Thursday, February 24, 2011

State Cuts Blamed for City's Budget Sorrows

By David J. Harvey

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has received the typical lashing from labor leaders, teachers, fire fighters and police since releasing his proposed 2012 budget. Bloomberg, in his defense, has lashed out at the Governor’s office for shortchanging the city.

The proposed $65.6 billion budget, released February 17, includes cutting fire and police departments, while putting thousands of teachers out of work.

In the budget, Bloomberg largely blamed the State’s fiscal irresponsibility for worsening financial conditions in the city.

“Our sound management will help avoid the worst impacts of State cuts, but we can’t compensate for the full loss in State funding,” Bloomberg said. “We’re ready to do our part to help the State, but we don’t deserve to be penalized for our responsible actions. If the State does not come through, layoffs and service cuts will be more severe.”

Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley (D- Middle Village) said the cuts go too far, threatening public safety and forcing the FDNY to “roll the dice” on fire response.

"The State is being unfair in its distribution of funding to the City but it is the Mayor who decides what to cut and what to keep,” Crowley said. “At a time when the City has dumped billions of dollars into a failed 911-system upgrade—and will spend millions more to have NASA try to fix it—the Mayor is reducing FDNY staffing and proposing to close 20 fire companies. Simply put, it doesn’t matter how fancy our 911-system is if there’s no one at the firehouse to answer your emergency call.”

With firehouse closures on the horizon, Crowley sees a smoke signal for disaster.

“As we can see from the deadly fire in Brooklyn last Saturday, closing companies at a time when our fire services are responding to more emergencies than ever before will jeopardize the lives of New Yorkers," she said.

Police stations are also feeling the cut of budget reductions. The 104th Precinct requested consideration in the budget for additional patrol officers—the station is down to less than 130 patrol officers from their optimal 200. While the request is unlikely to be approved, the station did receive one of the city’s deeper financial cuts. Nearly $1.2 million was cut from the already svelte precinct.

Despite the “belt-tightening” Bloomberg has touted for years, several indicators of New York City’s prosperity were highlighted in the budget proposal, from the city’s solid housing market (compared to other major cities) to the record 48.7 million visitors last year. The report also shows that the city has a reserve surplus of $3.2 billion heading into 2012.

The city’s reserve surplus, Governor Andrew Cuomo said this week, could be used to stave off teacher layoffs. Bloomberg responded by saying, "The governor’s office is not an expert on the city.

“We have put an extra $2.1 billion this year into education, at the same time other levels of government are cutting back the amount of money they’re putting into education. I think we would have a little more credibility in speaking about what we can afford," Bloomberg added.

Under the proposed budget, the city’s revenue will increase 5.6 percent. However, expenses—including an increase of $1.86 billion to fund the Department of Educa- tion—were projected to increase 11.5 percent to $49.9 billion, leaving a deficit of $4.6 billion. Without significant cuts, this would pull the city out of surplus and into debt in 2012.

The budget calls for the $1.86 billion in DOE funding in response to state-level cuts of $1.4 billion to the city for education and the loss of $850 million in federal funding dedicated to teacher salaries.

Bloomberg’s budget proposal highlights the decade’s rise in education spending, from $5.9 billion in 2002 to $13.6 billion in 2012. In 2002, non-federal state and city spending on education were equal, according to the budget. In 2012, the report said, city spending will make up 62 percent of non-federal funding and state spending will only account for 38 percent of non-federal spending.

The 2012 budget calls more than 6,000 teachers will lose their jobs, nearly 1,500 through attrition and roughly 4,500 layoffs.

Bloomberg said that before layoffs start, the State needs to approve city changes to the “Last-In-First-Out” policy so qualified teach- ers can remain despite any lack of seniority.
Crowley said the mechanism for eliminating bad teachers and retaining talented ones already exists.

"State budgets cuts to the City do not justify any teacher lay offs—the Governor made this point clear,” Crowley said. "Rather than playing the blame game through the media, the Mayor needs to work with all parties involved."

Meanwhile, the teachers union has launched a $1 million ad campaign that harps on Bloomberg for cutting teachers while leaving a “millionaire tax” out of the budget.

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