Politico (New York)
By Laura Nahmias and Gloria Pazmino
June 02, 2017
Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced a final $85.2 billion budget agreement for the upcoming fiscal year during the traditional budget handshake ceremony in City Hall’s rotunda late Friday night.
The final budget is larger than the $84.86 billion plan de Blasio proposed a little more than a month ago in his executive budget, and $3.1 billion larger than the $82.1 billion budget the mayor and Council passed last year.
Friday’s handshake is the earliest such deal announced since 1992, continuing a pattern of early budget agreements that the mayor and Council were quick to highlight during the announcement. The de Blasio administration and City Council have had closely aligned agendas, leaving them with few significant budgetary disagreements. The mayor, though, did concede Friday that the “final details will be worked out in the next few days,” before a vote takes place.
A final budget was not due until the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.
But despite the air of collaboration, there was one palpable source of disagreement Friday between the speaker and mayor: in Mark-Viverito’s last budget talks as speaker, the duo failed to strike a deal over a $16.4 million allocation to provide free lawyers to immigrants in deportation proceedings.
De Blasio had announced the funding in April, when he unveiled his executive financial plan. The mayor attached conditions to the funding, saying the money would only be used to defend immigrants who had not been convicted of any serious crimes.
That condition drew the ire of Mark-Viverito, who dug in her heels over the funding until the last hours of negotiations. Seeing no path to a compromise, the Council said Friday it would fund an additional $10 million directed specifically to the New York Immigrant Family Unit Project — the program which has been helping to administer the service since 2013.
The de Blasio administration said it would still keep the $16.4 allocation with its conditions about who the money could serve — conditions the administration will enforce through the city’s contracting process, the mayor said.
“We have a difference. The issue will be resolved in the contracting process and the contracting process resides in the executive branch, so we’ll leave it at that,” de Blasio told reporters in the rotunda.
The speaker was slightly more forthcoming. “We in the City Council have maintained the New York Immigrant Family Unit Project whole and complete and we continue to believe that that system is a model that we would like to continue moving forward, so we’ve actually put money in to preserve it as it is, in its current form,” she said.
The final details over how the money will be spent will not be settled until after the budget is adopted.
The budget deal is the last municipal financial plan for de Blasio’s current term. It’s also the last deal to be signed off on by Mark-Viverito, who is term-limited, and Finance Committee Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who announced earlier this week she would not be seeking reelection.
“This is the last budget process for these two great leaders, and that’s going to be a loss for New York City,” de Blasio said Friday.
Ferreras-Copeland addressed her Council colleagues from the rotunda, thanking them for the last few years of work. And she took the opportunity to address speculation that she was leaving politics for a reason other than the one she already gave.
“I am standing here as an empowered, wise Latina letting you know that being fully there for my family is a great opportunity and a choice for me,” Ferreras-Copeland said.
The handshake agreement includes several new spending measures compared to the executive budget, some of which reflected the Council’s highest priorities.
The city will spend an extra $18.4 million on the emergency food assistance program, bringing the total spending on the program to $19 million, 15 percent more than it was last fiscal year. The budget will also include an additional $12.5 million for the heavily federally-funded free school lunch and breakfast program, which will cover all elementary schools, even those co-housed with middle schools. That means that middle schoolers will also receive a free lunch if they share their building with an elementary school.
The city will also increase funding for its contracted nonprofits by 10 percent over a five-year period at a cost of $30 million in Fiscal Year 2018 and growing to $104 million by Fiscal Year 2022.
The city will also pay for an expansion of a property tax exemption for veterans who’ve served in conflict, an initiative the city said would affect 56,000 veterans. The expansion, the city said, will add an average of $443 per person in additional annual savings for veterans, whose average benefit from the exemption is roughly $421 a year. The program will cost the city $25 million annually in lost revenue.
Among the other new initiatives was a plan to ensure that the 197 city school facilities currently lacking full physical education programs will have them by September 2021. De Blasio personally spearheaded the initiative, which he said was important for students’ physical and mental health. The city said the plan would cost $105.5 million in capital funding, much of it for gym repairs and construction, and $1.8 million in the annual expense budget.
The city will also spend $23 million on several initiatives for seniors, including plans to eliminate Home Care and Case Management waitlists, create a voucher program for caregivers, provide weekend meals to seniors who frequent Senior Centers or use the Home Delivered Meals program and increase the rates paid to city senior centers.
The funding is a win for senior citizen advocates, and comes after the Council declared earlier this year it would be “the year of the senior” as budget negotiations got underway.
The city will also baseline 70,000 youth summer jobs in the spending plan.
The budget deal also includes $4 million in funding to buy all the city’s firefighters an extra pair of work boots.
De Blasio and Mark-Viverito hailed the budget’s total reserve levels, which will be $5.65 billion, including $1.2 billion in general reserve, $4.2 billion in retiree health benefits trust fund and $250 million in the Capital Stabilization reserve.
The spending plan includes $200 million in additional savings the city believes it will accrue throughout the course of the fiscal year — $100 million from debt service savings and an additional $100 million from a planned “hiring freeze.”
The hiring freeze, details of which were scant at the release of the executive budget, will include three components, de Blasio said Friday. Any newly proposed administrative or managerial hires in all city agencies will be evaluated by the Office of Management and Budget. And any lines of hiring that haven’t yet been filled, but which have already been budgeted for, will be subject to being shut down. The city may also delay some hires, even if it decides that the hires are still necessary.
De Blasio also defended the significant growth in spending in this year’s budget, citing the city’s strong economy. The spending increase comes even as the city faces what may be dire consequences from potential federal budget cuts under President Donald Trump’s administration and a Republican Congress.
This year’s budget is “actually, in some ways, the least dire in terms of economic circumstances,” de Blasio said. “It’s the most dire in terms of governmental circumstances.”
“The challenge is, we don’t know it’s going to shake out. Compared to the year or two in the beginning, where I think we felt the economy was much of a question mark. This is a situation where the economy is pretty strong in the scheme of things.”
Under de Blasio, the city budget has ballooned in size, from $72 billion in his first year to the new $85.2 billion plan, an increase of 18.3 percent.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com