New York City officials on Tuesday agreed to a grim coronavirus-era budget that will sharply curtail municipal services, impose a hiring freeze and, in a move meant to placate calls to defund the police, shift roughly $1 billion from the Police Department.
The $88.1 billion budget reflected the economic shutdown that followed the outbreak, causing a $9 billion revenue shortfall that forced the city to make drastic across-the-board spending cuts.
But the virus was not the only external factor that affected the budget.
The protests that followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis led to calls to defund the police around the nation, including in New York City, where protesters have gathered at City Hall since last Tuesday, as well as outside the homes of City Council members.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Council speaker, Corey Johnson, had agreed in principle to cut $1 billion from the Police Department’s $6 billion operating budget, but doing so successfully — especially when crime and shootings are rising — would be a tricky “balancing act,” the mayor said on Tuesday.
Sure enough, the details seemed to please no one, and the budget passed the City Council early Wednesday with more noes than usual, in a 32-to-17 vote.
The city decided to cancel the planned hiring of roughly 1,160 officers, and to shift monitoring of illegal vending, homeless people on the streets and school safety away from the police.
Advocates of overhauling the Police Department argued that the cuts did not go far enough. City Council members were divided; some agreed, while others contended that police funding should not be reduced when crime is rising.
“Black folks want to be safe like everyone else, we just want to be respected,” said Councilman I. Daneek Miller, co-chairman of the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, who opposed reducing the size of the Police Department. “We can’t allow folks from outside our community to lecture us about Black lives and what we need in our communities.”
Mr. Johnson, who is running for mayor next year, said during a virtual news conference that he felt like he was caught between the demands of conflicting groups, constricted from doing what he had set out to do. (He confirmed social media accounts that showed his partner’s rental apartment building in Brooklyn having been vandalized with red paint.)
He also clarified that the $1 billion figure was only reached by including $163 million in fringe or “associated costs.”
“To everyone who is disappointed — and I know that there are many, many people who are disappointed that we could not go further, I am disappointed as well,” Mr. Johnson said just before the Council vote was taken. “I wanted us to go deeper.”
As it now stands, Mr. de Blasio may have agreed to eliminate the incoming July class of officers, but another officer class is still poised to start training in October. The rest of the city’s work force, including teachers — but excepting those in health and safety roles such as firefighters and paramedics — will remain in a hiring freeze for the next year.
“If we have a hiring freeze for every single city agency, that should include the N.Y.P.D.,” Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate, said during an appearance Tuesday morning.
Others described the $1 billion police cuts as nothing more than smoke and mirrors. The critics ranged from prominent Black activists, elected officials of color like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and longtime mayoral allies, like the actress and former candidate for governor, Cynthia Nixon.
“Defunding police means defunding police,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said. “It does not mean budget tricks or funny math.”
Mr. de Blasio’s former deputy mayor, Richard Buery Jr., also chimed in, saying on Twitter that the police cuts did not “reflect a fundamental shift in the nature of policing,” and that the city had failed to capitalize on an “opportunity to begin that journey.”
Critics cited, for example, City Hall’s assertion that the transfer of school safety agents to the Department of Education from the Police Department amounted to a $400 million shift of police resources. The Department of Education already funds the school safety program, sending some $300 million a year to the Police Department, according to New York City’s Independent Budget Office.
The move simply means that the Department of Education will now operate a program it had already been underwriting.
“If you are not spending the money on that agency, if money that agency was planning to spend is no longer in their budget, that is savings by any measure,” Mr. de Blasio argued, during a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.
The mayor and Mr. Johnson are also projecting the Police Department will be able to reduce its overtime costs by $350 million, but it is not clear what basis they are using for that projection, especially when officers are policing frequent protests and crime is rising.
“He’s really just moving money around, and he’s not really meeting the demand of the campaign,” said Anthonine Pierre, the deputy director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, who has joined protesters in front of City Hall to demand Police Department cuts. On Tuesday morning, those protests became more confrontational, which Ms. Pierre said underscored the need for more radical change.
Mr. de Blasio said New Yorkers should have faith in the Police Department’s ability to control overtime because the department is well run.
“Good management, and we have very good management at the N.Y.P.D. now, finds ways to use overtime when absolutely needed, but not overuse it,” Mr. de Blasio said.
Mr. Williams, a leading New York City progressive whom some activists want to draft for mayor next year, is unconvinced.
On Tuesday, he pointed to an obscure provision in the City Charter that requires the public advocate to sign a warrant authorizing the collection of real estate taxes, which underpin the city’s budget. He said he would not sign that warrant unless the city eliminated the next class of police officers.
No public advocate has refused to sign the warrant, and it is unclear if his threatened action would actually stop the city from collecting taxes. Spokeswomen for Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Johnson said Mr. Williams has no power to stall the budget, a view shared by an N.Y.U. law professor, Roderick Hills, who described Mr. William’s analysis of the City Charter provision as “completely absurd.”
The budget itself is taking place in unprecedented times. New York City has had to close a yawning $9 billion budget gap wrought by the near-cessation of economic activity during the pandemic. The city is only slowly beginning to reopen, and its economic future remains murky.
The budget includes $1 billion in labor savings that Mr. de Blasio has yet to figure out how to achieve. He’s warned that the city may have to lay off 22,000 employees in October, should it not achieve labor efficiencies in other ways. He also continues to plead with the federal government for aid and with the state for additional borrowing authority.
To close the gap, he has for the first time had to draw down on financial reserves. He has eliminated the city’s popular composting program and on Tuesday confirmed that he would cut $65 million in funding for Fair Fares, which subsidizes mass transit fares for low-income New Yorkers.
On Tuesday, Mr. de Blasio was asked about those critics, such as the protesters outside City Hall who watched the Council vote on a projection screen late Tuesday, who argue the Police Department budget cuts are just a sleight of hand.
“Some people are never happy,” Mr. de Blasio said.
Juliana Kim contributed reporting.