April 22, 2005
By Richard Steier
The City Council wants to hire 1,000 additional Police Officers and add thousands of teachers so that class size can be reduced in elementary and middle schools under the city budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
A spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg offered a neutral response to the cop-hiring proposal but said the Council’s funding method for the class-size plan was impractical because it relied on continuation of a tax that state legislators have already decided to let die.
Miller: OT Savings Key
Council Speaker Gifford Miller told reporters April 14 that the police hiring could virtually pay for itself by reducing the excessive overtime bill the NYPD has run up because it is short of uniformed officers.
He said that the class-sized reductions could be funded by continuing a personal income tax surcharge, which was scheduled to be phased out this year, on individuals who make more than $500,000 a year.
“We’re asking the wealthiest New Yorker who can best afford it to make an investment in the city’s tax base, its prosperity and the children of the city,” Mr. Miller, flanked by other ranking Council Members, told reporters in the Council Red Room.
“There is nothing – nothing – more important than providing our children with the education they deserve,” he said.
Want Commute Tax Back
The Councils alternative to the preliminary budget Mayor Bloomberg issued in late January also proposes that a commuter tax on nonresidents be reinstated, six years after it was rescinded by the State Legislature. Proceeds from the tax would fund capital improvements for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s New York City operations, Mr. Miller said.
He also wants to rescind cuts in library services that would force many libraries to operate just four days a week, and to reopen six fire companies that were closed by the Bloomberg administration two years ago while also ensuring the opening of a never-occupied firehouse in the Rossville section of Staten Island.
While the Council has the power to compel Mr. Bloomberg to hire the additional cops and accept the library and fire changes as part of the upcoming budget negotiations, both the extension of the income tax surcharge on high earners and a revised commuter tax would need approval by the Legislature. Mayor Bloomberg two years ago sought to no avail to persuade his Republican allies to revive the commuter tax.
A spokesman for the Mayor, Jordan Barowitz, noted that he had lobbied in Albany on Jan. 24, three days before releasing his preliminary budget, to have the personal income tax surcharge continued past its scheduled expiration date at the end of the year.
“That issue was addressed by Albany as they passed their budget; they decided to let the tax sunset,” Mr. Barowitz said. The fact that Mr. Miller was proposing its continuation specifically for education purposes was irrelevant, he contended, questioning why he had not made the suggestion during the state’s budget deliberations.
The annual budget tango between the Mayor and the Council takes on added sizzle this year because of Mr. Bloomberg’s bid for re-election and Mr. Miller’s candidacy for the Democratic nomination for Mayor.
One of Mr. Bloomberg’s undisputed achievements during his first 39 months in office has been the continued reduction in crime citywide even though the NYPD has seen its uniformed strength drop by roughly 4,000 cops. In the decades before the 1990 “Safe Streets, Safe City” legislation that mandated a concerted build-up of the police force, Council Members perennially sought to add 1,000 cops during the budget negotiations, a popular and often-successful gambit to show their constituents and the police unions that they had made public safety a priority. Mr. Miller and his colleagues have revived that tradition this year.
The Council Speaker argued that in addition to the need to reduce class size to improve the quality of education, using city budget money – albeit funds derived from the tax surcharge – would place added pressure on Albany to implement the court filing in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case. That decision, which would require an increase in funding for the city school system of $5.6 billion a year and a boost in capital spending of $9.2 billion over a five-year period, is being appealed by Governor Pataki.
Mayor: Not on My Tab
The ruling by three court-appointed monitors setting those payment schedules had suggested that the city pick up 25 percent of the cost, but the Mayor has balked. He noted that the decision was spurred by the finding that the state had systematically discriminated against city schoolchildren for decades by using an improper funding formula.
Mr. Miller said that using the $188 million a year the city would derive from making the income tax surcharge permanent to hire thousands of Teachers would detonate the complaints by officials from the Pataki administration and the Republican-led State Senate that they were being asked to shoulder a massive financial burden without the city chipping in.
“Somebody has to step up and say, ‘Here is a reasonable, achievable, affordable way to make a difference in the lives of our children,’” he said.
Under the Council plan, enough Teachers would be hired to reduce average class size from 22 pupils to 17 from kindergarten though fourth grade. Fifth-grade class size would be cut from an average of 26 to 20, and grades 6-8 would average 23 pupils per class compared to the current 28. In situations where not enough space was available to accommodate the additional classrooms needed to reduce average size, Mr. Miller said, a second Teacher would be added to the classes that exceeded the target size.
Immediately after his press conference, a rally was held outside City Hall at which education and parent advocates, the Working Families Party and the United Federation of Teachers all praised the class-reduction plan.
UFT: Say Amen
“This is a hallelujah proposal from Gifford Miller and the City Council,” said UFT President Randi Weingarten. It would, she noted, directly funnel money derived from the richest New Yorkers “to the poorest and most vulnerable of our children in the City of New York,”
Mr. Miller, to the cheers of the 60 activists at the rally, declared, “I can imagine a city where people move from the suburbs into New York City to have their kids educated.”
The Council is also proposing that $16 million a year be appropriated to reinstate Teachers’ Choice, a program under which teachers are given money to directly purchase supplies for their classes that became a budget casualty a couple of years ago. Mr. Miller asserted that the fact that Teachers currently spend as much as $500 a year out of their own pockets so their students will have adequate supplies was a sign of the “enormous disrespect” Mr. Bloomberg has for his educators.
Other School Aid
The Council proposal would also provide $25 million a year for after-school programs, $10 million for books for school libraries, and $9 million for a program named after Mr. Miller’s predecessor as Speaker, Peter F. Vallone Sr., that increases tuition assistance at City University of New York schools for all students who were graduated from the city public school system with a B average or better and maintain that average in college.
Mr. Miller asserted that budget savings from the cuts in police staffing have been eroded by the need to use overtime to cover many posts. Noting the Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly estimated that the NYPD will spend $42 million on overtime by the end of the fiscal year June 30, Mr. Miller argued that funding for 1,000 cops above those hired as attrition replacements would reduce overtime enough so that within three years the program would be paying for itself.
Mr. Kelly has contended that using overtime is less costly that covering the full range of benefits additional cops would receive.
Help for DAs, Libraries
Mr. Miller also proposed rescinding a $3.5 million cut the Mayor has planned for the five District Attorneys’ Office, instead adding $5 million to their budgets, as well as reopening the closed fire companies and keeping libraries on a five-day schedule throughout the city.
The Council spending program could be afforded, Mr. Miller said, because its finance staff estimates that tax collections will come in $456 million higher than the Mayor has forecast, and $98 million can be saved by streamlining the operations of some agencies.
Mr. Bloomberg has said that he will issue his executive budget by the first week in May, setting the stage for the intensive negotiations that will produce a final agreement by the end of June.