New York City

NYC nears budget deal, devoid of big ticket items

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council are nearing a deal on the fiscal year 2020 city budget. It is expected to be devoid of any new, big ticket initiatives, but Council Speaker Corey Johnson may have a trump card in asking for certain initiatives to be funded.

William Alatriste/For the New York City Council

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council are nearing a deal on the fiscal year 2020 city budget, with a handshake agreement expected as soon as Thursday evening, but no later than the first half of next week. “Things are heading in a good direction, but it’s not done yet,” New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said at an unrelated press conference Thursday afternoon.

The budget is expected to be devoid of any new, big ticket initiatives for city residents after de Blasio set a cautious tone in his February preliminary budget and April executive budget announcements. But Johnson provided a laundry list of budget requests that were still on the table, including pay parity for pre-k teachers who don’t work in Department of Education facilities, reversing proposed cuts to public libraries and adding $250 million to the reserves, to be used in case of a fiscal downturn.

The mayor’s office has previously fought back on all those fronts, with de Blasio insisting the current reserves, about $5.5 billion in total, are enough.

Johnson said the finances were on his side, since there was an increase in expected personal income tax revenue since the mayor released his executive budget – about $450 million more. The mayor’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request to confirm that number, but it would mean that the city’s operating budget could be rising to an all-time high of $93 billion. That would be a nearly $4 billion increase over the $89.2 billion budget de Blasio signed last June.

Johnson may have another trump card in asking for certain initiatives to be funded: de Blasio’s presidential ambitions. More than ever, the mayor is likely to want a stress-free budget agreement without major hangups that council members or the press could point to as a stain on de Blasio’s leadership. Just last week, Johnson told the New York Times that he and the mayor were “nowhere close this year to having a budget done,” suggesting a deal might be delayed up until the June 30th budget deadline because of de Blasio’s frequent travel to early presidential primary states like Iowa and South Carolina.

But the speaker and the mayor have met in person at least twice since that interview, including a 90-minute sit-down at City Hall on Wednesday afternoon.

Johnson seemed to be feeling much more positively about budget talks on Thursday, praising de Blasio’s “good faith negotiations.”

The entire City Council was present at City Hall Thursday for a regularly scheduled meeting, and news started leaking out about what initiatives would be making it into the budget deal. A well-informed Council source told City & State that the city would be providing funding for 200 new social workers in city schools. That would be a significant win for advocates, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who have pushed for social worker funding to come out of the budget for the Thrive NYC initiative – first lady Chirlane McCray’s mental health program – which has been criticized for its high spending and opaque results.

Still, most members stayed tight-lipped about what they expected the budget deal to look like. A more common topic of conversation was exactly when the mayor and the speaker would meet in the City Hall rotunda for a customary handshake signifying a final deal had been reached. With the mayor due at Gracie Mansion after 7 p.m. on Thursday for a Jewish heritage event, members and their staff were left wondering whether they would be making their evening plans.

But, as Johnson put it, a number of puzzle pieces needed to still be fit together as of Thursday afternoon, including potential funding increases for parks, trash pickup and salaries for public defenders.

One piece to watch in the final budget agreement: census funding. After the mayor released his executive budget, the council released a statement calling for the city to devote $40 million to ensuring an accurate count in the 2020 census – more than the mayor’s proposed $26 million. But on Thursday, Johnson didn’t mention it.