Despite Bluster, Council Would Rather Negotiate A Budget
At first glance last Wednesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s executive budget triggered an exchange between him and Council Speaker Gifford Miller that evoked visions of a knockdown, dragout brawl between the two sides in the budget battle.
But in reality, we think there will be an earnest effort on both sides to negotiate a budget that each can live with. That’s the impression we got from an interview with city Councilmember David Weprin (D–Hollis) Council Finance Committee chairman, who’s second in importance only to Miller on council fiscal matters.
However, the negotiations between now and June 5, the deadline for a budget to be presented, could be very tough. A balanced budget must be signed, sealed and delivered by July 1, when it takes effect.
What could make the negotiations so difficult is that at the beginning of the process, both sides are poles apart. If one read only the mayor’s budget, one would think the Council plan doesn’t exist.
•The Council "Education first" budget calls for a surcharge on the city income tax to fund $5 billion to build and repair schools.
The mayor’s plan calls for no new taxes, except increasing the cigarette tax.
•The Council wants the mayor to restore school, senior center, library and parks cuts, but the mayor refuses.
•The Council wants the commuter tax restored, but the mayor disagrees.
The mayor warned several times that a budget must be passed on time or the state Financial Control Board could step in and take over the process.
But Miller didn’t back down, saying, "If we’re unable to work out differences of opinion, of course we’ll pass our own budget."
Weprin said the Council’s objective as negotiations start "is to restore as much as possible to the schools, which are our major priority, which we showed when we restored 100 percent in our budget.
"We’re going to be very strong in the negotiations to get all service cuts restored to schools, seniors, libraries, everything. We hope the mayor will see the light".
And if he doesn’t?
Declining to answer directly, Weprin said, "Well, we’ll be negotiating. We’ll see how things go. It would be a lot easier if we can negotiate things. It’s in everybody’s best interests to negotiate a budget."
Weprin recalled that in 1998, the Council, then led by Speaker Peter Vallone, adopted a budget over that proposed by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The mayor withheld funding for many programs and the whole mess wound up in the courts.
"At that point, they got together and negotiated a settlement, so that’s how it all ended—with a negotiation. We can save a lot of time if we can successfully negotiate things," Weprin concluded.
MONSERRATE SPEAKS OUT: The following day, during day-long demonstrations at City Hall against the mayor’s education cuts, the mayor was accused of favoring wealthy people such as himself in refusing to increase taxes.
Councilmember Hiram Monserrate weighed in with, "Bloomberg should know there’s more to balancing a city budget than corporate finance techniques. It’s about protecting our children’s future."
Monserrate had stated in the days before the mayor released his budget, "The budget should not be used as an excuse to strand Queens school children in broom closets and trailers," referring to the severe overcrowding in the borough’s schools.
ADDABBO BLASTS PARK CUTS: In a prepared statement, Councilmember Joseph Addabbo Jr., Parks Committee chairman, said he will work towards full restoration of $53.7 million in operating expenses and $156.7 million in capital commitments for the Parks and Recreation which Bloomberg cut from the budget.
"Any decrease in park personnel would adversely affect the families of those workers, credible work programs and the condition of our parks," Addabbo (D–Ozone Park) declared. Deteriorating parks would drive people out and encourage crime, he added.
VALLONE JR. URGES:’ KEEP CUNY SCHOLARSHIPS: Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. is sure to make a strong effort to keep the CUNY scholarship program operating. He said a severe cut in the popular program is planned by Bloomberg and it’s wrong. "To date, over 32,000 awards have been granted to New York City high school graduates, both male and female students of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds enrolled in CUNY colleges," he declared in pointing out the merits of the program and the fallacies of Bloomberg’s position on it.
The program was created by former Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. and is named in his honor.
GALLAGHER CONDEMNS SEX BOOK: A book which condones sexual relations between adults and minors was condemned last week by Councilmember Dennis Gallagher (R-C, Middle Village). In a resolution he introduced in the Council, Gallagher declared.
"For an author to write a book encouraging sex with children by adults at a time when sexual abuse of minors has grown to epidemic proportions is not only morally bankrupt but borderline criminal."
The resolution denounces Judith Levine, author of Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex, for her irresponsible views and points to what Gallagher in a release calls a key fact—"that children as young as 12 years old are incapable of giving meaningful consent to sex, and that any sexual consent given by a 12-year-old would be coerced and would cause damage that could last a lifetime."
SEEK FAMILY REP ON WTC PANEL: Members of New York’s congressional delegation have signed off on a letter from Congressmember Joseph Crowley to Governor George Pataki urging him to nominate a representative of the families of the victims of the September 11 World Trade Center attack to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC).
Crowley (D–Queens/ Bronx) says in the letter, "These parents, spouses and children deserve to be given the opportunity to be heard in the decisions regarding the final resting place of so many of their loved ones."
The 16-member, city-state LMDC is being appointed by Bloomberg and the governor.
PRINCIPAL FOR A DAY: Queens Borough President Helen Marshall served last Friday as principal for a day at P.S. 127, the Aerospace and Science Academy, at 98-01 25th Ave., East Elmhurst. The pre-kindergarten to eighth grade school has 1,250 students. The Principal for a Day program coordinates corporate and community involvement in public schools.