NYC Council Unveils Budget Proposal

NEW YORK (AP) -

The City Council unveiled its budget recommendations on Wednesday, asking for 1,000 new police officers, free school lunches, more money to fight homelessness and a commission designed to overhaul the city’s property tax system.

Democratic Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who unveiled the plan at City Hall, said the new programs would cost approximately $257 million, a tiny fraction of the city’s $73 billion budget.

Her optimistic tone is a marked change from the bruising budget battles of recent years between the Democrat-controlled council and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Every year, the two sides of City Hall engaged in what was derisively called “the budget dance,” in which Bloomberg would begin by proposing cuts to city services and then the council, after weeks of hearings and protests, would largely restore the funding.

But with Bill de Blasio, who supported Mark-Viverito for speaker, the process seems to be ramping up smoothly despite fiscal challenges facing the city, most notably the open union contracts.

And many of the council’s proposals are in line with de Blasio’s goal to fight income inequality. De Blasio also has signaled support to fully subsidize school lunches — currently, 75 percent of students qualify for free lunches — but expressed concerns at the cost and whether the move could endanger federal funding.

Mark-Viverito said the cost of hiring more cops, estimated to be about $100 million, would be more than offset by the savings in overtime. But Police Commissioner William Bratton said that while he would not turn down additional manpower, he’d rather use the money to give raises to the 34,600 officers currently on the force.

And de Blasio said in Albany that “the resources we have now are getting the job done” in keeping crime low and that he was not inclined to increase expenditures.

Perhaps most significantly, the council wants to create a commission to correct inequities in the city’s $21 billion property tax system. Critics have long said that rental buildings and commercial properties shoulder too much of the burden while luxury homeowners don’t pay their fair share. De Blasio, whose administration also is looking to increase the city’s water and sewer rates, also has signaled support for a change, though Mark-Viverito said it would not be a quick project.

De Blasio is expected to unveil his executive budget proposal in early May. He and the council will then look to hash out a deal before the June 30 deadline.