Liu: The Upcoming Budget Is ‘A Time Of Choices’
“A time of choices” was how City Comptroller John Liu described the upcoming budget. No longer directly involved in negotiations traditionally between the mayor and the City Council, Liu, a former councilmember still finds ways to help. “My job is to root out the waste,” he told the Powhatan/Pocahontas Regular Democratic Club in Astoria at the club’s March meeting, where he was well received. “[Comptroller John Liu] is someone we definitely have a lot of great faith in,” Democratic District Leader for the 36th Assembly District Costa Constantinides said.
In justifying that faith, Liu noted as a prime example of wastefulness the City Time contract. The automated timekeeping system, intended to put 165,000 city employees on an electronic time sheet, was four years overdue at a cost of more than 10 times the original budget by September 2010.
“The project was a money pit and [Mayor Michael Bloomberg] called it a disaster,” Liu said. The initial 1998 contract totaled approximately $63 million but as of Sept. 30, 2010, the cost to the city had swelled to approximately $628 million. “Things came to a head,” Liu said.
With the work due to be completed by June 30, 2011, an audit by Comptroller Liu’s office recommended there be no further extensions. “The contractor was given a nine month extension just to finish what they were paid for,” he said. The mayor agreed. In addition, if the work is not completed by June 30, the contractor must pay $3 million in penalties for each month they go beyond the date, Liu said.
On Dec. 15, 2010, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the city Department of Investigation declared the City Time project a “massive fraud”. Seven people, some private consultants to the city, have been indicted with stealing $80 million from the city. “[It’s t]he largest scandal in the city’s history. Other projects have expanded out of control as well,” Liu said.
“Before we talk of reduction of [city] services, let’s take a look at all these expensive consultants we have,” Liu added. “It’s not a question of whether or not they do a good job. Are they more important than firehouses or teachers? It’s a time of choices, no doubt about it, but don’t tell us these are the only choices.”
With a state budget deficit of $10 billion projected, Liu said the initial city budget deficit of $3.5 billion has been revised. “It’s now more like $1.5 billion,” he said, “still a lot of money.”
Liu said the biggest item in the city budget is the mayor’s projected layoff of 6,000 teachers. “Atrocious,” he said. “Other things can be done. We don’t have to go to such draconian measures.”
An ongoing audit on New York City school capacity “Blue Books” will be released at the end of the month, Liu said. The audit is to ensure the accuracy and reliability of data on current school capacity.
“We know there are serious questions about the Department of Education’s measurements of school capacity,” Liu said. “The idea of District 30 schools as underutilized flies in the face of convention. For years we know they haven’t been building enough schools in Northern Queens.”
The Powhatan/Pocahontas Regular Democratic Club is celebrating its 111th birthday this year in a building its equal in age. “We’re doing well,” Constantinides said.