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BY MARGARET S. CHIN | This is what our city stands to lose this year: 25,000 after-school seats; nearly 16,000 childcare slots; 159 of 251 shelter beds for runaway and homeless youth and drop-in and street outreach services; 20 fire companies; 40 library branches; 2,750 teaching positions; senior services, including transportation, elder-abuse services, and case management; adult literacy; and nearly $50 million in funds for cultural groups.
To put this in context, if the Bloomberg administration fails to restore $22.1 million in cuts to after-school programs, nearly half of all out-of-school-time programs (O.S.T.) citywide will be forced to close their doors. In Council Distict 1, this number is closer to 70 percent. Out of the 10 city-subsidized after-school programs operating south of Houston St., seven will not be in operation in fall 2012, if these cuts go through. This means students at Public Schools 2, 20, 124, 142, 137, P.S./I.S. 140 and at M345 will all lose their after-school programs.
Budget after budget, the Bloomberg administration cuts funding to programs that primarily serve low-income, working families and minority neighborhoods in order to balance the books. When this is not enough, further reductions in agency spending — so-called Programs to Eliminate the Gap, or PEGs — are leveled, like the 7 percent reduction handed down in November 2011. These cuts are debilitating for programs like after-school, daycare and community boards.
This year, our city is faced with a budget gap of more than $3 billion. The national economic forecast remains sluggish due to the ongoing European debt crisis and the resulting impact on Wall St. profits. New York City’s economy has stalled and city tax revenues will show little growth through 2016. There are some bright spots, such as a record-setting 50.5 million visitors in 2011 and a stable real estate market.
The bottom line, however, is that the city continues to spend more money than it makes. The administration must begin to implement progressive revenue reform.
This year, the mayor plans to balance the budget through continued cuts to essential services and one-shot deals, such as the sale of taxi medallions and surplus funds. These fast-cash injections will do little to reduce the projected $3 billion deficit in FY 2014, $3.5 billion deficit in FY 2015, and $3.4 billion deficit in FY 2016.
The mayor’s plan to further reduce social services and city agency budgets in order to make up this year’s shortfall is inconsistent with the opinions of New Yorkers, who tend to think the city should balance the budget while protecting services like education, police, fire and the social safety net.
In order to pay for these services, 96.8 percent of New Yorkers say the city should ask for a little more from the wealthy, for example, by eliminating preferential tax treatment, according to a survey conducted by the City Council’s Progressive Caucus.
Survey respondents showed overwhelming support for closing a loophole in business taxes, known as the “carried interest exemption,” for partners at private-equity companies and hedge funds so they are taxed like regular business income. This revenue option would raise roughly $200 million for the city. Respondents also called for an end to subsidies to four major banks, which failed to create 19,000 jobs out of a promised 33,000 in exchange for a collective subsidy of $783 million. This measure would reap $100 million in revenue.
Further increasing personal income tax for high-income residents could raise $448 million for New York City in 2013. This option would increase marginal tax rates by one-tenth and would only affect 6.2 percent of New Yorkers, all of whom earn over $200,000 annually.
A six-cent tax on single-use disposable plastic bags could raise $99 million annually. Not only do these plastic bags — such as the kind used in drug stores and supermarkets — make up the largest share of plastic in the city’s waste stream, last year the city spent $7.2 million to export and landfill these bags. This tax, prevalent in Europe and Asia, would require state approval.
If the city charged rent to charter schools that share facilities with public schools, it would raise $53 million annually. About 100 schools are currently co-located in buildings owned by the Department of Education. This would equalize capital costs for charter schools and eliminate an incentive to co-location.
By implementing progressive revenue options, the city could actually expand programs like daycare and after-school and make them universal for all our children. It’s time we stop employing stopgap measures to close the budget gap and get serious about implementing reforms that benefit our city now and in the future.
Chin is city councilmember for the 1st District