Beth Fertig is the contributing editor for education, covering the New York City public school system for WNYC on air and online at SchoolBook.org. She has covered education in the city for more than 15 years. Beth is the author of Why cant u teach me 2 read? Three Students and a Mayor Put Our Schools to the Test (FSG Books) which grew out of a radio series on the low graduation rate for special education students. Follow her @bethfertig.
Mayor and City Council Finally Reach Budget Deal
Thursday, June 20, 2002
New York, NY —It's a budget that borrows and scrapes. By borrowing one point five billion dollars and scraping bits and pieces from agency in the city, the mayor and the council claim they've been able to close a staggering five billion dollar deficit without too much pain.
A swarm of cameras recorded the fateful handshake that sealed the deal in the City Hall rotunda last night. Mayor Bloomberg stood with Council Speaker Gifford Miller and proclaimed the new budget, in the best interest of all New Yorkers.
BLOOMBERG: It is an agreement that does not do everything we would like to do but it is an agreement that recognizes the practical reality that given the economic climate nationally and locally, this is what we have to do with the monies available.
With a new mayor and a new council, the budget was a real test of leadershp and both sides were proclaiming victory. Together, they took credit for restoring 175 million dollars in service cuts with new state aid and cost savings. Those restorations prevent the closing of 7 senior centers; keep libraries open 6 days a week and also protect 40 thousand summer jobs for teenagers… among other services. But each side portrayed education as the biggest winner. Miller said the budget restores 300 million dollars to the schools.
MILLER: What we said and what mayor has always said is we want to put education first. Education is the most important thing the city does and if we're going to recover we're going to have to do it in a way that builds on education, and so we worked… to keep cuts out of our classroom and keep our kids in as strong a position to learn as possible.
Education advocates were grateful for those restorations. After months of protests, which included arrests for civil disobedience, they too took credit for saving the schools. But parent activist Larry Wood, a member of the Alliance for Quality Education, was disappointed to hear not all of the cuts were averted.
WOOD: From what I understood, Mayor Bloomberg got control and got his governance deal on the representation that he would not proceed or go ahead with the budget cuts to education. The state came up with new money to help him make it whole. And I understand there's still a $60m cut that's still going through, I'm very unhappy with that.
The mayor and the council say that remaining 60 million dollars will come from administration - not the classroom. But with savings coming from all city agencies, there is sure to be some pain. The police headcount will still shrink by 1600 officers. There will be about 35 fewer ambulance runs by the Emergency Medical Service - runs that will be taken over by private ambulance companies. And while the city is adding 3000 daycare slots, that's less than half of what it planned to keep up with growing demand.
Taxes on cell phones and cigarettes will rise. But the council was not able to persuade the mayor to raise other taxes to build new schools. They also backed off a plan to ask Albany to restore the commuter tax… recognizing it wouldn't happen with the goveror and state lawmakers up for re-election this year. But Brooklyn Democrat Bill DeBlasio said the city would revisit the issue soon enough.
DEBLASIO: We're going to need it. Remember this is the good year in the next few years… and we're going to need the revenue raises we put on the table more than ever in the next few months.
In fact, with more deficits on the horizon, council members are already warning they're ready to keep fighting for new taxes in order to avoid more painful budget cuts in the future. For WNYC I'm Beth Fertig.
I'm Amy Eddings
Although the council fought the Mayor's plan to temporarily suspend the recycling of metal, glass and plastic, both sides compromised. Under the agreement, paper -- which was never on the chopping block -- and metal -- which was -- will still be recycled. Plastic and glass will be suspended, plastic for one year, and glass for two, while a task force studies ways to make their collection more cost-effective. Staten Island councilman Michael McMahon is the head of the council's solid waste management committee.
Michael McMahon: And so instead of having an ending of the program, we have a moderate suspension. But we're committed to working to make recycling work, and we think it's a victory because now, we've always called for this type of task force, and now the mayor's agreed to it. And we think, in the long run, we'll make recycling work for the city, we'll make recycling financially viable, and but more importantly, environmentally, it's the right thing to do.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg says recycled plastic and glass was ending up in landfills, anyway, so suspending their collection means the city is not wasting money it does not have.
Mayor Bloomberg: Plastic and glass, fundamentally, at the moment, with the markets that exist and the technology that exists, and the behavior of people, was not money that was doing any good.
The mayor says the suspension of glass and plastic recycling will save 40 million dollars -- a mere sliver of the city's 42 billion dollar budget. With less to pick up, he says, collection costs will go down, as will the amount of money the city pays contractors to sort and ship out the recyclables. But Mark Izeman, with the Natural Resources Defense Council, thinks sanitation officials won't see these savings for months.
Mark Izeman: They're gonna get all that material….and they're gonna get a lot of glass and plastic, because people are gonna continue to put them in, right? They're gonna have to spend money to send that out to the landfills! There may be some savings, but it's gonna take a long time to de-educate people on what materials to put out.
Environmental advocates are extremely skeptical of the Mayor's analysis of how much the city's going to save through this recycling plan. Councilmembers say their figures put the savings closer to 25 million dollars. Laura Haight with the New York Public Interest Research Group -- who, along with other lobbyists, were at City Hall for most of the day, awaiting details of the budget deal -- believes the mayor got bad advice about how to trim recycling costs.
Laura Haight: It absolutely makes no sense to have the trucks rolling, and not have them collect other materials, especially plastic, which there are a lot of markets for. So I think this was not about economic issues, it was not about environmental issues, this was about politics, pure and simple. This was a power play by the mayor, and it's really unfortunate to see public policy made in this way.
Meanwhile, New Yorkers must now absorb the first of what will be a series of recycling do's and don'ts, as glass and plastic recycling gets taken away, then phased back in. Greenwich Village resident Carol Chen was asked if changing her habits will be hard.
Carol Chen: Yeah, and I want to recycle. I don't wanna put it in the trash. I mean, I save kitchen scraps and compost at the green market.
And the new rules will do little to change the situation for those whose job it is to make sure the right stuff gets put out on the curb. Ralph Redillo is a superintendent for 140 apartments on Thompson Street in the Village.
Ralph Redillo: the problem is, the tenants aren't really recycling well. They don't obey by the rules, so I have to stick my hand in these pails and pull out bottles and glass. I give people flyers, I keep giving -- they just don't understand.
Environmental advocates, frustrated by the deal the council has made with the Bloomberg Administration, say the fight's not over. The Natural Resources Defense Council says it may take the issue to court. Timothy Logan, with the New York City Waste Prevention Coalition, has another strategy.
Timothy Logan: Our intention is to tell everybody to continue recycling as you always have been, and make the city throw out all these perfectly recyclable goods. They've not put together an education budget to explain to people what they're doing? And frankly, it's a moral issue. If city refuses to recycle recyclable commodities, it's unethical and immoral.
The suspension of the glass and plastic recycling program starts with the fiscal year, July 1st. Environmental advocates and councilmembers say they're counting on it coming back, bigger and better, two years from now. For WNYC, I'm Amy Eddings.