Mayor brandishes budget ax – QNS.com

Mayor brandishes budget ax

Mayor Michael Bloomberg outlines his newly revised municipal budget proposal at a news conference at City Hall Friday afternoon. AP Photo⁄Richard Drew, Pool
By Jeremy Walsh

Major cuts may be ahead for city schools and cops as Mayor Michael Bloomberg rolled out his latest grim budget figures indicating the city added $2 billion to its budget gap since the last projections were released in November.

Despite previous cost−cutting measures that eliminated $2 billion from the fiscal 2010 deficit, projections of reduced tax revenues due to job losses raised the budget gap back up to $4 billion, Bloomberg said, resulting in the planned elimination of 1,000 police officers by attrition, rather than layoffs.

Compounding the red ink, the state’s dire budget situation led to a proposed $770 million reduction in funding for city schools. Without aid from the state and federal governments, Bloomberg said, city schools may be forced to lay off 14,000 teachers.

In what could be a lifeline, the federal government has allocated $1 billion to the state to cover education expenses, Bloomberg said. He called on Paterson to allocate a good portion to the city.

More education money may be available as part of the federal stimulus package submitted by President Barack Obama, although Bloomberg did not include this in the latest figures.

“I don’t think any other [potential funding sources] are realistic to include at this time,” he said.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D−Manhattan) said the grim education statistics would not become a reality.

“Losing 14,000 teachers would deal a devastating blow to our schools and schoolchildren, which have shown remarkable growth and improvement in recent years,” she said in a statement. “We cannot — and will not — allow this to happen. Our state and federal governments must step up to the plate and help us fully cover our education costs.”

To cope with the additional deficit, which comes from diminishing tax revenues, Bloomberg proposed boosting the sales tax by an additional 0.25 percent to 8.625 percent, which he estimated would raise about $900 million in additional revenue. He also proposed cutting municipal employee positions through attrition, renegotiating with public employee unions to reduce pension and health care expenses and cutting one of the Police Academy’s two annual classes.

“We can’t afford to have the kind of benefits we have in this city going forward. We just can’t do it,” Bloomberg said. “The kind of pension system we have in this city and health care plan have bankrupted Detroit, have bankrupted the airline industry.”

Councilman David Weprin (D−Hollis), chairman of the Council’s Finance Committee, emphasized the possibility of more help from higher levels of government.

“This is not a good−news budget, but it is largely contingent on what happens both in Albany and in Washington,” he said.

Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D−Forest Hills) criticized Bloomberg’s sales tax proposal, warning it would hurt lower−class families already stretched thin.

“These families have already sacrificed — trimming their grocery bill, cutting back during the holidays, foregoing new clothes for their kids. Adding in another cost that impacts all purchases for people who have already shouldered more than their fair share of the burden … is hard to justify.”

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D−Forest Hills) said he respected Bloomberg for doing his job, but also criticized the tax increase.

“We all have our jobs to do. I’m focused on my work representing the city in Washington, and I respect that the mayor is doing his job. I will take a close look at the mayor’s announced budget. The work from the recovery bill we’ve just passed in Washington should send billions to New York, including for education,” he said. “I’d hope the city budget will avoid cuts if these federal funds can be used.”

Among the budget measures:

NYPD: Reduction of uniform headcount by 1,000, saving $48.9 million.

FDNY: Elimination of companies in dual company firehouses or eliminating fifth firefighter on 64 engines, saving $17 million.

Department of Transportation: Increasing rates for single space parking meters, bringing in a projected additional $16.8 million.

Children’s Services: Eliminating 549 child welfare positions, saving $15.5 million.

Children’s Services: Reducing low priority child care services and foster care boarding home rates, saving $12.8 million.

Parks Department: Reducing seasonal aides by 167 positions, saving $5.6 million.

Libraries: Reducing city subsidy by 7 percent, saving $20.1 million.

Department for the Aging: Reducing senior center funding by 5 percent, saving $5.3 million.

Plastic bags: Charging shoppers a fee for plastic shopping bags, bringing in a projected additional $84 million.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

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