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Mayor de Blasio unveiled a $98.6 billion spending plan Monday — a budget buoyed considerably by the recent federal stimulus package and one that’s $10 billion more than last year’s.
The previous year’s $88.1 billion budget included significant reductions due to the pandemic, but with about $15 billion in aid now coming from the feds, increased projected tax revenue and a new state budget that significantly increases education funding to the city, de Blasio painted a rosy picture for the next fiscal year, predicting his added spending would help jump-start the city’s recovery.
“These investments are about bringing the city back, and they just can’t wait,” he said at a Monday afternoon press briefing. “Sometimes you have to spend money to make money. This is a case where we have to take full advantage of this recovery moment. We have to double down now, and that’s going to give the next mayor, the next administration, the best chance to move this city forward.”
The new budget places a big emphasis on education and will benefit significantly from an additional $1.1 billion a year to the city included in this year’s state budget.
Much of the new spending on education in the city will go toward making pre-kindergarten for all 3-year olds available by 2023. The projected cost for that is $377 million in the coming year, and it will be paid for through federal stimulus money. Beyond 2023, city officials project it will be paid for through projected increases in revenue that are, at least in part, contingent on the city’s post-pandemic economic recovery.
Fiscal watchdogs voiced skepticism over the rosy forecast though, especially given that most of the federal money will run out within two years. Andrew Rein, president of the Citizens Budget Commission, said there’s no guarantee the city will have the cash to continue funding 3K for all and other programs and said the mayor should do more to bolster the city’s long-term fiscal viability.
Rein also pointed to $1 billion in “unspecified” labor savings the city is projecting in the coming years as lacking detail and not something he’d bank on actually happening.
“Despite the additional $15 billion in federal aid and billions in additional tax revenue, future budget gaps remain essentially unchanged, at roughly $5 billion annually in fiscal years 2023 to 2025,” he said. “No matter how worthy the programs may be, this sets them up to fall off future budget cliffs since there are no efforts to identify efficiencies that could generate the resources to support the programs over time.”
He described the city’s new savings regimen as “anemic” and much too reliant on savings that don’t recur from year to year.
De Blasio seemed to brush off such concerns Monday, contending that the recovery depends on an immediate influx of lots of cash and predicted that the city’s total cash reserves would hit more than $4.5 billion in the next fiscal year.
Under his budget, an additional $500 million will go towards bringing students back up to academic speed after a pandemic-marred school year marked by the vast majority of students working remotely for most of the year. The city also plans to pour $155 million into information technology to ensure kids are tech literate at a time when the Department of Education has become increasingly reliant on reaching students through laptops and tablets.
As part of his push to reform policing in the city, de Blasio will also expand on a pilot program in several police precincts that dispatches EMS workers and civilian mental health professionals to certain emergency calls. That will now be expanded citywide at a projected cost of $122 million per year.
De Blasio also touted his “New Deal-style” job creation program, which aims to give 10,000 New Yorkers work as part of a Clean-Up Corps tasked with tidying up streets, removing graffiti and generally beautifying the city. That will cost $234 million next year.
Hizzoner predicted that by the end of this year, the city will create 400,000 jobs, which will fuel further growth and would justify investing so much money on the recovery’s front end.
“We have to help families through this crisis, and we have to do the kinds of things that’ll bring back jobs,” he said. “’ I hear it all the time: What will cause people to want to build businesses here or create more jobs here? Strong schools, safety, clean environment — all the things we’re investing in.”