By Elizabeth Kim
June 14, 2019
Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson have reached what the mayor calls a "handshake" deal on a roughly $92.8 billion city budget for the upcoming fiscal year, a growth of 4% over last year’s plan, with additional funding for school social workers, libraries, city parks, and abortion services.
Despite calls for belt-tightening, the budget agreement, which was on-time and balanced, calls for the largest budget in the city’s history. The deal adds $150 million to the city’s $1.15 billion general reserve, a level that the Citizens Budget Commission said does not adequately prepare New York in the event of a recession.
"It's not enough," said Andrew Rein, the president of the Citizens Budget Commission, calling the deal a "missed opportunity" to maximize the contribution to the city's rainy day fund.
This year, the budget identified a total of more than $300 million in savings, including $25 million from staffing cuts and $20 million eliminated from the Thrive NYC, the $850 million mental health initiative spearheaded by the mayor’s wife, Chirlane McCray, which has come under criticism for lack of accountability.
Rein argued that most of that savings should be put into the city's general reserve.
The actual text of the budget agreement has not yet been formally finalized. But at a press conference on Friday afternoon at City Hall, de Blasio, flanked by City Council members, highlighted spending decisions that he said were designed to make New York a “fairer city.”
Along those lines, the budget addresses several hot-button issues around education.
In response to criticisms and rallies by privately contracted universal pre-K teachers over pay disparities between themselves and those teaching in New York public school system, de Blasio said the city had initiated talks to address that inequity, with hopes of resolving the issue this summer.
“We are literally at the negotiating table now,” he said.
Following the announcement, the United Neighborhood Houses, a policy organization that represents settlement houses hired by the city to be pre-K providers, issued the following statement: “Achieving true salary parity will not happen overnight, but this announcement is a step towards ensuring equity for all early childhood education staff. We look forward to learning more in the coming weeks about how salary parity will be implemented for the staff in community-based early childhood programs.”
The city’s Universal pre-K program is considered de Blasio’s signature education achievement. The latest deal notably adds $25 million to expand program for 3-year-olds, or “3-K,” to 14 districts and 20,000 children by September 2020.
And addressing another intensifying issue in recent weeks, the agreement also sets aside $26 million to fund a total of 285 social workers, including mental health specialists, to work in the city’s public school system. Part of that money will come from Thrive NYC's budget.
City libraries and parks, two enormously popular public resources and closely watched budget items, will also see additional funding.
The city’s library system, which had been facing an $11 million funding cut, would receive an additional $33 million for expenses, a historic high, according to Speaker Johnson. Prior to the Friday’s news, city library officials had launched a campaign against the reduced funding, saying that the cuts would have required some libraries to close on weekends.
Meanwhile, the proposed budget would provide $43 million to hire 150 park maintenance workers. New Yorkers for Parks, an advocacy group, had lead a coalition to lobby the mayor for additional funding as part of a campaign called "Play Fair."
This year’s budget marked the second one negotiated by Johnson, who is openly exploring a bid to succeed de Blasio as mayor of New York City.
He said in negotiating the budget with the mayor, he was guided by the principle, "Do the most good for people who need it the most."
Referring to his childhood, which included periods of economic struggle, he added, "I know how important schools and parks and libraries are."
In a politically — if not financially — significant, gesture, the city plans to allocate $250,000 to help pay for abortions for poor women who have traveled from other states to obtain the procedure in New York City.
City officials have estimated that the money would allow about 500 women to obtain abortions, according to the New York Times.