Mayor holds firm on budget cuts to child care, fire companies

Mayor Bloomberg presented his budget at City Hall and warned of tougher cuts ahead. Photo: Alexander Hotz

Mayor Michael Bloomberg presented his 2013 executive budget Thursday, which still includes the controversial closure of 20 fire companies and the elimination of approximately 47,000 child care and after school slots.

The administration did, however, set aside additional funding for education. In his February preliminary budget, Bloomberg had asked for the elimination of 2,500 teaching positions.

The Mayor said this year’s $68.7 billion budget, which he unveiled at City Hall, was especially challenging because of lower Wall Street profits. Tax revenues are down $352 million this year largely because of the financial sector, Bloomberg said. Although revenues from the technology, film and television and tourism sectors were up, those funds are not enough to offset Wall Street’s losses.

Bloomberg made sure to tout the city’s job growth, which is outpacing the national average. Only 40 percent of the jobs lost nationally during the recession have been replaced, while New York has regained 180 percent of the jobs it lost.  “Private employment is at a record in New York City,” said Bloomberg. “We haven’t seen these numbers since 1969.”

Shortly after the Mayor released his budget, critics were quick to attack the administration for not doing more to support early childcare programs. Under the Mayor’s proposed budget, $170 million would be cut from the Department of Youth and Community Development and Administration for Children’s Services. According to the city’s own numbers, services for 47,000 children — 6,000 childcare slots and 31,00 are after school slots – would be eliminated. Most of these children come from low-income working families.

Public Advocate and prospective mayoral candidate Bill deBlasio was one of the first to pounce, with a statement that “the Mayor is handing down a hefty bill that will come due in future budgets and future generations.”

Children’s advocates, joined by council members Ydanis Rodriguez and Robert Jackson, gathered on the steps of City Hall shortly after the Mayor’s press conference and said they would continue to fight to restore child care funding. The mayor must negotiate a final version of the budget with the City Council by June.

“It’s great that the mayor put money back in for education,” said Katherine Eckstein, director of public policy at The Children’s Aid Society. “But you can’t then simultaneously undermine the investments in education by cutting the very programs that prepare children for school — early childhood programs.”

United Neighborhood Houses had harsher words for the Mayor. In a statement the organization called the administration’s failure to fund childcare and after-school programs “disgraceful.” Half of its member organizations’ Out of School Time programs would be closed, leaving about 6,000 children without childcare if the Mayor’s budget was approved, it said.

This year’s executive budget was cobbled together with the help of two high-stakes bets and an unexpected windfall. Crucial to education funding this year is a yet-to-be-brokered deal between the United Federation of Teachers and the Bloomberg administration. Included in Bloomberg’s education budget is $300 million from the federal government, but the city can only get that aid if it can cooperate with the union to implement a new teacher evaluation system. The city has until January 2013 to reach an agreement; otherwise amendments to the education budget will be necessary to compensate for the loss of funding.

Another gamble is the planned July sale of $1 billion in new taxi medallions. This important revenue source could be held up by two ongoing lawsuits. At the press conference the mayor made clear that he was counting on the city’s head lawyer to prevail. “Michael Cardozo better win,” Mayor Bloomberg quipped.

The city also got lucky. To help plug this year’s almost $500 million budget gap, the administration is using $466 million it won in a settlement from Science Applications Intentional Corporation, the company behind the City Time contract scandal.

But barring another City Time surprise, Bloomberg acknowledged that 2014 would “really be a challenge.” This year the city will deplete its Retiree Health benefit Trust Fund, a nest egg it has raided for years to fill its budget gap. Going forward the mayor predicted that the city would have to tighten its belt even more with future cost-cutting programs. In 2013, the so-called Programs to Eliminate the Gap resulted in annual savings of over $6 billion.

“If we don’t get the billions we need we will have to cut services dramatically,” Bloomberg said.

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