NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his first executive budget Thursday, a $73.9 billion proposal in line with his reflexively liberal vision of greater government involvement for the less fortunate.
As CBS 2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported Thursday, the de Blasio administration said it has taken a few steps closer to ending the “tale of two cities” that the mayor often referred to during his campaign last year.
De Blasio devoted much of his financial resources to create a budget — which now will be subject to negotiations with the City Council and must be approved by July 1 — that backs up the campaign promises that ushered him into office in January, when he became the city’s first Democratic mayor in a generation.
“If you believe in the positive role of government as I do, then you need a strong and stable foundation to allow us to take the steps we need to, to create more fairness in people’s lives,” he said. “A government that has a strong plan going forward is in the position to do a lot of good for people.”
His signature campaign pledge was to fund universal pre-kindergarten and expanded after-school programs for middle-schoolers with a tax hike on the city’s wealthy.
When that idea died in Albany, the state government stepped in with $300 million for pre-K but little for the after-school programs, prompting the mayor to proposing spending $145 million in the next fiscal year to expand programs for nearly 100,000 children.
The budget sets a goal of 53,000 pre-K seats by September.
Reflecting the city’s improving fiscal outlook, the budget is full of new expenditures with little in the way of new savings.
Other areas where de Blasio is increasing spending also dovetail with his goal of fighting income inequality by helping those who felt left behind by 12 years of what they viewed as ex-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s business-centric policies.
De Blasio is adding $70 million to city housing authority’s repair budget and increasing services for the homeless, whose numbers expanded under Bloomberg.
The new budget also contains spending increases for infrastructure and road repair, in the wake of a brutal winter that wreaked havoc on the city’s roadways. While bicycle proponent Bloomberg wanted to cut the amount the city spent on fixing roads, de Blasio increased it by $49 million.
“This will allow us in fiscal ’15 to resurface 1,000 lane-miles of roads in this city,” de Blasio said.
Kramer reported the mayor had to be dragged to the table on the issue after reports by CBS 2 on potholes, and also by City Councilman Dan Garodnick (D-4th), who said de Blasio’s initial plan merely to adopt the Bloomberg road resurfacing budget was crazy.
“The preliminary budget had insufficient funds to keep our roadways in a state of good repair and protect the infrastructure down below,” Garodnick said. “Whether you’re somebody who uses a taxi or a bus, or you’re driving into town from anywhere, the condition of our roads is a frustrating situation.”
The mayor also wants to spend more money on a series of steps, from speed cameras to speed bumps, aimed at reducing the number of pedestrian deaths in the city.
And while the mayor will make good on a campaign promise to reduce fines paid by small businesses by $70 million, he will not fund two key City Council priorities – universal free school lunches, and adding 1,000 police officers to the streets.
“We think with the resources that we have, we can keep crime low,” the mayor said.
“You’ll be seeing more red-light cameras ahead; continued efforts to lower speed limits; more speed humps,” de Blasio asid.
Looming over the city’s fiscal picture are the expired contracts of more than 150 city unions. But de Blasio believes that the $5.5 billion agreement with teachers reached last week sets a pattern for negotiations with other unions that the city can afford, particularly if the $3.4 billion expected savings on health care can be reached.
But de Blasio warned that the city’s fiscal outlook still faces some challenges. His team projects that New York will face a $2 billion structural deficit for the fiscal year that begins in July 2015.
Although they did not get all they wanted, City Council members seemed happy with the plan because it ended the annual and often ugly budget dance.
“That was always a frustration we had with the former mayor, where you know, he would cut firehouses when he had no intention of ever having them gone – he just wanted to make sure that the City Council paid for it,” said Councilman Mark Weprin (D-23rd.)
Also not in the budget were funds for so-called “member items” or pork-barrel projects, which de Blasio campaigned against them. Councilmen said on Thursday that they will restore the items.
The issue of member items took on added significance Thursday with the indictment of Councilman Ruben Wills (D-28th) on charges of looting pork-barrel money.
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