By Prem Calvin Prashad
With a new administration in Washington, D.C, New York City is confronting a new era of uncertainty in budgeting. Faced with impending cuts from Housing and Urban Development, as well as potentially losing millions in counterterror funding stemming from the city’s sanctuary status, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed $84.86 billion budget had to account for this uncertainty.
The mayor asserts that property tax receipts will offset potential cuts from the federal government and slowing growth in general tax revenue. Still, the mayor’s office projects modest growth in Fiscal Year 2018, which begins on July 1, 2017.
In order to account for uncertainty, the city plans to increase its general reserve to unprecedented levels, contributing $1 billion each year. There will also be increased contributions to the Retiree Health Benefits Trust Fund and the Capital Stabilization Reserve.
In the Mayor’s Message, de Blasio cited “anti-immigrant and anti-trade” rhetoric as the contributing factor to a projected 2 percent decline in international visitors to New York City, the first decline since the financial crisis of 2009. With this drop, the city stands to lose a projected $900 million dollars in economic activity. However, the city expects this decline to be offset by an increase in domestic travelers.
The budget is also the time in which the mayor, currently in an election year, pushes key policy agenda items. For FY18, this will include expanding Universal Pre-Kindergarten to children as young as three, starting at $36 million this year, up to $177 million in FY21. The budget also allocates for air conditioning to be installed in every classroom over the next five years.
Of particular interest to Queens residents, the city plans to expand anti-eviction legal services, including guaranteed representation for all low income families in housing court. There is an additional $1.9 billion investment in 10,000 affordable housing units, as well.
However, there is no indication whether the Department of Homeless Service’s controversial and expensive program of housing the homeless in commercial hotel rooms will continue. Queens has been the site of tense protests against these shelters, with several slated to open over the next few months. The Department maintains that the hotel units are a “temporary” measure and that a third of residents work full-time jobs.
In addition to representation in housing court, the budget proposal makes provisions for immigrant legal defense, including a preliminary $16 million grant for undocumented persons facing deportation, with a focus on persons in detention, unaccompanied minors and asylum seekers.
Conversely, in the state budget, Governor Cuomo has pledged to protect New York’s approximately 850,000 undocumented immigrants.
One such initiative is the Liberty Defense Project, which would provide legal representation for undocumented persons. Unlike the proposed city services, the program is funded through philanthropy.
The increased funding for deportation protection is in response to a host of new restrictions on immigration at the federal level. Although it is unclear if immigrants are being deported at a higher level than during the previous administration, a ban on travelers from Muslim-majority nations, as well as ending programs such as the “green card lottery” and H1-B visas, has convinced local and state politicians to increase these protections and services.