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Mayor blames state deficit in ‘cautious’ $95.3B budget preview

January 17, 2020 Meaghan McGoldrick
Mayor Bill de Blasio presents New York City’s Preliminary Budget for Fiscal Year 2021.
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Mayor Bill de Blasio bemoaned the state’s projected $6 billion budget gap — New York’s largest since 2011 — during his annual preliminary budget press conference Thursday, presenting few new proposals for fear of lack of funds.

“After seven years doing this, this is the briefest presentation I’ve ever had to make because the situation is very straightforward and our focus is one place: Albany, New York,” de Blasio told reporters. “This is by far the largest state deficit we’ve ever confronted by a lot.”

The mayor’s $95.3 billion city budget proposal for the 2021 fiscal year, which his office is describing as “cautious” in light of a “new reality,” is $2.5 billion larger than the 2020 fiscal year budget. It will be parsed and analyzed for the next several months, ahead of a final budget agreement with the City Council expected in June.

In his State of the State address earlier this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo attributed $4 billion of the impending deficit to Medicaid. Mayor de Blasio said Thursday that he opposes any cuts to the program, which would primarily impact New York City’s low-income public hospital patients.

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The mayor also rejected a state request that the city deliver $3 billion in capital funds for the MTA, accusing the authority of poor fiscal management.

Having placed blame squarely on the state, de Blasio ran down a short list of city investments in pre-existing projects, including $104 million for reduced-fare MetroCards; $98 million in capital funding to redesign Brooklyn’s 4th Avenue to meet Vision Zero standards; $12.9 million for NYCHA community centers; and $1.8 million for a Community Justice Center in Far Rockaway (part of the agreement to build four new borough-based jails).

“This is normally… where you get into the juicy part where there’s all sorts of wonderful new initiatives – that is not happening right now because of everything we talked about previously,” de Blasio said.

The city is also funding the creation of 1,000 new jobs to help implement criminal justice reforms that took effect in January. Cash bail has been eliminated for the vast majority of defendants, and supervised released programs are expanding. District attorneys must share evidence with defendants on an accelerated timeline.

A $175 million investment — much of which was announced back in November — includes $104 million for supervised release programs, $35 million for district attorneys, $21 million for the NYPD, $10 million for indigent defense providers, $2.9 million for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, $857,000 for the fire department and $487,000 for the law department.

The job breakdown is 729 staff for the DA’s offices, 250 non-uniform staff for the NYPD, 27 staff for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, nine for the fire department and eight for the law department.

Nick Encalada-Malinowski of VOCAL-NY, which advocated for pre-trial reform, is disappointed with the law enforcement investments.

“As we’ve said for a long time, there needs to be a major financial and political shift to tackle the underlying, intersecting issues of poverty, public health, homelessness and incarceration,” he said.

De Blasio’s overarching concern about the state deficit is merited, according to Maria Doulis, vice president of strategy for the Citizens Budget Commission, a watchdog group.

“When the state has budget problems, that almost always means cuts to local governments,” she explained. “And given the city’s size and economic prosperity relative to upstate, the city becomes a particular target for these cuts.”

In a statement to the Eagle, Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever said that the mayor’s criticisms were unfounded ahead of the the governor’s own budget presentation, scheduled for January 21.

“[H]ow the mayor can claim he is reacting to cuts from the state before the state has even proposed a budget is spreading the political cream cheese too thick even for a toasted bagel,” Lever said, mocking the mayor’s recent backfired attempt to commiserate with his constituents on National Bagel Day.

During a question and answer session Thursday, de Blasio alluded to the “next big pieces” of his mayoral agenda, but declined to provide any examples.

“There will be opportunities coming up as the budget picture clarifies to define the next big pieces of the agenda,” he said. “But this is not that day.”

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