In contrast to the circus surrounding the vote count in the Democratic mayoral primary, the New York City Council quickly approved a record $98.7 billion fiscal 2022 operating budget drama-free.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced an agreement Wednesday, the last day of fiscal 2021. It is the final budget cycle for both, who are term-limited. Johnson is a candidate for city comptroller.
The council, meeting in full chamber for the first time in 15 months, approved the spending plan by a 39-6 vote. It exceeds de Blasio’s first budget in 2014 by $24 million.
In the mayor’s race, the city’s Board of Elections, after acknowledging a snafu Tuesday with the count of ranked-choice votes, released new numbers a day later showing Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ lead narrowing over former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, 51.1% to 48.9%, or less than 15,000 first-place votes after nine rounds of counting.
Ironically, the tally was almost identical to the erroneous total BOE released on Tuesday.
While civil-rights advocate Maya Wiley fell to third place, she was just fractionally behind Garcia after the eighth round and is within striking distance of the top because the BOE still must count about 124,000 absentee ballots. It expects to do so by Wednesday.
Adams filed a lawsuit against the BOE Wednesday in Kings County Supreme Court in Brooklyn, saying a judicial panel should oversee the vote count.
The winner will face Republican Curtis Sliwa in November.
In the Democratic race for comptroller, council member Brad Lander’s lead over Johnson narrowed to 51.9% vs. 48.1%.
The city had the benefit of $14.2 billion of federal rescue aid over several rounds in crafting its so-called recovery budget. The plan earmarks funds in the continuing fight against COVID-19, with the city having already spent roughly $8 billion to battle the pandemic, administering more than 9.2 million vaccination doses.
“To fully put COVID-19 behind us, we need to continue fighting for more vaccinations, commit to getting our small businesses back on track and invest in our communities as we see crime on the rise,” said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, a former council member.
It adds $500 million to the city’s nascent rainy-day fund, which now holds nearly $1 billion. Total reserves in fiscal 2022 are now $5.1 billion, with $3.8 billion in the Retiree Health Benefits Trust, $993 million in the rainy-day fund, and $300 million in the general reserve.
New York voters in 2019 approved a Charter Revision Commission recommendation to establish the rainy-day fund. The city has traditionally used a variety of reserve accounts.
While the mayor would not specify out-year gaps, “they are manageable,” de Blasio said.
The budget also provides for free universal 3-K by September 2023, rental assistance and small business grants.
Andrew Rein, president of the watchdog Citizens Budget Commission, praised the city for its rainy-day deposit and for funding relief and recovery programs.
Still, Rein said, the city largely missed an opportunity to stabilize its long-term finances.
“Despite fiscal year 2021 tax revenues being $2.1 billion more than previously expected and $15 billion in additional federal aid, the budget hamstrings the next administration with sizable future budget gaps, plus looming fiscal challenges when federal funds are depleted, and labor contracts are negotiated,” Rein said.
Moody’s Investors Service rates the city’s general obligation bonds Aa2 and Fitch Ratings has the city at AA-minus. Both downgraded the city a notch during the pandemic. S&P Global Ratings rates New York City GOs AA. All three assign negative outlooks.
According to data on the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board’s EMMA website, a block of fiscal 2016, Series E general obligation bonds maturing in 2025 that originally priced at 128.028 cents on the dollar and a 1.69% yield, sold to a customer Wednesday at a price of 117.51 cents and a 0.818% yield.
The budget adds funding for LGBTQ programs, while restoring pandemic-era cuts to libraries and other cultural institutions.
The New York Police Department’s budget, a major contention point last year when heated debate pushed the vote past midnight, rose by $300 million through “targeted investments” without additional officers.
CBC expects that figure to spike, given that resumption of public events figure to generate overtime and union contracts have expired, with raises not part of the budget.