The City’s budget represents not only the priorities and goals of all the boroughs, but also outlines a plan to achieve them. Working with the de Blasio Administration, the Council has adopted budgets that are transparent, progressive, and equitable, and that aim to ensure access, opportunity, and justice for ALL New Yorkers.
“We cannot afford to govern without the community, and PBNYC is the nation’s largest example of true collaboration between elected officials and their constituents.”
Josh Lerner, Participatory Budgeting Project
With the first budget this Council negotiated with the Administration, we ended what was known as the “budget dance.” In the past, the Administration would propose deep cuts to various services, which would trigger budget hearings and negotiations, only to then produce financial plans with funds restored. This once predictable dance weakened Council oversight and made planning difficult for City agencies and not-for-profit organizations that provide critical services to New Yorkers.
Abandoning the budget dance has allowed the Council freedom to engage with agency leaders and with the public to analyze and discuss real operational issues. As a result, last year’s budget included items the Council had called for: such as more police officers on the street, free lunch for thousands of students, and six-day library service in all five boroughs. The Council also introduced and strengthened a number of initiatives, including senior arts programming, a bail fund, increasing the availability of life-saving defibrillators, energy retrofits for old homes, and many others, some of which are outlined throughout the rest of this report.
At the same time, we pushed to strengthen accountability to ensure that these programs are effective and meet targets. We did this by adding and adjusting units of appropriation, and terms and conditions. Units of appropriation (or U/A) are the basic building block of the budget and represent strict spending guidelines for the City, and terms and conditions require the reporting of data associated with spending in key areas. Over the past two years, the Council has included a number of new and reformed U/As, other budget presentation changes, and a record number of 30 terms and conditions that will allow the public to better able understand the impact and spending in a number of agencies.
Last year, the Council also initiated two task forces that will improve the efficiency and equity of our tax system. The Lien Sale Task Force focused on how the City can continue to collect taxes, while keeping residents in their home when possible. The Task Force on Economic Development Tax Expenditures will allow the City to better understand how well tax breaks given to developers promote economic development.
We have also been able to spend more time on local needs:
Participatory Budgeting expanded to 28 districts, allowing more communities to directly decide how to spend over $32 million in capital funding.
The Council also reformed the way discretionary funding was distributed. This process takes advantage of Council Members’ localized knowledge to better target services to residents. All districts received the equal amount of $400,000 to distribute to local not-for-profits, with additional funds of up to $100,000 allocated to districts based on their levels of poverty. The Council also equally distributes core discretionary amounts for aging and youth services.