NEW YORK - Public budget hearings June 6 gave City Council members and citizens an opportunity to push back against Mayor Michael Bloomberg's budget plan. As presently proposed, it calls for $670 million in cuts.
Hearings started at 9 a.m. while a rally by dozens of children who would be directly affected by the cuts to the Administration for Children's Services took place outside on the steps of City Hall.
Inside, Mark Page, the city budget director, answered questions put forward by Council members.
Early on, some 30 clergy stood up holding signs that saying "No Cuts." When told by chamber security that if they did not sit down they would have to leave, they walked out of the chamber in silent unison, making their position on the cuts clear.
Council member Domenic M. Recchia, Jr. chaired the hearings, which went on into the early afternoon, and presided into the evening for public testimony.
Council member Ydanis Rodriguez, a Democrat representing the 10th Council District in Manhattan gave a strong statement addressing Mr. Page and the Budget Committee, suggesting that instead of cutting services to the poor, working-class families, they should go to those who have benefited monetarily - and in many other ways - from the labor of NYC working families. He then proceeded to give Mr. Page a detailed breakdown on how to restore the funds.
Some examples given were: Unincorporated Business Tax - $235 million; unclaimed DOE Medicaid reimbursements - $358 million. Tax abatements to large developers would save millions of dollars. Oddly, when Mr. Page responded, he mentioned property taxes as though property taxes were the only avenue to capture the needed funds.
Council member Robert Jackson, D-Manhattan, brought the cuts to services down to the basics. He pointed out that the lost jobs to city residents, many of whom are at the lower end of pay scales and will find themselves going back into the "system"; i.e., depending on city subsidies that in the long run will cost the city more money than keeping people gainfully employed.
Other Council Members asking questions of the Budget Committee were Democrats Letitia James of Brooklyn, Oliver Koppell and Annabel Palma of the Bronx, Karen Koslowitz of Queens, Melissa Mark-Viverito of Manhattan and others.
Koslowitz gave moving testimony of her own personal experience as a single parent who depended on the after school program in her neighborhood: "What would I have done without these services? I would have had to go into the welfare system instead of being a productive human being paying taxes and contributing to the city and my community.'' She then asked the committee to restore $170 million in cut funding to ACS.
The Willets Point project in Queens came into play when the committee was asked what progress was being made. Mr. Page could only say that of the $400 million that has been budgeted, $250 million has been allocated at this time. He could not give any more information on the project to the dismay of Council member Julissa Ferreras, D-Queens and Recchia, who commented, "Willets Point is a big problem with this Council."
During the public's time to testify, an alumnus of the city-funded Relationship Abuse Prevention Program said, "Abused, lost and confused, the RAPP program found me and nurtured me back to life. If it were not for the RAPP program, you would not see the strong indomitable women you see standing before you today. I'm in college working towards my bachelors in social work and have the will power to change the world."
RAPP is a school-based program, one of the most extensive domestic violence prevention programs in New York City.
Negotiations over the cuts continue. The budget is to be voted on by the end of June.