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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Delivers Testimony At The Joint Fiscal Committees Of The New York State Legislature Budget Hearing

February 11, 2019

Mayor Bill de Blasio: I want to thank Chair Krueger, Chair Weinstein, ranking minority member Senator Seward and Assembly Member Barclay; and, of course, our legislative leaders – Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Heastie. All of the members here today – thank you for this opportunity to be with you.

I want to begin by congratulating all of you. This has been a historic time. What you've done in this session has been outstanding already, and you've done it with lightning speed – a whole host of issues that for many of us we have waited for decades for action on. I want to thank you also for your continued focus on the needs of 8.6 million people who live in the five boroughs. 

Last week, I presented my preliminary budget for the City of New York and I was compelled to deliver sobering news. The budget for Fiscal Year ’20 faces three major uncertainties. First, the economy shows increased signs of a slowdown and our personal income tax revenues are projected to be almost $1 billion less than what we collected last year.  Second, the city faces $600 million in potential cuts and cost shifts in the current State executive budget, and that was before the recent announcement of an additional shortfall that the State is experiencing on personal income taxes. And then third, of course another a possible government shutdown in Washington and we have calculated the impact of that once it takes full effect – New York City residents will lose approximately $500 million a month – that’s half-a-billion a month in direct support from the federal government – $100 million additional negative impact on City government. That would start in May if the shutdown were to occur soon. 

As I continue, I also want to note, of course, I'm joined by two key members of my administration, my City Budget Director Melanie Hartzog and our Director of State Legislative Affairs Simonia Brown. There'll be joining me in answering your questions. 

So, I mentioned that we have seen real areas for concern in our budget. For this reason, we have set a mandatory savings target of $750 million that we will meet by April at the time of our executive budget. So this is on top of the savings programs we had an effect previously, on top of the health care savings that we have achieved with our colleagues in labor. This is an additional $750 million in savings that we must find. We will the first time ever the instituting a PEG program, a program to eliminate the gap. Every City agency will be given a numerical – a dollar figure to cut back, and there will be a deepening of our existing hiring freeze. 

Now, our preliminary budget has a few but very limited investments, the smallest since I first took office. And I want to be clear, depending on how events proceed, we may have to further limit or slow down or cut some of these investments. And of course that will be painful to City residents and to all of us who serve them. 

Now I want to focus very quickly on five major issues and then a few other smaller issues, but I'll do this very quickly. First – strongly support the three-year extension of mayoral control of New York City schools. Mayoral control is working. My administration has made it our focus to bring equity and excellence to our schools and to reach children in every zip code more effectively. We've provided every four-year-old with free high-quality, full-day pre-K with your great assistance and we are now moving on to three year olds. 20,000 three-year-olds will have free early child education as of September. 

For the fifth year in a row, we've set a record graduation rate. Today, three-quarters of our students graduate high school on time. That compares to under 50 percent before mayoral control of education. And also this last year, 59 percent of our public school graduates went on to higher education – that’s the all-time high and we want to build upon that number. The accountability and the authority that mayoral control creates allows for real change to happen and happen quickly, and we cannot return to the days when there was a lack of accountability and there was a chaos that blocked progress. 

Second, I want to turn to $300 million in cuts and cost shifts to education funding in the Governor's executive budget. The school aid proposal leaves the City $148 million short of the funding we need to cover the increase in State-mandated services, including payments to charter schools and special education services. That's exacerbated by a funding formula that is not equitable. It would require us to send 75 percent of our foundation aid, increased to just 20 percent of City schools, that would force us to backfill or reduce funding for the remaining 80 percent of our schools. I want you to know our administration already invests 21.3 percent more in students in our highest poverty schools as the statistics we submitted in July and the State school funding transparency form illustrate. 

We have raised a Fair Student Funding levels for all schools to an average of 93 percent, with the neediest schools at 100 percent. And we will continue to emphasize reaching schools that were too long ignored. I urge you to take the next so that we can help our children more and to allocate the $1.2 billion that City students are owed under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement. That alone could cover the City's Fair Student Funding formula for every school. We'd be able to take every school to 100 percent. 

Third issue – the MTA and New York City residents agree it is time to fix the State-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority and it needs to be this year in this budget, I strongly believe. Now we know we all would like to see a clear accounting of MTA capital expenditures and what money they need when, but, in the meantime, we also know the tens of billions of dollars will be needed on a sustainable basis. This is the moment to achieve that. Obviously, I support the millionaires tax, but I know there are other solutions have been put forward. I urge you to consider all options, but what's most important is that we come up with sustainable revenue to fix the MTA once and for all. I must make clear that that revenue cannot be gathered from the City budget directly. City governments should not fund a State responsibility and we simply can't. The impact on our capital budget would be devastating, potentially damaging our credit rating and imperiling basic infrastructure like schools, parks, roads and bridges, water and sewer that our constituents, all of your constituents depend on. This is where our capital money is going, and, if we had to pay MTA expenses, we could not make these investments. If congestion pricing is an option, I've been clear that I believe strongly it should consider and include hardship exemptions, revenues should be putting a lockbox for subways and buses, and there should be clear, dedicated investment in transit deserts. Further, New York City must be included in developing an implementing any type of congestion pricing scheme. The executive budget proposal cuts New York City out entirely from the implementation, given control of City streets to the MTA, and this will not work, and that will any situation like this would not work without full partnership between local government and State government. I would say that's true in every jurisdiction in the State. 

