New York City Leaders Approve Austere Budget, Police Cuts – The Wall Street Journal

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the budget agreement focuses on programs that help New York ‘become a fairer city.’

Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Zuma Press

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council on Tuesday approved an $88.19 billion budget for the coming fiscal year that drastically cuts city spending while shifting nearly $1 billion in funding from the New York Police Department to youth and social services.

The approval came in a late-night vote by the council after weeks of negotiations framed by an economic crisis brought on by the new coronavirus pandemic and mounting calls for defunding and reforming the police department. The mayor’s preliminary budget, proposed in February before the pandemic, was $95.3 billion.

Of the 50 current members of the council, 17 voted against the budget. Some of the members said the reductions to police funding weren’t significant. Others said they opposed major funding reductions to the NYPD.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a Democrat who was one of the most influential members in the negotiation process, voted in favor of the budget but said he had wanted more cuts to the police department.

“To everyone who is disappointed we did not go deeper, I am disappointed as well,” he said. Mr. de Blasio wouldn’t budge on some of the larger cuts, he said.

A spokeswoman for the mayor said Mr. de Blasio “worked to find cuts that allowed us to reinvest in youth and communities in need while keeping our streets safe.”

Under the budget, overtime for NYPD personnel is expected to decrease and an upcoming class of more than 1,100 police academy cadets will be canceled. About $500 million will be taken out of the NYPD’s capital budget and allocated toward summer youth programming, education, recreation centers and broadband infrastructure at the city’s public-housing developments.

A homeless engagement unit and school crossing guards, which are currently under the NYPD, will join other agencies, Mr. de Blasio said. The budget also outlines a plan to move school-safety agents out of the police department and into the Department of Education over two years.

In all, nearly $1 billion in funds will be transferred out of the police department. The NYPD’s annual operating budget will drop to about $5 billion from nearly $6 billion.

“This is real redistribution,” the mayor, a Democrat, said at a press conference.

Some elected officials said the shifts in funds didn’t go far enough. Although the city is in a hiring freeze, there will still be a police academy class in October, the elected officials said. The mayor also said proposed cuts to police overtime might not be possible if protests or other events that require a large police presence continue to happen.

Councilman Ben Kallos, a Democrat who represents neighborhoods in Manhattan, voted against the budget and said he wanted more meaningful cuts to the police department. He also criticized the negotiations process as opaque.

Antonio Reynoso, a Democratic councilman who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens, also voted against the budget.

“Divestment in policing, a restructuring of our justice system, and meaningful investment in our communities is what New Yorkers have been demanding and it is our duty as elected representatives to deliver on those demands,” he said as he voted.

Other council members said they wouldn’t vote in favor of a budget that makes significant cuts to the police.

Despite Republicans and Democrats both being keen to pass some form of police reform legislation, they are yet to come to an agreement. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains why the political climate is weighing on the chances they will come together. Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Councilman Joseph Borelli, a Republican who represents parts of Staten Island, voted against the budget, saying reducing the NYPD’s funds would make the city unsafe.

“We know what we’re doing and we know that what we’re doing will create a more violent city, and yet we’re doing it anyway,” he said.

The NYPD didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The mayor and the council faced increased pressure to cut the NYPD’s funding after weeks of large-scale demonstrations across the U.S. over the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. For more than a week, protesters have camped outside City Hall in lower Manhattan to push for large cuts to the police department.

Mr. de Blasio said that the budget focuses on programs to assist New Yorkers who have been struggling during the financial crisis and “helps us to become a fairer city.” But the budget deal cuts some initiatives that helped residents, including $65 million from Fair Fares, a program that offers half-price MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers.

The budget includes $1 billion in labor savings that are still being negotiated with unions, Mr. de Blasio said. Officials have said the city still faces billions in lost tax revenue over the next two years. If the city doesn’t receive more help, it could resort to up to 22,000 layoffs and furloughs in the fall, according to the mayor.

The mayor has said he still hopes the city will receive federal stimulus money. He had also urged state lawmakers to grant the city the authority to borrow up to $5 billion, but his request went nowhere.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that he still wasn’t eager to authorize city officials to borrow money to close gaps in the operating budget. The Democratic governor had been skeptical of earlier requests by City Hall, which landed with a thud in the state Legislature.

“I don’t want to have a de facto bankruptcy where the state’s going to have to come in and bail out the debt,” Mr. Cuomo said on NY1, adding that the timeline for the city’s economic recovery is uncertain. “I focus on the paying back, as do most taxpayers.”

Write to Katie Honan at Katie.Honan@wsj.com

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