City Reaches Budget Deal During Continuing Turmoil

A protester held up a sign during a Black Lives Matter protest in Brooklyn. Photo by Tsubasa Berg

Amid threatening phone calls to city councilmembers, the City Council Speaker’s partner’s apartment building being vandalized, and protesters camped outside of City Hall with cops doing beat downs with batons, the New York City Council reached a deal on the city’s hotly debated FY2021 budget.

The vote on the budget, which was postponed from this afternoon, is now slated for tonight at 8 p.m. even though it does not completely meet the demands of police reform protesters, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) announced on Tuesday afternoon.

The budget negotiations, which were already brutally challenging because of a $9 billion shortfall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, were further complicated in recent weeks after local activists took to the streets to pressure local lawmakers to defund the New York City Police Department by cutting $1 billion from their budget in the overall spending plan.  

In all, they resulted in the reduction of the NYPD budget by nearly $484 million in cuts, $354 million in shifts to other agencies, such as the Department of Education and the Department of Homeless Services, to carry out duties previously assigned to the NYPD, $162 million shifts in associated costs, as well as the movement of $500 million in capital costs from the NYPD capital budget which allows investment in other badly needed infrastructure, according to a press release from the Speaker’s office.

“I look at myself as someone who has been trying to achieve the demands that these people have been asking for,” Johnson said about the protesters’ demands. “I know they don’t think it’s good enough and they don’t think it’s far enough, but I have to balance what the members of the council want, and the mayor wouldn’t move on some things.” 

In a press conference earlier today, Mayor de Blasio said that he went into the negotiations with three ground rules.

“I said, “We have to keep the city safe. We have to protect the levels of patrol strength throughout our communities. And we had to make sure that we were really doing something to refocus resources on young people and on communities hardest hit, that we were reinvesting in ways that would help us address a lot of the root causes of the problems we face,’” he said. “I am confident that this budget does exactly that.”

Johnson said that he tried to get to as close to the $1 billion cuts as possible. 

“This is not a perfect budget, this is a painful budget,” he said apologetically. 

The $88.1 billion budget is expected to pass tonight just in time for the July 1 deadline to make sure that the agencies community programs who are receiving some of the money being redirected from the NYPD can get the funds as soon as possible. 

The budget is expected to pass despite a number of councilmembers who are expected to vote ‘no.’ 

The naysayers come from both sides of the debate over whether or not to cut funding to the NYPD with some refusing to approve it because they want more cuts to the NYPD budget and other because they oppose any cuts to the NYPD at all. 

Chair of the Subcommittee on Capital Budget Councilmember Vanessa L. Gibson (D-Bronx) said that it’s hard to find a balance when some people believe there are too many police while others say there aren’t enough. 

Many of her constituents in her district in the Bronx want police in the community to combat crime, she said. 

“They don’t want to see excessive force. They don’t want to see cops putting their knees in their necks. But they want to be safe as they go to the store,” she said. “I remind everyone that the majority of the folks that are out there talking about changes and reforms do not represent everyone that lives in our communities.”