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De Blasio Fends Off State's Efforts to Make City Pay More for Services

By Jeff Mays | January 27, 2016 7:38am
 Mayor Bill de Blasio told the state Legislature that mayoral control of schools should be extended for at least seven years as he fought off suggestions from upstate politicians that the city pay more to fund the City University of New York and Medicaid, as well as submit to a property tax cap.
Mayor Bill de Blasio told the state Legislature that mayoral control of schools should be extended for at least seven years as he fought off suggestions from upstate politicians that the city pay more to fund the City University of New York and Medicaid, as well as submit to a property tax cap.
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Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

NEW YORK CITY — Mayor Bill de Blasio told the state Legislature Tuesday that mayoral control of schools should be extended for at least seven years as he fought off suggestions from upstate politicians that the city pay more to fund the City University of New York and Medicaid, as well as submit to a property tax cap.

Last year, the Legislature extended mayoral control of schools for one year. In his budget address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed extending mayoral control for three years.

In testimony Tuesday before a bipartisan joint Senate and Assembly budget committee, de Blasio said long-term control of the schools is necessary so he can make the sort of massive changes that are needed to fix the country's largest district.

"We all remember what the situation was in New York City before mayoral control: The school system was fragmented and inefficient," de Blasio said. "The city did not have the authority it needed to ensure that schools were functioning properly and to bring about needed reforms."

The mayor also spent time advocating against proposed cuts to state funding for CUNY and Medicaid that could cost the city at least $1.5 billion per year.

In his proposed budget, Cuomo suggested that the city pay up to 30 percent of the costs for CUNY and also shoulder the costs of Medicaid increases.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer testified that state spending for CUNY has not kept up with the growth of the state budget over the last seven years. Had it done so, CUNY would have $637 million more on hand to fund the senior and community colleges.

The Professional Staff Congress, the union that represents 25,000 CUNY faculty and staff, has not had a raise in six years.

"We should be doubling down on the economic engine of CUNY, not cutting back," Stringer said.

Legislators questioned de Blasio's arguments against cuts on Tuesday, citing a 2 percent cap on property taxes that other municipalities in the state adhere to. The city is collecting $3.5 billion more in property taxes than it would if the property tax cap were in place, said Sen. Catherine Young, chairwoman of the Senate finance committee.

"We're living under constraint of property tax cap upstate. You don't have that constraint," Young said. "Basically what you're saying is you're demanding more money from the state's taxpayers." 

De Blasio said that type of thinking was wrong because New York City is the economic engine of the state.

"What I'm trying to do in my budget is to keep that going for all of us," the mayor said. "To keep building our economy for the good of all residents of New York state."

Several unexpected financial issues have challenged New York City recently, including $600 million needed to fully fund retiree pension benefits and another $337 million needed to prop up the financially troubled NYC Health + Hospitals, which runs the 11 city hospitals.

State funding to the city has decreased about 10 percent to $10.9 billion, from $12.1 billion between 2009 and 2014, according to an analysis by Stringer.

But Young pointed out that the city is "in a great spot financially" and has an "enormous surplus."

De Blasio, as he said during his preliminary budget presentation last week, stressed the city is girding itself for a financial downturn.

"We know when trouble hits... we are not going to be able to say to you: 'Bail us out,'" the mayor testified.