New York City’s budget process isn’t usually this heated.
As the city slowly reopens during the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio and other officials are facing a gloomy fiscal reality and demands from protesters against police brutality to slash the Police Department’s funding.
I asked my colleague Dana Rubinstein, who covers city government, to explain the controversies and politics behind this year’s $88.1 billion budget. (I spoke to her before the budget passed overnight. Read more about it here.)
Q: Why is this budget so unusual?
A: This year’s budget is unprecedented for two reasons — one fiscal, one political. The onset of Covid-19 caused the near cessation of economic activity in New York City. Mayor de Blasio, who has expanded the size of government drastically since he took office in 2014, is facing down a $9 billion budget hole.
Meanwhile, the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd has created historic pressure on the mayor to cut police funding at a time when crime appears to be rising. It’s an unenviable position for any mayor to find himself in, particularly one who so firmly believes in the societal value of big government.
What was going on outside of City Hall in recent days?
Protests — and apparently more confrontations between the Police Department, which Mayor de Blasio purports to control, and demonstrators protesting police violence. The protesters say they want the mayor to cut $1 billion from the Police Department’s budget. He and the City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, say they have, but the activists counter that those cuts are largely smoke and mirrors.
How much money is the mayor cutting from the budget?
The mayor has to close a $9 billion hole, thanks to a stark decline in revenues that the city relies on to operate. He’s closing that gap through cuts to popular programs, like the elimination of the residential composting program, and through tapping some $4 billion from the city’s reserves.
He also continues to warn of as many as 22,000 municipal worker layoffs, should the state not come through with more borrowing authority, should the federal government not come through with aid, or should municipal unions not come up with alternative labor savings.
[The budget sharply curtails municipal services.]
Why are protesters upset by a $1 billion cut to the Police Department?
They say that Mr. de Blasio is merely moving money from one pot to another, that he’s not slicing enough meat from the department’s budget and that he’s not redirecting enough funding to youth programs.
To cite one example, some $400 million of the $1 billion the city is said to be cutting from the Police Department’s $6 billion budget will be achieved by moving school safety officers under the Department of Education. But according to the city’s Independent Budget Office, the Education Department already sends the Police Department $300 million a year to operate the school safety program.
How else is the city saving money or “closing the gap”?
Among other things, the mayor is cutting $65 million from the Fair Fares program, which subsidizes mass transit for low-income New Yorkers
What’s the economic outlook moving forward?
Quite bad. The city is draining its reserves, and it’s not at all clear when or if New York City’s economy will fully rebound. That all depends on our society’s ability to contend with the coronavirus and what our experience with the pandemic portends for the future of cities.
And finally: The V.M.A.s will return, but not the fans
Barclays Center has been empty since March, when the coronavirus pandemic hit New York, leaving its 19,000 seats devoid of both basketball fans and Billie Eilish stans.
But soon, the Brooklyn arena will be bustling: It will host the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards on Aug. 30 … with little-to-no live audience.
The public plaza outside Barclays has becomes a hub of activity in recent weeks, as tens of thousands of New Yorkers have gathered for rallies and protests against racism and police brutality. On many days, the police have the arena’s entrances blocked off.
“This is where everything happens,” Rells Jones, 32, told my colleague Andy Newman last month as she was helping at a voter registration information table in the plaza.
The V.M.A.s were last held at Barclays in 2013, back when young fans packed together, screaming for One Direction. Things are different these days: 1D has broken up and the award show will adhere to social-distancing guidelines. Meaning, no crowds.
That summer seven years ago, Justin Timberlake and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis won the night’s biggest awards. Taylor Swift took home a Moonman — the statue given to winners — for “I Knew You Were Trouble.”
And there was Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke’s notorious performance. You know the one: with the teddy bears and the iconic foam finger.
It’s Wednesday — sing a song.
Metropolitan Diary: Maximum efficiency
Walking in New York requires constant calculations. I treat every movement from Point A to Point B as an exercise in maximum efficiency.
I make it sort of a game: the pace I must keep to reach my destination in time; how far I can stand from the curb without endangering myself; how long a stride or jump to avoid a hole or puddle.
I work in Midtown and pass through Grand Central Terminal at least twice a day. It’s an area where such calculations are essential to avoiding close calls, minor collisions or simply awkward moments.
Not long ago, I was walking near 46th Street and Park Avenue. There was a man walking alongside me, and we were keeping the same brisk pace.
I noticed that four people were heading our way. Three of them adjusted their trajectories to avoid us, while one, a woman, continued to walk directly toward the man next to me.
Did she plan to walk between us? Would she collide with him in a moment of pain and awkwardness? The moment of truth was inches away. I prepared for impact.
And then they kissed. It wasn’t a miscalculation after all.
— James L. Ansorge
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