Mayor Mike Bloomberg released his $68.7 billion executive budget proposal today and patted himself on the back for leading the city in a speedy recovery that’s better than the rest of the country. The new budget for 2013 has no tax increases and relies on $6.2 billion in savings generated through deficit closing actions his city agencies have taken since 2007, the mayor reported today at City Hall.
He began his presentation by telling reporters that the city’s job growth has improved faster than the rest of the country, thanks to the diverse economy he has supported and the many successful industries that are attracting folks to New York.
Of note, the mayor’s budget increases city funding for education from $13.3 billion in 2012 to $13.6 billion in 2013, which will up the total number of teachers in the school system and maintain overall funding levels — a part of the budget that the City Council and its speaker are applauding.
The Council — and a crowd of angry advocates gathered on the steps of City Hall — is not, however, happy about cuts to childcare and after-school programs, which will likely be a key part of the final budget negotiations over the next two months.
When questioned about this and other gripes from City Council members, Bloomberg got unusually testy today (watch the video at around 1:00:37).
One reporter from the Wall Street Journal asked the mayor for a response to some Council members’ complaints that the mayor’s priorities with social services are unfair and began his question citing the concern of a specific (unnamed — thanks to an interruption from the mayor) Council member.
Before the reporter could bring up the specific complaint, the mayor interrupted: “I don’t much care what he said, if you really want to know. I think you’re wasting everybody’s time. Why would I care? He has a right to say — I’ll defend his First Amendment right to say what he wants. He can go on to the steps of City Hall…and you’ll probably even write it. I don’t know why you’d bother to, but if you want to, go ahead.”
The reporter said: “I’m curious as to what your response is…”
“You’re always curious,” the mayor interjected. “I don’t have a response to it.”
Bloomberg didn’t stop there. “I don’t have to have a response to everything! People have a right to say what they want and express their views. There’s nothing wrong with that. They weren’t elected to run the city. And, you know, there’s nothing wrong with them having those views.”
“Anything else?” he said, moving on to the next question.
While this back-and-forth exchange is not really that crucial to the budget news today — and is not that unique — it’s worth including here for a couple of reasons. First of all, the mayor seemed unusually dismissive of the reporter’s fairly legitimate and rather uncontroversial question. But secondly, his somewhat insulting comments toward the City Council come only a few days after City Council Speaker Christine Quinn — who has been struggling to distance herself from the mayor as she prepares to run for his job — stormed out of a living wage press conference after someone insulted the mayor, calling him a “pharaoh.” She said on Monday that she was standing up against name-calling, but her actions seemed to signify her larger struggle to support living wage legislation, which the mayor staunchly opposes. Either way, it’s a bit ironic that Bloomberg would come down kind of hard on the Council with that sort of language, days after the Speaker spoke out against uncivil rhetoric.
When reporters asked the Speaker about Bloomberg’s comments today at a separate press conference an hour later, Quinn said that the City Council has in fact played a very important role in the process.
“I don’t know what Council member was being spoken of, but look, we put out — we, being the Council, all 51 members — conducted hearings on the mayor’s preliminary budget,” she told reporters at City Hall. “We put out a budget response in which we articulated…a number of high priority things we were concerned about. One of the highest priorities was the potential loss of 2,600 teachers, due to attrition. That has been fully addressed in the budget…You cannot argue that the mayor heard the Council and responded to one of our top priorities…The proof is in the pudding. Our top priority from our response has been fully addressed in the budget, for which we are grateful.”
Anyway, that aside, let’s review a few other issues of substance in the budget worth noting.
The budget is dependent on $300 million for eduction that will only reach the school system if the city and the United Federation of Teachers can come to an agreement on teacher evaluations before 2013, the mayor said, adding that he hopes the union will actually be willing to reach an agreement and not risk the funding (the UFT, in its post-budget statement, thanked the City Council for helping save thousands of teachers, but took a shot at Bloomberg for walking away from negotiations in the past).
As for the childcare funding, critics claim that cuts to two major programs — EarlyLearn and Out-of-School Time — would reduce overall child care capacity by 8,200 seats and especially hurt high-needs populations in the city.
An advocacy group called the Campaign for Children rallied today and sent out an angry statement, noting that the $170 million cuts to these programs fails to recognize the importance of these services to children and families. They are calling on the mayor and the Council to fully restore the funding in the final budget, which has to be approved by June 30th.
Quinn, in her press conference after the mayor’s presentation, said that this was a priority for the Council — calling the cuts unacceptable, but adding that she’s optimistic that they will be restored through negotiations.
“Many working families, if these cuts go through, would no longer have access to low-cost quality childcare for their children,” Quinn said.
A large group of elected officials from northern Manhattan also sent out a statement criticizing the after-school cuts.
(Also unhappy with the childcare and after-school cuts, as per emails that arrived in our inbox this afternoon: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, both mayoral hopefuls, and several other City Council members. Comptroller John Liu, another mayoral hopeful, sent out a statement saying that the city needs to “strengthen our fight against the waste of taxpayer funds and wasted subsidies to large corporations”).
Another concern of critics is a proposal to close 20 fire companies, which the Council hopes to remove from the chopping block. When questioned about public safety matters at his press conference, Bloomberg repeatedly said that the city is safer than it’s ever been and that he will continue to keep the city safe and do it in an economically-efficient way.
Speaking of the childcare cuts, City Councilman Robert Jackson, chair of the Education Committee, spoke after Quinn, acknowledging that this is the typical back-and-forth of negotiations.
“People say, ‘Well, why do we have to go through this dance?'” he said. “Well, if we have to dance in order…to reach an agreement, then we will dance.”