Some victories and more battles on NYC budget

NEW YORK – Billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council yesterday reached agreement on, and signed off on, this city’s fiscal year 2011 budget, scheduled to go into effect at midnight. And while it contains significant cuts to vital social services, and much to be desired on the revenue side, the City Council, buoyed by a huge outpouring of rage from city residents and workers, was able to turn back some of the worst aspects of Bloomberg’s austerity budget.

Still, says Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Melissa Mark Viverito, D-Manhattan, the budget “has some of the deepest cuts this city has seen in recent memory, including reductions to basic municipal and social services.” According to Viverito, the cuts totaled about $1 billion.

The lessons from this less-than-stellar outcome are simple: if there is enough organization, even the power of Bloomberg and his backers can be held back and, further, much more work is needed going forward.

In addition to the huge mobilizations, through rallies, letter-writing campaigns and other means, by the city’s labor movement, community groups, religious organizations and thousands of others affected by the proposed cuts, much of the credit for what victories there were should go to the council’s 12-member Progressive Caucus.

Bloomberg’s original plan of laying off thousands of teachers was defeated outside the council. After the United Federation of Teachers and education advocates fought back, Bloomberg retreated, saying that he would instead hold off on teachers’ pay raises. Averting the layoffs was a huge victory over Bloomberg, and now the UFT is planning to step up its contract fight.

The council overwhelmingly approved the compromise budget on June 29 by a vote of 49-1.

The reversals from Bloomberg’s original proposal will leave open city pools, save at least half the senior centers that were on the chopping block, allow libraries to remain open longer, fund the public advocate’s office and save a number of day care centers. No fire engine companies will be closed and 72 child care classrooms, 3,000 preventive services slots and 200 child services positions were also restored.

But Bloomberg ultimately remained opposed to asking Wall Street and the richest New Yorkers to pay their fair share, Viverito said, and the mayor is “again asking working New Yorkers to bear the largest burden of these painful cuts.”

And the cuts are painful: 25 senior centers will close, at least 1,000 city workers will be laid off, plus 2,000 teachers and 4,200 others will be cut through attrition. Day care centers for seniors, adult literacy programs, afterschool programs and other areas also fell victim to the budget ax. According to the caucus’s other co-chair, Brad Lander, D- Brooklyn, every city agency will see at least some cut.

The $63 billion budget includes the $397 million the council added to the budget to restore some of the mayor’s cuts.

Much of the commercial media has been on the offensive against council members themselves for their so-called “pork” spending. While the tabloid press has overwhelmingly deemed this spending irresponsible giveaways to friends of politicians, the vast majority of the spending goes to socially useful purposes, including cleaning up graffiti, senior services, domestic violence support centers, food pantries and so on.

Councilmember Daniel Dromm argued that, though the proposals of the Progressive Caucus, of which he is a member, were not enacted, they are even more relevant for next year, given that the city is likely to face a worse budget crisis then. Those proposals include taxing people who make over $250,000 per year, a tiny tax on stock transfers and other revenue raising proposals that would slightly affect the rich, and possibly eliminating city income taxes on those who make less than $40,000 per year.

Photo: With some library cuts averted for now, the famous lion at New York’s flagship 42nd Street public library may be sleeping well tonight. cc 2.0