Mayor Bill de Blasio revealed his first preliminary budget of the Trump-era today—$84.67 billion in expenses for Fiscal Year 2018, and $84.6 billion for improving and maintaining city infrastructure over the next decade—a budget devoid of any allowances for federal funding changes under the new Republican order in Washington, D.C.
President Donald Trump has vowed to cut off all funding to “sanctuary cities” like New York that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities, while GOP leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have long sought to slash federal spending across the board. City Comptroller Scott Stringer has identified $7 billion in outlays that the city could lose annually if the Republicans succeed in their plans
Yet the liberal Democratic mayor ardently insisted that it would be “irresponsible” for him to curtail his fiscal ambitions at this point, given Trump’s political impetuousness and his lack of “popular vote mandate.”
“There are not Trump-specific things in here. I don’t know how many ways I can say it,” the mayor yelled during his press conference in after reporters pressed him for answers about how he was bracing for potential cuts. “Could we confront something absolutely unexpected from Washington? Yes, we could. But from what we know right now the right number to bank on.”
“It would be irresponsible, literally irresponsible, to try to project things where there’s no guideposts at this point,” he continued.
De Blasio labeled Trump “a moving target” and pointed to his perpetually evolving views and proposals. The mayor also highlighted both the influence of Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer—with his 48-member Democratic conference—and direct political action, like Saturday’s massive “Women’s March” demonstrations.
“We’re not going to jump the gun and start filling in the blanks on something that might not happen. Let’s try and stop it from happening first,” the mayor said, vowing to rally with other mayors and advocates to fight potential cuts. “I believe he respects strength, and responds to strength, not weakness.”
De Blasio said he believed he might have a clearer idea of how funding streams from D.C. might change when he puts out his full executive budget in late April. Last June, the Council signed off on a $82.1 billion budget, up from $78.5 billion the previous year, only to see the mayor tack on an additional $1.3 billion in November during the annual adjustment process.
For now, the mayor’s office appears to anticipate a $1.6 billion drop in outlays from Washington from last year, offset somewhat by a $367.7 million influx from Albany—where his rival Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a hostile Republican-run State Senate will determine many of the spending priorities.
The mayor said his office had identified $1.1 billion in savings, particularly in its workforce healthcare costs, and had pledged to find $500 million worth of further efficiencies across all agencies. It also intends to bring its pension trust funds to $4 billion and to baseline $250 million for its general reserve for each of the next four years.
But he also boosted spending overall: $4.5 million to anti-gun violence programs, $495 million for almost 38,500 new public school seats, $6.3 million for school crossing guards, $71.3 million to accelerate Internet speeds at public schools, $28.9 million for special education, $46.7 million for youth summertime programs, $6.2 million for”beacon programs” at community centers sited at school buildings, $20 million to restore the Bronx’s Orchard Beach Pavilion and $627 million for road repavings and various street improvements. It also allocates $303 million to complete a new tunnel linking New York City to its upstate drinking water reservoirs, $571 million for bridge maintenance and repair, $1 billion for roof repairs at the New York City Housing Authority, $478 million to bring more public ramps into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, $5.2 million for bullet-proof window inserts on NYPD patrol cars and $275 million to upgrade a police shooting range in the Bronx.
Tax revenues in Fiscal Year 2017 fell $125 million short of expectations, but the city received $1.5 billion more than anticipated from the federal government and the state. The preliminary budget expects the city to collect $2.5 million more in taxes than it did last year, more than three-fifths of it from property taxes—apparently a consequence of increased assessments.
This comes even as de Blasio admitted today that there are signs of “real estate activity slowing” across the five boroughs, which could put a dent in city intakes.
Even left-leaning members of the Council warned that the administration had not sufficiently braced for coming of Trump. Queens Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who chairs the powerful Committee on Finance, suggested the city could lose precious monies for the NYPD for its non-cooperation on immigration issues, while the public hospital network could suffer if the president repeals the Obama-era Affordable Care Act and the school system might lose funding under the policies of U.S. Secretary of Education-designate Betsy DeVos.
The councilwoman, regarded as de Blasio’s favored candidate to replace term-limited Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito next year, indicated the Council’s budget response in March would reflect these concerns.
“We think we should save more. There are probably opportunities to save more,” she said. “Can we do more? I think we can. And we’re going to figure out within our budget.”
Ferreras-Copeland, however, acknowledged that the stock market surge that followed Trump’s win and the president’s promised infrastructure agenda could mean more cash in city coffers.
The mayor has made defying Trump the central theme of his re-election campaign. Today, he reiterated his commitment to “keeping families together”—fighting federal efforts to deport undocumented immigrants unless the individuals have committed violent crimes—and asserted foreign-born business owners are “fueling our economy.”
Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, a Republican close to de Blasio, told the Observer that the potential loss of federal dollars should be a “genuine concern.”
“We’re looking at a staredown which is kind of scary,” Oddo said after an unrelated event this morning, a few hours before the preliminary budget presser. “The president campaigned on it, I think he believes strongly in the anti-sanctuary stance he has. The mayor is equally passionate about his position. At the end of the day, I think you have a New Yorker in the White House I don’t think wants to hurt New York. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Madina Toure contributed reporting to this story.