Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

15 Jun 2020, 9:50 a.m.

Proposed New York City Budget

This blog entry is time-sensitive and is meant for people who live in New York City and want to learn more about the city's budget, and maybe suggest changes. It's kind of quick - you'll be following some links if you're interested.

When I want to dig into NYC government info, I try to remember: these are old systems and there exist finding aids, news sources, etc. surrounding them. Gotham Gazette has a tag for news about the city budget; also check out City and State NY, The City, and City Limits (I use RSS feeds to subscribe).

The Mayor's Office of Management and Budget has a Frequently Asked Questions page. It's worth reading. Also dig around their publications page and read a description of what each publication is.

Every year, the mayor proposes a budget (here's this year's announcement), and the City Council negotiates with the mayor and then votes on it. They're supposed to get it all settled by June 5th because the new Fiscal Year starts on July 1st. Here's the 19-page slide check summarizing the proposed Fiscal Year 2021 budget. On June 7th, the mayor announced that there will be budget changes to shift funding from the NYPD to social services programs. As far as I can tell, that is not yet reflected in any concrete changes in the budget proposal; on June 12th, Gotham Gazette reported:

With three weeks to go before the budget for the next fiscal year is due, the City Council is putting pressure on Mayor Bill de Blasio to spell out planned cuts to city agencies to fill a $9 billion projected budget gap. But the administration missed a Monday deadline set by the Council to propose new cuts, balancing the budget in a way that reprioritizes social services and investment in youth and education.

Here is the OMB page listing all the detailed documents for "April 2020 Executive Budget, Fiscal Year 2021" (the budget proposal we're talking about). If you want to know more about the NYPD, the Budget Function Analysis Agency Summary and the Expense, Revenue, Contract Budget have mode details. You can also use the open data visualization tools to fairly quickly get some pie charts of agency spending.

I called my councilmember and a staffer called me back. One question I had: how come the Budget Function Analysis Agency Summary and the Expense, Revenue, Contract Budget seem to say the NYPD budget is in the $5.3-$5.9 billion range, but the numbers I see in the press say it's over $6 billion? Might be because pension obligations are accounted separately. Those pension obligations, as I understand it, are set in the negotiations with the police unions, and yearly budgets can't change them.* I haven't followed up on this yet.

If you want to share your thoughts on where your tax money goes in the next fiscal year, find your councilmember and call them or email them with a quick message. Tell them you're a constituent of theirs, tell them your name and ZIP code, and whether you support the proposed budget or you think it should be changed. If you agree with them, tell them that so they know they have support. The more distinct constituent voices they hear, the more they can operate accordingly.

* Police union contracts are a whole other matter and have a huge impact on policing. I searched around and looked at government employee union contracts in New York and couldn't find the current Police Benevolent Association contract -- because NYC's contract with PBA expired in August 2017 and they're currently in contract arbitration. Or they would be, except the pandemic has put arbitration hearings on hold. ("PBA President Patrick J. Lynch ... is opting for arbitration for the fifth time in seven contract rounds since he was first elected 21 years ago," notes The Chief-Leader, which is "a New York City-based weekly newspaper focused on municipal government and civil servants, as well as issues affecting New York State and Federal employees." Like I said, New York City is a big and old system; whatever you just got interested in, there's probably already a fairly established communications hub for it.)