By MIKE LEE
As hundreds of Occupy City Hall protesters gathered in front of the City Hall steps, the New York City Council passed the $88.1 billion budget for the 2021 Fiscal Year in a midnight vote, after hours of contentious hearings.
The final vote was 32-17, with one member absent.
New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson summed up the difficult evening saying, “Heart wrenching, impossible choices had to be made. It was not easy,” Johnson said.
The current budget was negotiated at a time when New York City is confronted with a $9 billion loss in tax revenue. The Mayor cut his proposed budget by nearly $8 billion. After intensive negotiations with the City Council, $1.1 billion was added to the final fiscal agreement.
Opposition to the budget was strong, with members voting against the size of cuts to the New York City Police Department (NYPD), who were criticized in the aftermath of the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The Floyd murder has sparked daily protests nationwide and has placed the NYPD under severe criticism for its response and long-standing behavior in its policing tactics in communities of color.
Demands to reduce the size of the city’s police force and cut its budget by $1 billion increased in the last month, while a handful of council members refused to support any cuts to NYPD.
However, there were reductions. Outreach services for the city’s homeless will now be conducted by social service agencies, which include DC 37 members, police overtime will be reduced, and this years’ Police Academy class will be canceled.
The $88 billion budget finally agreed upon was a far cry from the initial $95.3 billion executive budget proposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in January before the deadly coronavirus cast its grip on the city. The viral pandemic forced a citywide shutdown in March that devastated the city’s economy, placing an enormous strain on resources and on frontline heroes who battled the virus during its height in late March and April.
The human cost of the COVID-19 pandemic stands at more than 200,000 cases by July 1, with 18,492 confirmed deaths. A hiring freeze is in effect, except for frontline workers such as first responders and city hospital workers.
The agreement also saved $115.8 million for youth summer jobs programs, which, given the dire state of the local economy provides needed experience and income for the city’s disadvantaged youth.
Yet, the 2021 budget includes many reductions to services by the city’s agencies and also cut $65 million from the Fair Fares program that provides half-price Metrocards to low-income city residents.
The Parks Department suffered some cuts to services, including tree pruning and parks maintenance. An estimated 14% was cut from the department budget.
Some 193 Parks workers were laid off. Instead of expanding the PEP and Urban Park Ranger program, which was initially requested in the original Executive budget, the city reduced the headcount of both groups, but saved the jobs of 150 CPWs and Gardeners.
Parks, however, was allocated $9.9 million toward reopening a quarter of the city’s pools. In a statement, the mayor said three pools in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens are slated to be open on July 24, with 12 more opening on Aug. 1. The city’s beaches, including Rockaway, Coney Island, and others in the Bronx and Staten Island, opened on July 1.
Though now passed, the city still faces obstacles as the scene shifts to Washington D.C. where the U.S. Congress continues work on another stimulus package. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill—the HEROES Act—that will provide necessary funding to states, cities, and communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
New York City is counting on that money, plus help from Albany, to prevent further reductions in service and possibly as many as 22,000 layoffs of public workers if Congress and Albany fail to act. The mayor is also working the city’s labor unions to find an additional $1 billion in savings that can help avert the proposed layoffs.
At a June 24 press conference, the mayor warned, “The last resort would be the thing I don’t want to do and none of us should want to see happen—taking away the jobs of city workers.”
DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido thanked city leaders and the City Council for passing the budget during the worst financial crisis the city has faced “in generations,” but he remained firm against further layoffs later this year.
“While mass layoffs still loom large, we are ready and willing to do our part in addressing the City’s current fiscal problems. However, what we will not accept is the layoffs of 22,000 municipal workers, many of whom were deemed essential, and showed up to work every day to help mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Garrido said.
“We call on our elected leaders in Albany and in Washington to work with the City to address the financial challenges ahead.”