Mayor Says State Budget Cuts Are 'An Outrage'
By Kiratiana Freelon on March 28, 2011 6:31am |
By Jill Colvin
CITY HALL — As Gov. Andrew Cuomo patted himself and fellow state lawmakers on the back after reaching an early deal on the state budget Sunday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg slammed the cuts as "an outrage" and warned that, despite some restorations to city aid, the deal will force more layoffs and another round of new and painful cuts.
The $132.5 billion deal between the governor, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos restores $250 million in funding that the governor had originally slated for the chopping block under his austere executive budget plan.
City officials are still awaiting details from state lawmakers about exactly how much money will be restored to city coffers, but the deal is believed to provide an additional $200 million in state aid, the mayor told reporters outside of City Hall Monday.
That number falls short of the $600 million in additional funding and savings that the mayor has been aggressively lobbying for and which he says is needed to stave off further cuts.
"I think that proportionally the cuts that are inflicted on New York are an outrage," the mayor said, adding that more layoffs will be in store unless the state passes a series of major money-saving reforms, including legislation that would allow the city to reduce its pension obligations.
"We said we would absorb our fair share of cuts provided we got reforms that would allow us to save money. Instead we got cut disproportionately and got no reforms," he said.
Without the reforms, "You're talking about a much smaller workforce," he warned.
The mayor has already asked city agency heads to prepare lists of potential new cuts, in addition to the thousands of teacher layoffs that are already planned.
But United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew disputed the necessity of teacher layoffs in light of the $200 million in extra state aid.
"The children of New York City are too important to be pawns in Bloomberg's political games," he said in a statement.
The new deal, which still must be passed by both houses, includes restoring $272 million in education aid from the $1.5 billion that had originally been slashed across the state.
The deal also includes $86 million in restored funding for higher education, including for SUNY and CUNY community colleges, as well as $15 million more for homeless programs — which a spokesman for the mayor said would likely not be enough to fund the Advantage program, which provides subsidies to help the homeless move out of shelters and into homes.
The plan also restores $91 million in social services spending. But details about how the funds will be distributed across the state remain unclear.
A spokesman for the governor said that the "Title XX" funding needed to keep more than 100 senior centers across the city open has been restored.
"I have received personal assurances from the Commissioner for the Department for the Aging that none of the 105 centers threatened with closure throughout the state's budgeting process will face closure due to shortfalls in the city's budget," City Councilman David Greenfield, who chairs the Senior Center Subcommittee, said in a statement.
But the mayor said Monday that he had heard mixed reports on the fate of the centers, adding that, "it would be really sad if they had to be closed."
The Department of Aging did not respond to a request for comment.
The proposed budget also includes cutting 3,700 state prison beds — a cornerstone of the governor's plan — but facilities have not yet been chosen. Instead, the administration will be given 60 days to weigh its options, although the closures will be "balanced geographically across the state," the governor said.
Aside from the restorations, the proposed budget closely mirrors the governor's original plan. It cuts state spending by more than two percent, reduces Medicaid by $2.8 billion and places a cap on future education and Medicaid spending.
"This is a sobering budget, unquestionably. Government had to tighten its belt," Silver said at a joint press conference announcing the plan, adding that he was able to "achieve critical restorations which will soften the cuts affecting working families, our senior citizens, our most vulnerable populations and the children in our classrooms."
Absent from the plan are extensions of state rent regulations and the so-called "Millionaire's Tax" on high-income earners — which many activists and city lawmakers had fought hard to include.
The Alliance for Quality Education, one group that has been lobbying against the cuts, slammed the deal for excluding the tax, which they argue would help to raise valuable revenue.
"Governor Cuomo's first budget makes heartlessly large cuts to our schools to finance tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires and students in poor and middle class districts will lose the most educationally," the group's executive director, Billy Easton, said in a statement.
"Nobody who cares about students is celebrating this budget. Make no mistake about it: this budget will reduce the quality of education in New York," Easton added.
Still, Silver said he was confident that the tax might someday be revived.
"We still hope to convince our partners it’s the right thing to do," he said.
Cuomo also voiced his support for extending rent regulations, but said the issue should be addressed in a separate bill.
The governor said that he hopes to begin voting on the legislation, which he described as "good news for the people of New York," on Tuesday.
The last time the state passed an early budget was 1983, the year Gov. Mario Cuomo took office, the Post reported.