City passes $63B budget – early

While dysfunction and disorder continue to reign in Albany, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council quietly reached a budget agreement a week before the upcoming fiscal year begins. A final budget was approved by the Council 48-1 on Tuesday, June 29. Charles Barron voted against the budget and there were two abstentions.

The $63 billion budget, which closed a more than $4 billion gap, contains plenty of cuts to city agencies, including shutting senior and daycare centers and reducing the number of teachers at city schools, but it does not add any new taxes for residents.

“In good times and bad, and in every year of our administration, we’ve worked with the Council to produce an on-time, balanced budget, and we have again this year,” Mayor Bloomberg said on June 24, when the agreement was struck.

While many groups predicted doom and gloom based on the administration’s proposed actions to plug the budget gap, a number of areas saw restored funding that will prevent those worst case scenarios.

For example, the city had slated 20 fire companies to close their doors beginning July 1, but after numerous rallies and protests, enough funding was restored to keep all of the companies open.

Meanwhile, libraries throughout the city faced a $77 million reduction in funding, but the City Council and administration agreed to restore $61 million to the libraries that will allow all branches to remain open at least five days per week.

“We were looking at really falling off the cliff when it came to libraries and to be able to come up with the largest restoration of library funding in history during an abysmal year, it maintains the City Council’s commitment to the libraries,” said Queens Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, who chairs the Council’s committee on cultural affairs, libraries and international intergroup relations.

In addition, council member items, better known as pork, which have been under increased scrutiny throughout the last few years since the uncovering of the slush fund scandal, will remain at $48.8 million.

However, some members said that money normally allocated to programming had to be shifted this year.

“The mayor keeps coming up with other additional reductions instead of covering our traditional programs we are now being forced to make up for the mayoral reductions in the essential services he keeps cutting,” said Councilmember Leroy Comrie, Deputy Majority Leader for the Council.

This year’s budget still has a number of variables that remain uncertain. The state has not passed its budget so it is unclear exactly what funding the city will receive in certain areas.

In addition, Comrie said it is still unclear whether the city will receive approximately $600 million in Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentages (FMAP) funding.

“If that money doesn’t come, we’re going to have to do a budget modification,” Comrie said.

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