NYC mayor: Use last rainy-day funds in budget plan
NEW YORK—New York City should scrape dry the last of its rainy-day funds to balance next year's budget without new cutbacks or taxes, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Thursday as he unveiled a $68.7 billion budget proposal that anticipates billions of dollars in deficits in years to come.
"We spent years planning ahead, making government more efficient and saving for a rainy day," the mayor said of the $6 billion the city put aside in the more flush days of his administration. "Thank goodness we had the reserve."
While the mayor announced no new cuts in his plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1, the proposal relies in part on a series of reductions announced earlier that could shutter 20 fire companies, slice library funds and leave tens of thousands of low-income parents without city-sponsored child care.
Some of those services have in past years been saved by the City Council's discretionary funds, which last year totaled $386 million. The mayor's budget proposal is traditionally the first step in a lengthy process of revisions and wrangling involving policymakers, elected officials and advocates. The final deal will require the approval of the City Council.
On Thursday, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn praised the mayor for avoiding tax hikes and deep spending cuts, but called the reductions for libraries, after-school programs and other services "troubling."
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio joined advocates in objecting to funding and program shifts that could cut 41,000 of 146,000 low-income children from the city's child care and after-school programs. He estimated it would take $150 million to keep the children in the programs.
"If you're not investing in early childhood education you are going to have fewer kids succeed in our public schools, fewer kids with an education for the modern workforce," he said. "It's inexplicable to me."
The mayor said the city was taking realistic and responsible measures -- increasing the city's capital budget and avoiding the layoffs of teachers, police officers and firefighters.
"We just can't do everything," he said. "People understand we live in a more difficult time."
Last year, the mayor's initial budget plan called for cutting thousands of city teachers. The layoffs would have been the city's first public school pink slips since the economic crisis of the 1970s. But the final budget reduced the teaching force only through attrition -- dropping an estimated 2,600 teachers from the rolls.
In November, city officials signaled they were anticipating a $2 billion shortfall. On Thursday, the mayor said that gap was closed in part through higher-than-expected tax revenues and lower-than-expected health care costs.
But Bloomberg warned that the city would have no reserve funds to depend on in future years. Estimates put the budget deficit at $3 billion in the fiscal year beginning July 2013, $3.5 billion the following year and $3.4 billion the year after that.
The mayor decried the city's pension costs, which at about $8 billion a year make up more than one-eighth of the city budget. After rising from $1.3 billion in 2002, the city's pension costs are expected to level off in the coming years. Bloomberg is supporting a highly contested effort by the governor to institute a more modest pension tier for future employees.
Samantha Gross can be reached at www.twitter.com/samanthagross