Mayor de Blasio's preliminary $84.7 billion budget for the twelve months starting this July, which he announced Tuesday, includes hundreds of millions of dollars to repair leaking roofs at NYCHA buildings, and add 40,000 public school seats by 2025. There's an additional $400 million for Vision Zero, including nearly triple last year's funding for bike lanes. It's also de Blasio's first budget under the Trump administration, amid threats of funding cuts to so-called "sanctuary cities," and in the face of a Republican-majority Congress. In a Tuesday budget presentation titled "New York Stands Strong," the mayor acknowledged that the entire funding plan is rolling out "against a backdrop of a lot of uncertainty.""
Briefing reporters, de Blasio voiced his concerns upfront. "We all understand we're dealing with the great unknown," he said. "The president has said a lot of things. He's also changed his mind on a lot of things, and very little has been put into written proposals."
These concerns, however, are not reflected in the preliminary budget. "It's a budget that focuses on what we can do for ourselves while we wait to see the shape of things in Washington," he said.
Of the total $84.67 billion proposed budget, about $7 billion has been preliminarily set aside as federal funding. This is less than half of the projected State commitment, of $14.6 billion. The ten-year capital spending plan, for infrastructure projects, is $89.6 billion, with $3.5 billion in assumed federal commitments.
"Federal funding is not as big a piece of the budget as people think," said Maria Doulis, director of city studies for the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan research group that analyzes city and state spending.
"But," she added, "a lot of the federal dollars are for programs that help low-income people. Federal funding goes predominantly toward social services, education and health. To the extent that the federal government pulls back on these things, it will put pressure on the state and the city. And there is a limit to how much the city can do to address these needs on its own."
Mayor de Blasio acknowledged five major areas of concern on Tuesday. For one, the NYPD is poised to overrun its overtime budget dispatching security to Trump Tower. Of the projected $35 million for security between November and January, the federal government has so far committed $7 million. New York City's cash-strapped network of public hospitals could also take a hit if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. ("They have a large share of patients who are uninsured and on Medicaid," Doulis explained. "Part of what the ACA did is expand Medicaid coverage.") Public funding for education could also be threatened, as well as funding for storm resiliency and public housing.
"My fear is that affordable housing programs might be one of the first areas they look at," de Blasio said.
But the mayor refused to treat any of the potential funding cuts as a done deal, saying that Trump "respects strength," and that he would match it. "The last conversation I had with Trump was perfectly pleasant on getting the reimbursement for the Trump Tower," he said. "I believe if one is firm and consistent, that is the best way to deal with him, and deal with his team."
In addition to federal funding, Doulis told Gothamist this week that she predicted a "larger, more broad impact" on the budget in the area of tax reform. Both Congress and the Trump administration have said that they would repeal a tax deduction that allows individuals to deduct their state and local taxes from their federal taxes. It's especially beneficial to New York, where these taxes are high.
"To make up for that additional tax liability, the city and state might feel pressure to lower taxes locally, which would mean less revenue for the state and the city," Doug Turetsky of the city's Independent Budget Office told Politico.
That said, President Trump has expressed interest in funding infrastructure projects. Increased funding in that area could go towards a third water tunnel, which Mayor de Blasio is prioritizing with a $303 million commitment in the wake of criticism last spring.
This year's state budget also draws much less heavily on city coffers than it did last year, when Governor Cuomo proposed about $1 billion in city spending, to de Blasio's chagrin.
Throughout the week, de Blasio has reiterated that he is staring down Trump with adequate savings and reserves, totaling about $5 billion.
"Right now we're talking about $5 billion plus in reserves, and that's the kind of buffer that allows us to keep our budget on track and be ready for all sorts of eventualities, whether in the larger economic reality, or whether it's something emanating from Washington," de Blasio said on NY1 on Monday. He added, "It's a buffer, it's also a de facto rainy day fund."
According to the city, about $1 billion of the total is savings accumulated over the past four years. The remaining $4 billion comes from a retiree health benefits trust fund, which the Citizens Budget Commission argues should not be for general use.
"The amount we owe for retiree health insurance is huge," Doulis said. "It's going to get to the point where the benefits paid out each year are so enormous that they swallow the budget. That money should be dedicated to retiree health care expenses, because that's what that fund is there for."
The mayor's office didn't immediately comment on the health insurance funding.
In a statement on the preliminary budget, the City Council said that "more must be done to find additional, lasting savings across all city agencies." At the same time, they asked for more funding for the Department of Homeless Services, citing the current record shelter population. Asked about homeless funding on Tuesday, the mayor said that he has made "a lot of investments." But the preliminary budget shows a smaller investment than last year: $1.43 billion, down from $1.69 billion. (According to the NY Times, the city has alluded to more homeless funding in the final budget.)
"It is disheartening that there was no funding in the budget to move New Yorkers out of hotels or otherwise dedicated to tackling homelessness," stated Public Advocate Letitia James.
The Mayor's Office will hammer out a final budget by March, at which point de Blasio said he hopes Trump will have provided more clarity on his own funding goals.
"Our belief is that by the time of the executive budget at least some of this will be clear and hopefully not as bad as we fear," de Blasio said.
Other priorities in Mayor de Blasio's 2017 budget include:
- $6.3 million to fund 200 school crossing guards and 100 supervisors.
- $5.2 million for bullet-proof window inserts in NYPD vehicles.
- $162 million over the five years to mitigate flooding in Southeast Queens.
- $20 million over two years to renovate the Orchard Beach Pavilion.
- $16.4 million towards faster internet speeds at city schools.
- $147 million to repave 1,300 miles of road.