Councilman Recchia on NYC's Budget

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Domenic Recchia, Chairman of the Finance Committee and New York City Council Member (D-District 47) representing Coney Island, Bensonhurst, Brighton Beach and Gravesend, responded to Mayor Bloomberg's budget proposal and previews the ongoing budget negotiations with the City Council.

Mayor Bloomberg unveiled his budget on Friday which includes 6,000 teacher layoffs, de-staffing 20 fire stations and significant cuts to city libraries. He said the reason education is taking such a big hit in his plan is because the federal and state government have made big cuts to city funding. Now the ball is in the City Council's court to propose an alternative.

Avoiding teacher layoffs

Finance Committee chairman, Domenic Recchia said education is a priority to the city council and though he understands the mayor's difficult position, Recchia will do everything he can to prevent the teacher layoffs. To start, he said attrition will likely bring the retirement of 1,500 to 2,500 teachers so this would already lower the proposed number of layoffs.

We're just looking at all the numbers closely and we are trying to figure out where we can get the funding and how we're gonna save the teachers. This is a work in progress...If this cut goes through it's going to be devastating to the people of the city of N.Y. and to the children.

If the cuts go through, Recchia said there will be larger classes, less after school programs, less tutoring, less special reading attention from teachers as well as fewer after school programs at libraries.

Where does the money come from?

We can't mortgage our future. We have to be responsible and we have to save as many jobs as possible because when we lay off teachers it winds up costing the city additional money so we have to keep all of this in our minds throughout the whole process. 

But raising taxes isn't the answer, he said, something the City Council's Progressive Caucus is suggesting.

We cannot raise taxes at this time...We have to prevent businesses from leaving the city...The economy is in bad shape and we need to send a message that we are not going to raise taxes and we can work this all out if we examine the spending, if we look at our outside contracts and in addition to that if we really look hard to come up with new revenue ideas.

Recchia said if principals could work together and share technical consulting and other outside contracts for their schools, as opposed to each school having their own, this could be one way to save money.

One of the problems with the Department of Education today is that years ago, you had districts so the districts were responsible for the funding and the districts could oversee all their 30 or 35 schools they were in charge of and they could hire one contractor for everybody and get a better deal. The way it is now, it's every man for himself and it's a problem.

Do YOU have any ideas?

Recchia said he's talked with unions, in particular the United Federation of Teachers, and they're ready to make some concessions. Hearings on the budget will start on Thursday May 12th and go through June 6th and he's looking to the public for help. The hearings are open he'll be there to listen.

At about 4:00, the public can testify before the Finance Committee and I stay there and I hear everyone and we need to hear from New Yorkers on how this budget affects them and how they feel these cuts can not be made. And if anybody has any idea in any other areas that they think we can save money or cut, we would love to hear their ideas...If we hear a really good idea, a recommendation, we will look into and see if maybe we can make it work.

The good stuff

Mayor Bloomberg did do a few things in the budget proposal that were to Councilman Recchia's liking.

I was happy that he put a new class of 1,400 police cadets to start July 1. We were very happy with that. He added some money for the district attorneys which needed it desperately. There were some good things in this executive budget and in addition to that there's about $4 million for a new senior initiative on opening about ten new senior centers.

And Recchia's final plug — if you want to know the schedule of hearings for the Finance Committee, go to where you can also read testimony.