Contentious City Budget Passes in Late Night Vote

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After delaying for hours because of last-minute horsetrading, the New York City Council passed a hard-fought $88.1 billion Fiscal Year 2021 city budget last night just before the midnight deadline.

The vote on the highly scrutinized spending plan didn’t start until nearly 10 p.m. It came at the end of a long day that began with violence in the morning outside of City Hall where police with batons came down hard on protesters who had been camped out for days demanding the NYPD lose at least $1 billion in funding. It ended with the promise of violence at night if the budget vote didn’t go the right way.

Whether or not the vote went the right way depends on who you ask.

“We worked to balance the budget during a fiscal crisis and social unrest from images and videos of African-Americans being murdered across the country, said City Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson (D-Bronx), Chair of the Subcommittee on Capital Budget, before the vote. “We understand it is not a perfect budget, but the work does not end here.”

The point of contention was whether or not to appease the protesters’ demands to defund the New York City Police Department, and if so, by how much. The councilmembers also had to navigate a $9 billion shortfall caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

One after another, city councilmembers called into the late-night Zoom meeting from their living room couches and office chairs all over the city to cast their vote.

In the end, the budget passed with 32 “yes” votes and 17 “no” votes.

The councilmembers who voted against the budget were split between those who wanted more drastic cuts to the police department’s budget in the name of police reform, and those who didn’t support making any cuts at all.

The adopted budget includes nearly $1 billion in cuts to the police department by canceling two classes of cadets, removing crossing guards from the NYPD, getting rid of the department’s homeless outreach program, and by reassigning the officers who work in schools –– school resource officers –– to the Department of Education. It also restricts overtime spending.

City Council Member Laurie Cumbo

“These are unprecedented, short-term changes that are simply a starting point on a long road to comprehensive reform,” said Councilmember Laurie Cumbo (D-Brooklyn) who voted in favor of the spending plan.  “We must rethink the role of policing, not only within our City, but this entire Nation.”

Opponents of the budget who support police reform, like Councilmember Carlina Rivera (D-Manhattan), said that the cuts weren’t actually cuts at all and would not help with any meaningful reform.

“While this budget will result in some officers in schools and homeless outreach being moved out of the NYPD, the Mayor would not accept the removal of police from other roles or even seriously address the failure of the NYPD to dismiss officers who have committed clear acts of misconduct or abuse and remain on the force,” Rivera said in her remarks from the vote which she also posted on Twitter.

Meanwhile, City Councilmember Robert Holden (D-Queens) said that he’s lived through a few crime waves and worries that cutting funding to the NYPD would endanger public safety.

Moving funding away from the police department sounded “noble” but the city has a history of wasting money without results, Holden said, giving the example of THRIVE, the controversial mental health initiative run by Mayor de Blasio’s wife Chirlaine McCray.

“Will taking $1 billion from the NYPD accomplish anything other than appeasing this movement while damaging the morale of police officers? As legislators, we cannot create policy based solely on what’s trending at the moment. We must maintain balance, order, and logic while holding public safety as the highest priority,” Holden said.

Many of the councilmembers who supported the budget said they did so because it brought back vital funding to neighborhoods who need it most. Prior to the recent protests demanding police reform following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer, the budget had been desiccated by the economic downturn caused by the city being on PAUSE because of the pandemic. The protests turned that around and reignited the political process.

“The Council started from zero dollars in key funding and worked to secure programs that are vital to our communities without financial assistance from the federal government or the state,” said Council Member Adrienne Adams (D-Queens), Co-Chair of the Black Latino and Asian Caucus.

The most fought for budget item was the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) which was originally cut from the budget because of the shortfall caused by the coronavirus pandemic. SYEP  and the COMPASS, Beacon, and Cornerstone summer camp programs now have  $115.8 million in the adopted budget.

The CUNY Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) were also saved in the negotiations and were allocated $34.3 million in funding.

“After so much pain, our communities should know that their needs and priorities are being met by the city even during the worst financial crisis,” Adams said.

In Brooklyn, the councilmembers who voted for the budget included Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Justin Brannan, Robert Cornegy, Mathieu Eugene, Stephen Levin, Farah Louis, Alan Maisel, Mark Treyger and Laurie Cumbo.

Those who voted against it were Inez Barron, Chaim Deutsch, Brad Lander, Carlos Menchaca, Antonio Reynoso and Kalman Yeger.

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