Fourth point – there are other worrying costs – excuse me, cuts and cost shifts in this budget that must be addressed. I've already spoken about $300 million in education cuts. There's another $300 million that would hurt New York City residents in a variety of ways. I urge you restore the following – the Governor is proposing a shift of $125 million of State costs to the City for TANF financial assistance for families in need. This shift – this would shift the cost of cash assistance to the City and cut shelter rates for those who need shelter. The City also proposes – excuse me, the State also proposes a $59 million cut in health services, such as help for mothers and children, including newborn home visiting clinics that treat STDs, HIV and tuberculosis, responds to communicable diseases, including legionnaires, West Nile, and Zika, and testing updated vaccines for diseases like Measles and Hepatitis A. There's also a $13 million cut to preventative services that help keep 5,000 young people a year out of foster care and detention.

Fifth item – it’s time for the State of New York to join us in supporting our 400,000 public housing residents and it's time for the State to meet its obligations. The hardworking people in NYCHA, the backbone of our city – and last month we signed an agreement with HUD and the Southern District to put us on a faster path to fixing so many of the problems that plague NYCHA. The City will be investing $2.2 billion over the next decade on top of the $4 billion we had previously committed through our own budget process. Now, the State must release the $450 million in funding that all of you agreed to with the Governor, and we need that money to get to NYCHA so that NYCHA can continue the work needed to improve the lives of our residents. 

Finally, very quickly on a few other issues. Design build – the five boroughs deserve the same benefit that the State now has for itself. Our agencies like DOT, DEP, DDC, Parks, H & H, and NYCHA need broad design build authority. This will save money, save time, it’s in the taxpayer's interest, and it comes at no cost to the State. 

On criminal justice, we are addressing the issue of mass incarceration in New York City. We're driving down our jail population. We plan to close Rikers Island, but we need further reform. The State can do so much to encourage speedy trials and reform the discovery process. We believe in those initiatives. We also believe that the Governor's proposal on eliminating cash bail is a good start and that includes something that I've been advocating for, allowing judges to take public safety into account during pretrial detention hearings. There's more work to be done. We have to make sure that we achieve the right balance between safety and reform. Also support the parole reform champion by Assembly Member Mosley and Senator Benjamin. Let's ensure that people have violated parole and are a risk to the community are incarcerated, but those charged with minor or technical violations are not. We also need the State to move State supervised parole violators and City jails into available space in State correctional facilities. And finally, we asked for legislative change to allow City prisoners serving less than a year to earn reduce sentences for good behavior as they do in State institutions. 

On housing, there too many landlords still trying to game the system and put hardworking people out of their apartments – strongly support reform and preferential rent so it lasts for the life of the tenancy; strongly support the end of vacancy decontrol – the elimination of the vacancy bonus and limits on MCI and IAI increases. Also want to express support strongly for the Krueger-Hevesi Home Stability Support legislation. 

On marijuana – legalization absolutely is the right thing to do, but it must be done in a way that protects health and safety and does not create a new corporatization of a new industry that causes the same problems we saw with the tobacco industry and the pharmaceutical industry. So I ask that we focus on ensuring that economic benefits from marijuana legalization reach the communities that so long have suffered and we not repeat the mistakes that have occurred with other agencies. 

On safety, on our roadways, we are doing everything we can to protect New Yorkers. Our Vision Zero strategy is working – two crucial items before the Legislature. On a school speed cameras, we support the idea strongly of expansion and see in the Governor's proposal to extend and expand City schools zone cameras – a good start, but we need more zones and longer hours of operation. We look forward to working with Legislature to create a stronger, better program. One further point – revenues from this program should be used to keep our kids safe and not fund the MTA. We have to make sure that the speed cameras are there for safety and we have the resources to have them in the school zones that need them. On red light cameras, also strongly support proposals in the executive budget that extend authorization for the city's Red Light Camera Program to stop speeding, but we asked the Legislature expanded to 300 intersections. We also – final point on this matter – strongly support lifting the cap on the number of bus lanes with automated enforcement, so we can speed our buses. 

Finally, very important matter on a civil rights law 5-a and the need for reform. Section 5-a is broken and undermines the trust we have built between our police officers and our communities. I Know Commissioner O'Neill feels this strongly and Commissioner Bratton before him felt this strongly as well. We need to work together to tear down the barriers created by this outdated law and give the public the transparency and accountability that they deserve. 

Also want to note two last points. Commercial vacancy tax – we have a number of empty storefronts. It's a going growing problem in our neighborhoods. Let's pass a smart, targeted tax to stop landlords from leaving their properties empty from blighting neighborhoods. Let's make clear to landlords that this is a problem for our communities, and with this tax, hopefully we would encourage landlords to turn their properties over more quickly and ensure that small businesses have an opportunity to rent them at a reasonable level. 

Final point on health – we are by all accounts the richest nation on earth and yet we have people with preventable health problems who end up in emergency rooms with catastrophic problems and astronomical bills. We have a new initiative, NYC Care that we will use as part of a plan to guarantee access to health care for 600,000 uninsured New Yorkers. I believe this is going to make a huge difference in the lives of our people. At the same time, I want to work with you to the day that we can have a single-payer system for this whole State and obviously, ultimately, for this nation. 

To conclude, I want to thank you for all you do on behalf of the people of this State and the people of our city. We are deeply appreciative for the many, many times that you have provided support for the kind of initiatives that really have improved the lives of New Yorkers – look forward to a dialog with you today, and I look forward to working with you to keep our city strong and safe and resilient for the 8.6 million New Yorkers who live there. 

Thank you so much.

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