CIVIC CENTER — Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his initial $73.5 billion budget proposal Wednesday, hammering the Bloomberg administration for saddling the incoming City Hall team with more than 150 outstanding labor contracts that could cost the city billions.
De Blasio began his speech by acknowledging his oft-repeated warning that the city faces an "unprecedented" budget challenge ahead, adding that the outgoing Bloomberg administration not only left the unions without contracts, it also drained $1 billion from a trust fund that pays for retired city workers' health benefits.
"We've already said before this is unprecedented. To say it is unprecedented only begins to explain the depth of the problem," de Blasio said.
"We are very sober about all of these challenges. We are looking each of them in the eye. That does not in any way disssuade us from moving forward with our progressive agenda."
Not since Abe Beame took office in 1974 had so many municipal union workers been working without a contract, the mayor said.
"The way they budgeted was not appropriate. You cannot leave ... entirely open labor contracts across the board," de Blasio said of Bloomberg's union legacy.
"We are left with that burden and we are clear that the only way that gets dealt with is to be respectful... we're also clear we're going to have to find some cost savings," de Blasio said, adding that while Bloomberg started strong on union negotiations, they went downhill quickly.
De Blasio said he wouldn't speak of his own ongoing labor talks, saying the discussions are being conducted in a "very private way, very respectful way."
He said the city has no plan to raise taxes to fund union retroactive pay.
This year's budget and next will be fully funded, de Blasio said, though he warned of gaps that would begin in fiscal year 2016 at $1.1 billion.
De Blasio promised a budget that was fiscally responsible and aggressive in its policy agenda.
“This is a progressive administration. Our budget will be a progressive budget,” de Blasio said.
The budget includes restoring $8.3 million in 2014 for homeless services that was slashed by the Bloomberg administration as well as allocating millions more. The city would also add $4.3 million for community-based mental health funding and other health agency reduction, as well as adding $1.3 million in spending for LGBTQ youth and runaway prevention.
The Department of Sanitation would get an additional $35 million in the upcoming fiscal year to cope with the uptick in winter storms — raising its budget from $57 million to $92 million.
And he bemoaned the "epidemic" of low-paying jobs that are in the city's most emerging sectors — hospitality and tourism, both of which pay an average of $35,000 a year.
By comparison, he said, the emerging tech industry, which he said has added 10,000 jobs in the past five years, pays an average of $100,000 a year.
"This is a great area of growth for the city," de Blasio said of the tech sector, adding that he hopes to boost job training and education programs to help New Yorkers access the industry.
De Blasio vowed to end the "dance" between the mayor and politicians over a threat to close firehouses, saying he was leaving firehouses alone in the coming budget.
In a look back at a number of jobs that were slashed under Bloomberg's 12-year term, de Blasio noted the "epidemic" of hospitals and medical centers that have closed down, including the Peninsula Hospital Center in the Rockaways; St. Vincent's Medical Center in Greenwich Village and St. Vincent's Midtown location; Cabrini Hospital in Harlem; Victory Memorial Hospital in Bay Ridge; Beth Israel Medical Center, Singer Division; Brooklyn Hospital Center, Caledonian Division near Prospect Park, and others.
"All were closed in the last 12 years without a true process that involved the community," de Blasio said, adding that he's working with the state to try to provide assistance to the remaining city hospitals currently in financial distress. "This has been an epidemic and it needs to be addressed."
City Council members were briefed by de Blasio earlier on Wednesday, and generally praised the Mayor's handling of the budget process so far, even if the reality gave them pause.
"He's just expressed interest in things that are important to the mayor and that are also important to the people," said City Council Finance Chair Julissa Ferreras.
Comptroller Scott Stringer called de Blasio's budget "a good starting point for addressing the social and fiscal challenges of our city."
"There are serious fiscal threats on the horizon, stemming not only from the labor contracts, but also an uncertain economic climate and a pattern of disinvestment in New York City by the state and federal governments," Stringer said.
Public Advocate Letitia James said she was encouraged by the increased funding for social services.
"Mayor de Blasio’s progressive budgetary approach is a departure from the last 12 years of budget dances that put firehouses, municipal workers, and crucial services on the chopping block," James said.