- Associated Press - Thursday, May 8, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his first executive budget Thursday, a $73.9 billion proposal in line with his reflexively liberal vision of greater government involvement for the less fortunate.

De Blasio devoted much of his financial resources to create a budget - which now will be subject to negotiations with the City Council and must be approved by July 1 - that backs up the campaign promises that ushered him into office in January, when he became the city’s first Democratic mayor in a generation.

“Budgets are not just a collection of numbers,” the mayor said during a presentation at City Hall. “They are not just a collection of documents. They reflect a statement of values.”

His signature campaign pledge was to fund universal prekindergarten and expanded after-school programs for middle-schoolers with a tax hike on the city’s wealthy. When that idea died in Albany, the state government stepped in with $300 million for pre-K but little for the after-school programs, prompting the mayor to proposing spending $145 million in the next fiscal year to expand programs for nearly 100,000 children.

The city’s improving fiscal outlook has led to increased revenues, allowing the budget to contain new expenditures without service cuts.

Some areas where de Blasio is increasing spending also dovetail with his goal of fighting income inequality by helping those who felt left behind by 12 years of what they viewed as ex-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s business-centric policies. De Blasio is adding $70 million to the housing authority’s repair budget and increasing services for the homeless, whose numbers expanded under Bloomberg.

De Blasio repeatedly peppered his remarks with the need to do more for the poor and working class but vowed to be fiscally prudent in preparing a budget larger than those used by the majority of U.S. states.

“There are some that have trouble equating fiscal responsibility with progressive values,” he said. “If you believe in the positive role of government, as I do, then you need a strong and stable foundation.”

The budget, which updates a preliminary version released in February, also contains spending increases for infrastructure and road repair, in the wake of a brutal winter that wreaked havoc on city roadways. The mayor also wants to spend more on a series of steps, from speed cameras to speed bumps, aimed at reducing pedestrian deaths in the city.

De Blasio also plans to ease some fines for small business, another campaign promise of his, which will mean an 8 percent drop in that source of revenue, from $859 million in 2012 to $789 million in the upcoming fiscal year.

Looming over the city’s fiscal picture are the expired contracts of more than 150 unions. But de Blasio believes that the $5.5 billion tentative agreement with teachers reached last week sets a pattern for negotiations with other unions that the city can afford. If the same template is applied to other unions, the city would realize $3.4 billion in health care cost savings by 2018, and those savings are the offset for the increased expenditures elsewhere in de Blasio’s budget.

But some unions - notably the one representing rank-and-file police officers - have already demanded larger raises than the ones the teachers received. Moreover, the budget’s relatively rosy budget projects for the next few years do not account for the bulk of the $4.3 billion in retroactive pay due the teachers, which won’t begin being paid out until 2019.

De Blasio warned that the city’s fiscal outlook still faces challenges. His team projects New York will face a $2 billion structural deficit for the fiscal year that begins in July 2015.

“We are sober about what we need to address,” he said.

The process has been far less rancorous than the battles that dominated the final budgets of the Bloomberg era. Those were marked by the so-called “budget dance” in which Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-independent, would propose cutting services such as firehouses and libraries and then the Democratic-controlled council would restore them. The council now is closely allied with de Blasio.

However, there were areas of disagreement. In the council’s April budget proposal, it advocated for free school lunches, an idea that de Blasio did not include in his plan. The mayor also rejected the council’s proposal to hire 1,000 police officers, saying that the NYPD’s current 35,000-person headcount was keeping crime low.

Council hearings on the budget begin next week.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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