several years: former Mayor Michael Bloomberg would propose budget cuts, advocates would rally on the steps of City Hall, and soon enough the New York City Council would direct a chunk of its discretionary money to restore the funds.

The restorations, however, were only temporary, lasting one fiscal year. Every April, advocates for firehouses, libraries and homeless shelters, among others, would dust off their signs and head to City Hall to fight for their funding.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

But yesterday De Blasio vowed that things would be different under his administration.

“The game of cuts and restorations has long marred the city budget process,” de Blasio said from the Blue Room on Wednesday. “We don't want to waste the time of hard-working New Yorkers on the Kabuki theater that made up the budget dance.”

The mayor's preliminary budget, which must be approved by the City Council before June 30, puts in baseline funding for several “program to eliminate the gap,” or PEG,  restorations: $59 million for 20 firehouses, $19.1 million for homeless services and $5.2 million for mental health providers.

The budget also restored $9.8 million in funds for the borough presidents and public advocate, something the mayor was particularly proud of.

“We are restoring the budget for elected officials who were often used as pawns in this dance, including our five borough presidents and the public advocate,” de Blasio said.

The news was refreshing for Council members who had grown tired of the annual ritual, which put a heavy focus on a small portion of the multi-billion dollar budget.

“It was refreshing to not have to ask about restorations of things that effect our city residents every day,” said Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, who was recently appointed chair of the Finance Committee. “It was really refreshing to hear the mayor say, 'These things make sense and we have to restore it.' ”

Councilman Brad Lander, a regular at many of the springtime rallies in recent years, agreed. “The fact that we won't have to fight about runaway homeless youth bed, cuts to the libraries, is great news,” he said.

De Blasio can take credit for the demise of the budget dance, at least for now, largely thanks to Bloomberg, whom the mayor said handed off a “balanced” budget on his way out the door—with the exception, of course, of the vast sum of money experts predict it will take to renegotiate the city's expired municipal union contracts.

Many of the unions want raises and retroactive pay from their years working under expired contracts, which in some cases date back to 2008. The preliminary budget did not reflect what that figure would be, and the mayor said that negotiations are ongoing. If unions receive raises and the back pay they have asked for that figure could reach nearly $7 billion, according to the Citizens Budget Commission.

Even with the current surplus, that amount would blow a hole in the budget that even de Blasio's lauded Budget Director Dean Fuleihan would struggle to plug. The Council members can put away their dancing shoes for now, but a large promise to the unions could have them two-stepping again down the road.