City Councilman Lew Fidler painted a gloomy picture of New York City’s budget situation, and the last glimmer of hope may have just collapsed.
Fidler took the opportunity to speak on the budget during Wednesday’s 61st Precinct Community Council meeting, pointing out that City Hall was scrambling to negotiate a budget by their July 1 deadline. At issue is that, unlike the state or federal governments, the city government is not permitted to borrow funds for services – it’s required to fund services with actual revenues. So with revenues drying up, the city is leaving no stone unturned in its search for funding.
“It’s going to be a rough couple of days,” Fidler said. “We are going to do our very, very best to take care of our most important priorities: public safety, education, youth programs and our senior programs.”
Despite the desperate situation, Fidler said the city’s negotiations with the Municipal Labor Committee – a coalition of nearly 100 unions representing city employees – could save teachers, libraries, child care services and firehouses. The proposal under consideration would’ve seen $262 million handed over from the unions to the city. And while it all looked promising as Fidler spoke to the crowd, he noted that nothing was certain.
“All of those things can change in a moment,” he said. “If the MLC deal falls apart, you could be … looking at firehouses closing, three day a week library service, we could be looking at draconian cuts to child care, looking at teacher layoffs, child protective services layoffs. So, obviously, I’m rooting for the MLC deal to go through. Nobody, not even Mike Bloomberg … wants to see that final result.”
Unfortunately, things did appear to change in a moment. Talks between the city and MLC collapsed on Thursday, and there’s currently no new talks between the parties scheduled.
Marc La Vorgna, a spokesman for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, said the city had no choice but to reject the unions’ offer because of the condition attached to it. If the city had taken the money, it would have had to agree to move $110 million from a health care reserve fund, which is jointly run by the city and the unions, to another fund — a move that would have allowed the unions to spend the money more freely.
“We remain ready to negotiate on a deal to avoid layoffs and hope we can reach agreement,” Mr. La Vorgna said.
Mr. Nespoli, in a statement, disputed the city’s account, saying the money would have gone to a welfare fund that covers some health benefits, like medication and eye care. He said the rejection made the threat to the city’s schools “more real every day.”
Despite the need for revenue, Fidler stated at a recent meeting of the Madison-Marine-Homecrest Civic Association that the Council would not permit any increase to property taxes. Other means of revenue – including so-called “backdoor taxes” like water bills – are expected to rise.