A City budget that’s on the right track
For hundreds of thousands of working-poor New Yorkers like Shani Rahman, the price of a monthly MetroCard can exceed 10% of their household budget -- keeping them from getting medical care, buying new clothes for their kids, even forcing them to beg for a swipe just to get to work. Poverty is so often a vicious cycle, and the high cost of our public transportation has been one painful example … until now.
The 2018-2019 budget that the City Council and the Mayor have agreed upon will provide groundbreaking relief to low-income straphangers. Thanks to the #FairFares program that we’ve worked on together, New Yorkers below the poverty line (about $25,000 for a family of four) will be able to get half-priced MetroCards. It’s a strong new strand of NYC’s social safety net.
Props for this big win go to New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who made this the focus on the Council’s budget advocacy and led a citywide organizing campaign, and to the Community Service Society and Riders Alliance, who put the proposal forward. I’ve been proud to be a supporter since 2016, and I’m grateful that this year’s budget will make it a reality.
There are plenty of other things to like in the City’s budget this year as well. We’re adding $125 million toward the “Fair Student Funding” formula for our public schools, to provide resources to help all kids succeed (despite Albany’s ongoing failure to meet its legal obligations to NYC schools). Prompted by the moving testimony of a PS 321 parent, we’re adding $150 million in capital funds to make sure more schools will be made accessible for kids with disabilities. We’re increasing support for our public libraries (celebrate at the “Democracy Lab” that Brooklyn Public Library set up this week in Grand Army Plaza). And the budget includes funding to implement the “Certificate of No Harassment” program created by legislation that I sponsored last year, which will better protect tenants from harassment and displacement.
We’re doing all that while substantially increasing the City’s budget reserves. With additional advocacy from the City Council, we added $225 million to the budget reserves since the mayor proposed his preliminary budget in February, to bring the City’s total reserves (including the General, Capital Stabilization, and Retiree Health Benefits Trust) to $9.9 billion, 10.7% of our annual budget. Together, we’re showing that a sound budget is a progressive budget, and a progressive budget is a sound budget.
Thanks to Speaker Johnson and Finance Committee Chair Danny Dromm (both of whom marched down Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue for Brooklyn Pride this past Saturday, with Corey’s dance moves and split-jump stealing the show), to Mayor de Blasio and OMB Budget Director Melanie Hartzog, and to the staff of both the Council Finance Division and OMB who work around the clock this time of year to make sure we finish well before the July 1 deadline.
The City’s budget also puts $418 million toward the MTA’s emergency action plan for the subway (on top of the $2.5 billion the City has already committed to the MTA capital plan). But make no mistake: this is just a band aid. MTA/NYC Transit President Andy Byford recently issued a strong new “Fast Forward” plan, which makes signal modernization job #1, just as we’ve been advocating, and includes significant investments in subway accessibility, new subway cars, improving the bus system, and improving MTA management. Implementing that plan -- the best hope we have to save NYC’s public transit -- will take a significant, new, dedicated, multi-billion dollar revenue source like congestion pricing or a millionaire’s tax. That can only come from Albany, and right now it doesn’t seem like they are really paying attention. We must keep up the pressure on Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature -- so if you haven’t yet signed our #SignalFail petition, please do so now.
Closer to home, the new City budget funds the participatory budgeting projects you voted for this spring, including a new media lab at the Park Slope Women’s Shelter, new iPads for autistic students at at P.S. 77, and improvements to many of our community’s schoolyards and playgrounds.
Last week, we celebrated the fruits of earlier budget investments in our district, as two great new parks came online: St. Mary’s Playground on the Carroll Gardens/Gowanus border (under the F train tracks along Smith Street, between Nelson & Luquer Streets), and Dome Playground on the Kensington/Borough Park border, which got a great write-up in Time Out NY.
At a time when government at the Federal and State levels is so often failing and even disgusting us, I’m proud to be part of a City government that’s really working hard, collaboratively, and responsively to meet the needs of all New Yorkers.
Thanks for your ideas and feedback throughout the budget process. #FairFares & more accessible schools & all of the PBNYC projects are ideas put forward by the people of New York City, that we just had the common sense to recognize as good ideas. So please keep them coming.