Budget for a Sanctuary City

| 30 Jan 2017 | 07:02

After de Blasio’s presentation, uncertainty over how Trump’s executive order will affect federal funds

By Madeleine Thompson and Michael Garofalo

Just a day after Bill de Blasio presented his preliminary budget for the next fiscal year, President Donald Trump threw what could be a major wrench in the mayor’s plans. On the afternoon of Jan. 25, Trump signed an executive action to pull funding from so-called sanctuary cities that attempt to protect undocumented immigrants, of which New York City is one. Roughly 10 percent of the city’s budget comes from federal aid, adding up to more than $8 billion in 2016 and a projected $7 billion for next year.

At his budget presentation, de Blasio acknowledged the questions surrounding the new president’s administration. “Against a backdrop of a lot of uncertainty … we are still confident that with this budget we can deepen the investments we’re making in this city,” he said. “It is clear to us that while we’re waiting for the situation in Washington to develop, we’ve got to keep moving.”

According to New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, it is unlikely that the entire $7 billion could be taken away. More probable is the stripping of $165 million federal dollars for security measures like surveillance cameras and other anti-terrorism protections. “This president and these Republicans have to understand that we are and will always be the number one terrorist target in the world,” Stringer said. Trump has also said that he will not pull funds from law enforcement, so it is unclear exactly how the city’s security could be affected.

At an emergency rally last week, New Yorkers and several elected officials spoke out in support of the city’s immigrant population. Hundreds of New Yorkers gathered in Washington Square Park on Wednesday evening to express their broad dissatisfaction with several of President Trump’s actions: the sanctuary cities order; an additional order to begin building a wall at the border between the U.S. and Mexico; and reports that Trump was considering an order restricting immigration from certain predominantly Muslim countries, which he signed two days later.

Protesters, many wearing the pink hats that emerged as a symbol of the widespread women’s marches held the weekend before, waved signs and chanted slogans like, “No ban, no wall, New Yorkers for all.” “I came here with a completely different impression of what the United States was,” said attendee Shreyas Muzumdar, 22, who moved to New York from his native India five years ago. “It sort of baffles me that something like this could ever happen here.”

The rally, sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, attracted activists and local elected officials, including Stringer, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Council Member Helen Rosenthal. “Donald Trump, you idiot, don’t you understand economics 101?” Stringer said to cheers from the crowd. “This town can’t live and operate and function without the immigrant community.”

Stringer railed against Trump again the next day. “It’s idiotic the things he says and tweets,” he said, adding that, especially as a Jewish American, he would stand with Muslims everywhere. “When they come for the Muslim community they’re coming for me, and when they come for me they’re coming for you,” he said.

As de Blasio made the rounds on television last week, he doubled down on his commitment to being a sanctuary city for moral, economic and security reasons. “It’s going to make cities less safe,” he told CNN, referring to Trump’s executive order. “That is the bottom line.”

Public safety was a main focus of his proposed budget, with $275 million going to the renovation of a facility in Rodman’s Neck for officers to train in. More than 10 million will go to bullet-resistant window inserts for NYPD vehicles, and $4.5 million will be invested in enabling communities to reduce local gun violence and intervene in gang activity.

Vision Zero also received a significant commitment of $400 million to be spread out over six years, bringing the program’s total funding to $1.6 billion through 2021. This includes more street lights, traffic signals and left-turn calming measures at 100 key intersections. “We think we’re going to be able to show even greater ability to save lives and protect people as Vision Zero deepens,” de Blasio said. Slightly more than $6 million will be devoted to hiring 200 school crossing guards and 100 supervisors, and $690,000 in safety enhancements to bike lanes

Adding up to $84.67 billion, the mayor’s new budget is 14 percent higher than it was when he took office in 2014. Though inflation has not risen at the same rate as the budget increase, the Fiscal Policy Institute’s deputy director and chief economist James Parrott explained that the difference makes sense. De Blasio settled union agreements with nearly 70 percent of municipal workers soon after taking office, which was costly, and has prioritized responding to “real city needs” like homelessness and bad practices at Rikers Island.

Parrott described the budget as “constructed to be cautious,” citing the high level of capital reserves set aside that could help absorb the effect of any potential lost federal dollars. “If the economy were weakened then, of course, city tax revenues would fall off and it would be harder for the city to make ends meet,” Parrott said. De Blasio’s plan sets aside a record $1 billion in reserves over four years.

The City Council’s various committees will begin to hold hearings on the budget in March, aiming to reach an agreement with the mayor by June 30. For the moment, there is nothing much to be done in response to Trump’s executive order on sanctuary cities but wait.

Madeleine Thompson can be reached at newsreporter@strausnews.com. Michael Garofalo can be reached at reporter@strausnews.com.