Council Members Preview Mayor’s Executive Budget Plan

Bill de Blasio presenting his preliminary budget back in February. (Photo: Poll/The New York Times)

Mayor Bill de Blasio presenting his preliminary budget back in February. (Photo: Pool/The New York Times)

City Council members emerged from a briefing with Mayor Bill de Blasio on his first executive budget plan, set to be presented later this afternoon, reporting few dramatic changes from the preliminary plan unveiled three months ago.

The plan does not appear to include money to hire 1,000 extra police officers or to pay for free school lunches for all school kids–two of the priorities the Council had asked for in its formal budget response, members said. But they nonetheless seemed pleased by what they’d seen.

“It seems, as we expected, when he became mayor that we were going to be like-minded and have a lot of common interests that were going to get taken care of in this budget. And that’s exactly what happen. There are smaller points that we’re going through and hopefully will iron out before it’s all said and done. But this is as close as we’ve been as a council and as an administration when it comes to doing what’s right for the city of New York and being on the same page,” said Councilman Antonio Reynoso, after departing the City Hall meeting with Mr. de Blasio.

Councilman Corey Johnson pointed to several areas of new spending, including more focus on infrastructure.

“Pre-K was prioritized with more specific numbers on the seats and after-school, affordable housing a big centerpieces. There’s also a lot on social services and human services, so whether it be the 30 percent rent cap being fully fulfilled, more supportive homeless services … prioritizing families in NYCHA developments,” he said.

“There was big conversation about capital improvements, there was a big conversation about investing in bridges, putting money towards fixing inadequate infrastructure in the city, which I’m not sure was talked about before in a big way,” he said, pointing to repaving roads and more money for “vision zero,” which aims to eliminate pedestrian traffic fatalities.

The budget also includes additional slots for summer youth employment programs, which will increase enrollment by over 17,000 new seats to serve 33,000 children, according to Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. Mr. de Blasio has also added $145 million to fund 34,000 after-school seats to serve 100,000 middle school students, after Albany lawmakers declined to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for the mayor’s signature universal pre-K push.

Members greeted with the mayor, who led the presentation himself, with a round of “Happy Birthday” in honor of his 53rd birthday today, which was followed by a “spirited” rendition by Councilman Jumaane Williams, who is “the singer of the group,” Mr. Reynoso said.

And overall they left the meeting hopeful that even items not included were still on the table and could make it into the budget before its officially passed at the end of June.

“The negotiation’s not over. This is still the middle of the process. But he’s been adamant that he’d like to end what we’d always called the budget dance,” said Councilman Mark Weprin. “We have many of the same goals as this mayor. There are some issues that as we negotiate we may want to tweak or may want to change, but it doesn’t seem like it will be a contentious budget process … and in the end, we’ll come to an agreement, I think, without much drama.”

Others briefed in the past 24 hours nevertheless complained the summaries were light on specifics–which is emerging as a larger point of criticism of the new administration.

“I think it’s going to leave people wanting more details,” commented one source.

Budget experts will be watching carefully this afternoon to see how much money Mr. de Blasio sets aside to pay for a $5.5 billion contract deal with the city’s teachers’ union, as well as deals with the city’s 150 other municipal labor unions, whose contracts expired before the mayor’s term.

They will also be looking to see how much the mayor sets aside for major initiatives he’s announced since his preliminary budget was unveiled in February, including expense and capital money to finance his major affordable housing plan.

Helping to ease the expense will be money Mr. de Blasio has already socked away in a labor reserve fund, as well as higher-than-expected revenue. As of March, the city was beating the mayor’s budget office’s tax revenue projections by about $400 million, according to Doug Turetsky of the Independent Budget Office, giving the city more wiggle room.

“Things are definitely somewhat ahead of what OMB has been expecting,” Mr. Turetsky said.