With several lawmakers commending one another about how soon a budget proposal was put before them, the New York City Council voted 48-to-1 Wednesday to adopt an $82.1 billion budget.
The budget contained few differences from the outline lawmakers and Mayor Bill de Blasio described during a ceremonial handshake last week. At that point, de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito touted that they’d wrapped up budget negotiations at the earliest point in 15 years. And the administration said it had agreed to increase funding for a number of initiatives the Council prioritized, including adding $22 million to the district attorney offices, allocating and baselining enough money to ensure library branches can operate six days a week and increasing the number of slots in a youth employment program while studying how to fully meet the initiative’s needs before the next budget cycle.
Lawmakers described the few changes from last week as positive – Aging Committee Chairwoman Margaret Chin said she was pleased to learn $2 million more was allocated for senior services. And Parks Committee Chairman Mark Levine called it “wonderful” that $9.6 million from the Council’s budget would be used to extend the contracts of 150 seasonal park maintenance workers and gardeners who otherwise would have been out of a job on July 1.
In all, Finance Committee Chairwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland estimated that more than half of the requests included in the Council’s formal budget response wound up in the final budget.
“We have committed to making the Council a force in establishing priorities and shaping the process,” Ferreas-Copeland said. “When the executive budget was released and so few of the Council’s priorities were included, there were many who were uncertain about how much influence the Council would have in the city’s adopted budget … The adopted budget reflects the Council’s great impact.”
But not every lawmaker shared her view. City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, who cast the lone vote against the deal, described the budget negotiation process as “rushed” and “not inclusive,” noting she learned her colleagues had reached an agreement on the budget while getting examined in the hospital after falling in City Hall.
“In borough delegations, I think we only met for 20 hours, and I didn’t feel that it was very inclusive,” Mendez said. “Last year we rushed through a budget as well, and there are still problems with some of my allocations that we’re still trying to resolve. … I am having problems with the $2 billion inflation to the budget.”
Other lawmakers also voiced concerns about the city’s spending and saving practices. Councilman Ben Kallos said the city needed to be aware of how close it is getting to its constitutional debt limit. And Councilman Dan Garodnick said the city should save more, noting experts recommend ensuring reserves contain 12 to 15 percent of the total budget, and the city now has about 10.24 percent set aside.
“Many of us on the City Council asked the mayor to identify savings in the budget by asking him to identify his lower-priority spending items,” Garodnick said. “Unfortunately, no identified potential cuts were made – rather a $2 billion spending increase was introduced.”
When asked about the reserve levels last week, the mayor said the city has “an unprecedented level of reserves” and is taking the necessary precautions. He highlighted this again while commending the budget’s passage.
“We’ve allocated money to address our city’s most pressing needs, and thanks to our strong citywide savings program – the largest in five years – the adopted budget is less than our executive budget. Additionally, we added to our reserves for the third year in a row, bringing the total to an unprecedented $3.9 billion, helping to protect our long-term fiscal health,” de Blasio said in a statement. “Today’s Council vote marks the earliest adoption since 2001 and further highlights the good work that can be done when the administration and City Council come together.”