The City Council was talking of “victories for the people,” while Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Gifford Miller excitedly shook hands on June 19 to symbolically seal their budget agreement for Fiscal Year 2003.
as the news was heralded this week, the tough question remained: What does
the budget really mean to the people of Queens?
Councilwoman Helen Sears told the Tribune and the people of Queens
plainly, “That budget, my God, it’s their life. It’s this budget, when
they walk out their front doors, that ensures that they have a
quality-of-life. That their children receive the best education, that their
basic services are provided, that they have senior centers to go to, that
they have day care slots to use . . . It’s this budget that structures the
lives of New Yorkers.”
budget agreement made last week – which distributes $42.3 billion and
restores $475 million of the $1.4 billion originally slated to be cut by
Bloomberg – includes no cuts to Queens classrooms, six-day-a-week library
service, the continuation of paper and metal recycling, a $1.42 tax increase
on cigarettes, $1 million for the College Point Sports Complex, $300,000 for
ferry service to the Rockaways, and the continued operation of the
borough’s cultural programs, among other things.
it also includes a $693 million cut to the Board of Education’s capital
plan, which school officials say will delay the construction of 7,000 new
school seats in Queens, something the borough is in desperate need of.
Council voted to pass the budget on June 21, and now the City is awaiting
Bloomberg’s signature, which at presstime was expected any day, but has to
happen before June 30.
While the City Council has been proudly discussing its restoration of nearly $300 million in funding that Bloomberg proposed to cut in his executive budget, Board of Education officials are warning Queens residents that a major cut to capital projects could hurt the school system more than help it.
to Queens Councilmembers, their ability to restore all $298 million in
proposed cuts to New York City classrooms was their proudest achievement in
the budget process. The highly-publicized restoration means ongoing
after-school and arts programs, better classroom technology, improved text
books and equipment, and a better school environment for Queens students,
according to Councilman David Weprin.
has not been publicized, however, is a $693 million cut from the Board of
Education’s capital plan, which funds school construction and is key in
stopping the borough’s severe school overcrowding problem.
explained that the Board of Education’s capital budget cut was part of a
necessary $3 billion to $4 billion cut to the City’s overall capital
budget. He said, “No schools have been selected so far to be delayed
because of the cuts. We don’t know if Queens schools will be cut. Come
July 1, it’s all negotiable.”
Queens Board of Education member Terri Thomson told the Tribune,
“That will absolutely devastate Queens. All we’ve been hearing is that
schools have not been cut. Well in Queens alone, we are short 25,000 seats,
and the budget cut to capital projects will delay the construction of 7,000
new seats. We can’t delay these projects any further. We simply cannot.”
Councilman Leroy Comrie agreed with Thomson, and said, “Those cuts are going to harm Queens more than any other place because we are so overcrowded . . . That was a $700 million gap that we just couldn’t close because we didn’t have enough tax revenues coming in.”
focusing on children, the City also restored $14 million of Bloomberg’s
proposed $28 million cut for the New York City Department for the Aging,
allowing weekend meal service for seniors to continue and senior centers to
remain fully funded.
Queens senior center closest to being shut down because of budget cuts was
the JASA Whitestone Senior Center in Whitestone, one of seven specific
centers that the Department proposed to close as a result of Bloomberg’s
addition to senior centers, the Mayor restored $400,000 and the Council
$25,000 to the elder abuse program Walk the Walk in the budget. The program
includes a center for abused seniors that is currently being constructed in
Western Queens. In Bloomberg’s original budget, all funding was pulled
from the program, which would be the first of its kind in the country. With
the restored funding, the program can continue to build its center, which is
expected to open as scheduled.
the restoration of funds to schools and seniors were at the top of almost
every Councilperson’s list of budget positives, Councilman Peter Vallone,
Jr., who is also the Council’s Public Safety Chairman, was most proud of
the fact that, “the streets will be safe because not one cop will be
proposed budget called for the next class of New York Police Department
recruits to enter the academy later in the year instead of July when they
are supposed to, delaying when they get out on the street. The budget that
passed last week keeps recruits entering the academy in July.
were made to the Police Department and Fire Department, according to Vallone,
Jr., but he said, “The bottom-line is, nothing in the City was going to go
totally unaffected. But it’s important to have enough officers on the
street, and that’s what we were able to keep . . . Most of the cuts, as in
all the agencies, were administrative cuts.”
cultural institutions – from Flushing Town Hall to Alley Pond
Environmental Center to the Queens Museum of Art to Bayside Historical
Society to P.S. 1 – were originally slated to be cut 15 percent in an
across-the-board cultural cut proposed by Bloomberg in his budget. Under the
new budget, the paintings, plays and programs that these institutions offer
will only be cut five percent.
addition, the New York City parks Department, an agency that has been cut 40
percent over the past 15 years, was slated for huge cuts to its operating
budget, but the City budget agreement restored $7.5 million. This will allow
full maintenance of Queens Parks to continue.
residents who want to stay indoors and read, the Queens Borough Public
Library will be able to stay open six days a week as a result of $7 million
in funding that was restored in the new budget. Bloomberg’s original
budget cuts to libraries would have forced many branches to close on
balance the budget, the Council instituted several taxes that will “impact
the lives of Queens residents directly,” according to Weprin. Comrie said,
“We needed revenue to balance the budget and we instituted taxes. These
are real taxes. People need to realize this.”
smokers will have to pay $1.42 more for a pack of cigarettes in the new
Fiscal Year, according to Weprin, because the cigarette tax has been
increased from eight cents to $1.50. There will also be a surcharge on every
phone call made from a cell phone in New York City, and parking violation
fines are scheduled to go up. Weprin said, “All sorts of fines for
violations will go up to get revenue. Sanitation violations and so on will
all cost people more.”
Jr. said, “I’m proud of what the Council did without raising property
Jim Gennaro agreed, saying, “To do what we did without raising property
taxes is an enormous feat.”
most Councilmembers called the budget a “victory,” there were some items
that they did not win.
councilmembers pointed to the budget’s addition of 3,000 day care slots to
the City system, and said they are not enough to meet the City’s demand.
Comrie said, “There is a waiting list for day care slots of 5,000 people
in New York City. We just can’t meet the needs of everyone in the City. We
can’t build at a fast enough rate. That will definitely impact my
addition, although the budget agreement allowed paper and metal recycling to
continue, plastic recycling was suspended one year and glass recycling was
suspended two years.
Weprin said, “We really wanted to keep the recycling program in
full, and that was one of our sticking points. But barring any legislation,
those programs will be back after their suspended time.”
budget agreement also slightly cuts back on supplemental garbage pick-up in
busy areas like downtown Flushing and Forest Hills. Katz said the Council
also wished there was money for health care research, but said, “This is
the fairest budget we could put together with the money we had. Basically,
anything we really fought for within reason we were able to secure.”
process of crafting a billion-dollar budget begins when the Mayor proposes a
preliminary budget. The Council responds with its own budget, and then the
Mayor responds with his executive budget. Budget hearings then begin, when
City organizations go before different Council committees and explain why
they should be given money. Councilmembers listen to their constituents, and
negotiate with the Mayor to save programs in their districts.
then continue until an agreement is made. The City is required by law to
have a balanced budget by June 30, the day before the new Fiscal Year
begins. Once an agreement is made, the Council votes for it, then the Mayor
|E-mail the Trib|