New York Times
May 7, 2015


Mayor de Blasio’s Latest Budget Won’t Pay for More Police Officers

By MATT FLEGENHEIMER and NIKITA STEWART

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday outlined a $78.3 billion budget — an increase of more than 4 percent from the spending plan adopted last June — putting forth a series of proposals intended to reduce income inequality but rebuffing requests from the City Council and his own police commissioner to add officers to the force.

“I don’t know a commissioner of any agency who doesn’t want more resources,” the mayor said of Commissioner William J. Bratton, adding that the two “see eye-to-eye on strategy.”

Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, suggested that changes under his administration, including a more relaxed approach to marijuana possession, have already eased the burden on officers’ time, even as crime remained relatively low.

Stephen Davis, the department’s top spokesman, said in a statement on Thursday night that Mr. Bratton remained “confident that there will be an increase in the size of the force,” adding that discussions with City Hall would continue.

The proposed spending that the mayor introduced during a nearly two-hour news conference spanned the municipal landscape, focusing on homelessness (an additional $100 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1), mental health services ($54 million) and expanded after-school programs for middle school students ($163 million), among other proposals.

The planned spending is also about $600 million higher than the city’s preliminary budget from February.

But Mr. de Blasio said the city was acting judiciously — the adjectives “progressive, responsible and honest” have become favored fiscal buzzwords on his watch — saying it had identified hundreds of millions in health care savings, cut costs at the agency level and placed $1 billion per year in a general reserve.

“In my line of work, it is a lot easier to spend money than to save money,” he said.

The mayor also introduced a separate 10-year capital plan, totaling $83.8 billion, setting aside $7.5 billion toward building or preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing.

Though the city added 120,000 private sector jobs in 2014, Mr. de Blasio took pains to highlight its relatively fragile economic fate, describing less-than-robust national growth and peppering his remarks with allusions to “uncertain times” and “troubling signs” on the horizon.

Lamenting a dearth of assistance from the state and federal government in areas like transportation, Mr. de Blasio made a point of emphasizing the major capital projects of New York’s global competitors — a rail project in London and a new airport in Beijing.

“That’s what localities are doing with national governments that are truly partners,” he said.

Mr. de Blasio’s budget proposals received praise from many of the mayor’s allies and some occasional critics, like the comptroller, Scott M. Stringer.

The Citizens Budget Commission, a fiscal watchdog group, noted that a relatively strong local economy had provided the mayor “a favorable context” for his presentation, but cautioned that new commitments for social services, housing and other programs “may not be sustainable in the face of out-year budget gaps and risks to the economy.”

Some groups criticized the city’s reticence to spend in other areas.

The Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, chairwoman of the Finance Committee, praised the funding of after-school programs, mental health services and efforts to address homelessness, but they said in a joint statement that they were disappointed in the lack of money for more police officers.

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, added that the department required more officers to control neighborhood shootings. “A safe city thrives while a dangerous one dies,” he said.

The New York Public Library also called the budget proposal a setback, though city officials disputed the group’s interpretation of the plans. Mr. de Blasio trumpeted a $300 million increase in capital funds for the city’s libraries over 10 years, which would set the amount at $902 million. The extra money, however, falls significantly short of the additional $1.4 billion sought by the New York Public Library, the Queens Library and the Brooklyn Public Library to renovate 217 branches.

Mr. de Blasio also did not renew what his administration described as a one-time $10 million increase in operating funds last fiscal year.

“We hope together we can get this right over the next six weeks,” Anthony W. Marx, president of the New York Public Library, said.

Across the board, Mr. de Blasio signaled that discussions were far from over, with the city’s final budget — to be negotiated with the Council — expected to be completed in the coming weeks.

“Until the whole process is complete, there’s any number of potential outcomes,” he said, in response to a question about the police head count.

At times, the news conference seemed to test the patience of its own ringleader. Mr. de Blasio noted, while describing plans to resurface some 2,500 miles of road, that the length amounted to a drive to Las Vegas.

“An appealing prospect,” he added, “as this press conference wears on.”

A version of this article appears in print on May 8, 2015, on page A20 of the New York edition with the headline: De Blasio’s Latest Budget Won’t Pay for More Officers.