Gotham Gazette At First Executive Budget Hearing, Council Pushes Unfunded Priorities by Samar Khurshid
The City Council held its first hearing on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $84.86 billion executive budget for fiscal year 2018 on Thursday, and Council members gave the mayor a mixed review for his updated spending plan. They praised de Blasio for increasing funding for a number of recommendations made by the Council and for taking steps to control the capital budget. But, Council members expressed concern that crucial priorities remained unfunded, or underfunded, even as the latest budget plan increased projected spending by $700 million over the preliminary budget released in February.
The hearing kicks off the final weeks of public Council hearings, private negotiations, and lobbying by interest groups and advocates, with the mayor and Council due to agree on an adopted 2018 budget by July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year.
At Thursday’s hearing, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito commended the administration for increasing funding for the Administration of Children Services, for including funds for borough-based jails and an adolescent facility -- measures that are key to the closure of the Rikers Island jail complex -- and for reducing excess capital appropriations by $3.2 billion. The speaker noted that it was a “bittersweet day” for her, since this is the last executive budget process she will participate in (she is term-limited out of office at the end of the year).
Mark-Viverito said she is disappointed that the budget did not expand the Summer Youth Employment Program, a six-week paid jobs program for youth 14-24 years old, from the current baselined 65,000 slots to 80,000 slots for fiscal year 2018. She is “dismayed” that the budget did not eliminate all school lunch fees, which would have done away with the stigma associated with free lunches available to low-income students, she said.
The speaker also said that though the budget deals with excess capital appropriations, it does not include a comprehensive plan to reform the capital planning process, which is home to faulty projections and consistently over budget and late building projects. “My colleagues and I remain worried that this budget continues the practice of committing funds that significantly exceed the city’s ability to actually execute projects,” she said.