By Phil Corso
The Bloomberg administration’s passing of its final $70 billion city budget has restored the fates of popular Queens institutions that have gotten too used to fighting for funding.
The months leading up to the budget dance were met with yet another series of protests, outcries and political statements urging Mayor Michael Bloomberg to keep the doors open at city pools, after-school child care programs, fire houses and libraries.
The mayor and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) announced the agreement for an on-time, balanced budget for fiscal year 2014 Sunday that avoids any tax increases, but not without threatening to cut various programs like in previous years.
“These types of [threatened] cuts go on year after year,” said state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside). “We still have the same battles.”
Bloomberg said the budget’s highlights included the adding of $250 million to projects fighting increasingly powerful storms, $144 million to fund after-school programs, including seven city Beacons, and $58 million for the New York City Housing Authority.
The city Parks Department warned this month that four pools, including one at Fort Totten in Bayside, might close unless funding was found. The final budget saved them.
Northeast Queens leaders also rallied to keep seven city Beacon programs, including one at MS 158 in Bayside, off the financial chopping block for the second year in a row. The final budget saved them.
“We can’t keep coming back here year after year,” said Community Board 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece at a rally for the Beacon earlier this year. “It has to be in the budget every year.”
Just as they had done over the past several years, borough officials called on the Bloomberg administration to save 20 fire companies, including Engine Co. 306 in Bayside, facing threats of closing. The final budget saved them.
“It seems like every year, they put the fire houses on the block,” said state Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside). “It’s a budget dance.”
Libraries throughout the borough spent months protesting cuts threatening to limit the amount of days they open their doors. City Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) helped rally with his southern Queens libraries and celebrated the advocacy when the budget news broke.
“Happy to report that no day cares, firehouses, libraries and NYCHA centers will close in my district this year,” he said.
The most recent budget was the last to come out of the Bloomberg administration, and a heated field of contenders looking to replace him criticized parts of his performance.
City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said the budget should have pulled more money from wealthy New Yorkers to add school seats and strengthen education in the city.
“This isn’t the way to fundamentally address income inequality in our city,” he said. “We need a game-changer, not another ‘budget dance’ that leads to the same predictable conclusion.”
City Comptroller John Liu argued that Bloomberg’s budget failed to address city workers operating under expired labor contracts, leaving the job for his successor.
“True, he restored most of his threatened cuts, and perhaps the people of the city of New York should be grateful for those crumbs,” Liu said. “But the plain fact of the matter is the mayor stayed too long at the party, and history won’t forgive him.”
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4573.