Storm clouds: Open union contracts, troubled hospitals
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
In Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary 2015 Fiscal Year budget presentation on Wednesday, the Mayor outlined a plan that will invest in full-day pre-K; fund an inspector general for the NYPD; enforce the paid sick leave act; give relief to the New York City Housing Authority; and provide help for homeless youth and HIV/AIDS patients.
Saying that a “progressive agenda goes along with fiscal responsibility,” Mayor de Blasio said he would put an end to the yearly “budget dance” and restore $59 million in funding for the 20 FDNY companies – eight in Brooklyn -- that were previously cut from the FY 2015 budget by Mayor Bloomberg.
One of the FDNY companies Mayor de Blasio restored is Engine Company 205, at 74 Middagh Street in Brooklyn Heights. With Ladder Company 118, the company lost eight firefighters during the September 11 terrorist attacks.
De Blasio’s budget would also restore the $10 million total in funding for the five borough presidents and the public advocate, and finds a way to boost Sandy recovery funds and keep community centers open that had been marked for closure.
“The centerpiece is education, specifically pre-K and restoring long-deferred education aid” from the state, de Blasio said, referring to billions in funds owed the city as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equality lawsuit.
“This will be transformative to our city. We must fund universal pre-K and after-schools with one targeted tax increase – the only targeted tax increase in the budget,” he said. “I believe it will make such a huge difference for our children.” The minor tax on residents earning over $500,000 a year would bring in $530 million for pre-K and afterschool, de Blasio said.
There could be stormy skies ahead, however, in the more than 150 open union contracts -- a mess left for de Blasio by recently-departed Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “We’re in the great unknown here,” de Blasio said. “We’ve never had this many open contracts. We will need substantial cost savings and efficiencies to get through this.”
While the budget for the current year, FY 2014, remains balanced, de Blasio warned “the Fiscal 14 budget relies on the use of $1 billion in resources from previous years for balance. Our Fiscal 15 plan relies on the use of $1.8 billion from previous years. Without these resources, both years would’ve had a deficit.”
Other problems include an 8.5 percent unemployment rate, income inequality, a lack of affordable housing,
Also on the problem list is the issue of struggling hospitals, de Blasio said, noting that twelve New York City hospitals closed “without community input or long-term planning” during the Bloomberg administration.
De Blasio listed eight hospitals that are currently in distress, a list that includes many Brooklyn institutions: Interfaith Medical Center, SUNY Downstate, Long Island College Hospital (LICH), Brookdale, Brooklyn Hospital Center, St. John’s Hospital Center , Wyckoff Medical Center, and Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center.
“I’ve been deeply involved with this issue, and have been working intensely with the state to provide community health care in these locations,” de Blasio said. “New York State has requested a $10 billion Medicaid waiver to restructure our health care facilities. Gov. Cuomo is absolutely right to demand this waiver; it’s long overdue.”
Public Advocate Letitia James said in a statement, “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. I’d like to commend the mayor on proposing a restoration of $59 million for city fire companies— funding which in the past has typically fallen to the City Council to restore.”
James added, “I’m encouraged by this and other steps including the proposed $6.6 million total for paid sick leave, which includes expanding the program to extend sick leave to an additional 500,000 New Yorkers; $3 million total for the establishment of the NYPD Inspector General; and $21.7 million total to cap rent contributions for HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) housing clients. Furthermore, the proposed budget rightly ends the $52.5 million in fees that NYCHA residents pay for NYPD services.”
Mayor de Blasio said he had directed the Office of Management and Budget “to be guided by three core values, the same values that have shaped my thinking as we’ve developed this budget.” These are fiscal responsibility, a progressive agenda, and honesty and transparency.
Brooklyn fire companies funded in the Mayor’s preliminary budget include Engine Company 205 at 74 Middagh St.; Engine Company 206 at 1201 Grand St.; Engine Company at 218 650 Hart St., Engine Company 220 at 530 11th St.; Engine Company 233 at 25 Rockaway Ave.; Engine Company 284 at 1157 79th St.; Ladder Company 104 at 161 South 2nd St.; and Ladder Company 161 at 2929 W 8th St.