- Associated Press - Monday, February 9, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) - Mayor Bill de Blasio outlined his yearly preliminary budget on Monday, taking advantage of the city’s strong economic health to fund services for the less fortunate while also increasing resources to the city agencies that help keep the nation’s largest city safe.

De Blasio outlined a $77.7 billion financial vision that, thanks to higher-than-projected revenues, closes a $1.8 billion deficit and extends the reach of government while not including any tax increases, service cuts or layoffs of municipal workers.

“When we make decisions to invest, we do so in a very targeted manner according to our priorities,” he said during the budget presentation at City Hall. “The goal with each investment is to create a stronger city, a safer city, a fairer city.”

The mayor, a liberal Democrat, was elected in 2013 on a promise to combat income inequality, and many of the spending plans de Blasio announced are meant to reinforce the city agencies at the front lines of that sweeping fight.

More money would be sent to community health initiatives, particularly in poor neighborhoods, to improve conditions in the city’s troubled jails and to combat homelessness. The city also would spend $340 million to expand the mayor’s signature pre-kindergarten program so it can serve 70,000 students this fall. And de Blasio wants to devote $26.4 million to improving service and training at the Administration for Children’s Services, which has been criticized over child fatalities.

Moreover, de Blasio earmarked $5 million to increase staffing to cut down on wait time for the city’s new municipal identification card. Many of those who tried to sign up when the card launched last month were told they would experience lengthy delays, though de Blasio claimed Monday that most of the 260,000 requests will be filled within the next 90 days.

The balanced budget also displays a commitment to New York’s first responders in the wake of de Blasio’s recent rift with the rank-and-file police that appeared to imperil his ability to govern. As part of their uneasy truce, the mayor has used the city’s financial might to address some of the officers’ requests, including millions to replace the NYPD’s aged supply of bulletproof vests.

De Blasio also wants to send an extra $10 million to the city’s dwindling cadet program, which brings law enforcement-minded college students into the department to groom them for careers as police officers. However, the new budget does not include a City Council proposal to hire 1,000 additional officers - an omission that left City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito “disappointed.”

“The Council believes that raising the headcount of NYPD is essential, and we will be advocating it strongly this budget cycle,” said Mark-Viverito, a de Blasio ally who praised much of the rest of the budget.

Additionally, the city is devoting additional resources to hire more Emergency Medical Services dispatchers and staff more ambulance shifts with aims of cutting the response times to medical emergencies.

The average response time was 6 minutes, 50 seconds in 2014, 3 seconds higher than the previous year. City officials said their goal is to cut the average to 6 minutes, 30 seconds.

De Blasio’s plan adds $2 billion in city spending from a year ago, an increase that is largely due to pensions and health care costs for labor settlements. It does not include any tax increases, though it incorporates the corporate tax reform enacted by the state last month, officials said.

While the budget largely painted a rosy picture of the city’s economic health, de Blasio was critical of the state and federal governments for not sending New York its “fair share,” particularly in education and infrastructure funding.

The preliminary presentation was a marked change from a year ago when de Blasio was focused on the fiscal threat posed by the expired labor contracts of all 150 municipal unions.

But the mayor has steadily brokered deals with the municipal workforce, first sealing an agreement with the massive teachers union last spring and watching many others fall in line. Today, 71 percent of the city’s unions have new contracts. Those deals include health care savings which, along with a request for city agencies to eliminate unnecessary expenditures, provides much of the savings in the budget, officials said.

Budget hearings in the council, which is overwhelmingly Democratic, will begin in the next few weeks followed by a revised mayoral budget this spring before a final deal is struck in June. The budget covers the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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