CITY HALL — Mayor Michael Bloomberg presented a budget proposal Thursday that despite being far less painful than in previous years, still included a host of controversial cuts, including fire company closures and the elimination of tens of thousands of child-care slots.
The $68.7 billion budget, unveiled at City Hall, includes no new teacher layoffs and no additional cuts from those laid out when the administration previously updated its budget in the fall.
“It has no tax increases, no layoffs of teachers or uniformed workers, and no walking away from our long-term investments,” said the mayor, who credited prudent fiscal planning for avoiding more draconian cuts.
The administration also got a lifeline from the city’s Independent Actuary's office, which has recommended decreasing the rate of return for the city’s pension investment fund from 8 to 7 percent. But instead of forcing the city to cover the difference at once, the actuary proposed a plan that would spread the cost over 22 years, saving $400 million dollars per year in previously anticipated costs.
While the recommendation appears to be a hail mary for the coming year, Bloomberg, who sounded somewhat uneasy with the plan, warned the city wasn’t off the hook.
“That is an obligation we have just transferred to our children,” he said.
Bloomberg also pointed to rising pension costs as a dire threat to the city's finances, warning it has a "ticking time bomb" on its hands.
The city's pension rate has increased nearly 500 percent over the past decade, he said, noting that the cost of paying pensions for the city’s uniformed workers and teachers for the first time will exceed the compensation being paid to current employees.
“We just don’t have much time left to fix the problem,” the mayor said, warning that the 2014 budget is especially worrisome, with an expected gap of $3 billion between projected expenses and revenues, and no rainy-day fund left to pay the bills.
Critics, however, focused in on the cuts, saying they were dismayed to see fire companies back on the chopping block and so many child-care slots at risk.
“Why throw so many kids overboard? It makes no sense,” said Public Advocate and presumed mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, who said that 16,000 day-care seats were set to be eliminated, in addition to thousands of after-school slots, bringing the total to 40,000 fewer kids served.
“It’s inexplicable to me that they’re singling them out in this manner,” he said, calling it a “double-whammy” for low-income families struggling to hold down jobs and raise their kids.
City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, chair of the Fire and Criminal Justice Services Committee, warned the plan to shutter 20 fire companies would put New Yorkers at risk.
"Closing even a single fire company in New York City will lead to increased response times, more fire fatalities, and millions of dollars in property damage,” she said.
In previous years the council has kept the companies from closing by adding funding later in the budget process.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn cited the firehouses, as well as major cuts to libraries, after-school programs and the Chief Medical Examiner’s office, as her top concerns.
She also said the budget relies too much on fees and fines for revenue-raising.
"We shouldn’t be harassing business and property owners with frivolous violations to bring in more revenue," she said.
Even before the budget details were announced, City Council members and advocates were rallying on the steps of City Hall.
Upper West Side City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who was among those in attendance, said the mayor has repeatedly balanced the budget on the backs of the poor and middle class, calling for new streams of revenue in place of cuts.
“We need to share the sacrifice,” said Rodriguez, who said he was especially concerned about firehouse and library cuts.
“What we see today is the beginning of the conversation,” he said.
The mayor’s budget announcement typically kicks off a heated round of budget hearings and rallies before his office and the City Council agree on a deal by the end of June.
Quinn's office said the hearings will begin the week of March 5.