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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Delivers Testimony Before the Joint Fiscal Committees of The New York State Legislature

February 10, 2020

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you, Chair Weinstein. Chair Krueger, thank you so much. Ranking Minority Members Seward and Ra, thank you. And of course, thanks to all the members here and your leaders, Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Heastie. I want to thank everyone for the work we've all done together and the extraordinary work you did in the last legislative session. I'm joined here today by two key members of my team, our City Budget Director, Melanie Hartzog and our Interim Director of State Legislative Affairs Chatodd Floyd, who will join me in answering your questions.

Right up front, I want to say, given the shootings that targeted our police force this weekend – I know you will all join me in keeping our officers in your thoughts and prayers. Three brave police officers, thank God they all will make a full recovery according to the doctors. But I ask that everyone please keep them and their families, their precinct, the entire NYPD in your thoughts and prayers.

This is the seventh time, Chairs, that I've had the honor of being here before you. Again, thank you for what you achieve in 2019, extraordinary impact for the whole state and for New York City. My written comments speak to the appreciation we all feel for what you achieved in 2019. Unfortunately, I have to turn now to a more painful situation in this budget, which is the fact that there are extraordinary cuts proposed in the executive budget which would have a truly negative effect on the people of our city. And I will delineate a few of those points right now, but I need to first say that the cuts in this year's executive budget are of a magnitude we have never seen before. Right now, the combined cuts would have an impact of $1.4 billion in reduced services for the people of New York City – $1.4 billion.

It is fair to say that we cannot let that happen. We are depending on all of you for help and support in this moment. These cuts would be nothing less than devastating for everyday New Yorkers. We are used to and past executive budgets attempts to cut and in fact if you add up over the previous six years the impact of cuts to New York City by the previous executive budgets and the ones that were ultimately enacted, it is more than $1 billion in cuts and cost shifts. So I want you to consider this point. The Fiscal ‘21 proposed cuts in the executive budget total more than all the cuts New York City has in all six years combined previously. That is the magnitude. We need your help more than ever before. I'll go through the three key areas that make up this $1.4 billion cut.

First and biggest, the Governor wants to shift $1.1 billion in Medicaid costs to New York City. It's not only unfair, it's just not grounded in the reality of how Medicaid works. Want to remind you, we have all raised sustained a one percent cut in Medicaid funding to our Health + Hospitals, that was announced in December. The Medicaid Redesign Team is potentially looking at up to $2.5 billion in additional savings. And if it cannot find those savings, the Governor proposes to take that $2.5 billion and cut it from localities around the state. To say the least, we are all in the same boat here. Alone any of these cuts would have painful consequences, but adding them together, we'll put the health and welfare of the state's largest city at risk and would undermine all the progress we've made in recent years bringing the Health + Hospitals Corporation back to solvency and making it more effective. This would literally set us back years. It’s the largest public health system in the nation caring for more than a million New York City residents each year. It could not withstand cuts of this magnitude without reductions, profound reductions in services to people in need health care. And again, this would be true all over the State of New York.

What would it mean for us if there was a $1.1 billion cut? First in Health + Hospitals, we project it would mean the closing of 19 neighborhood clinics which treat 140,000 patients a year. It would result in the layoff of 1,300 doctors and nurses, frontline health care providers which would result in longer wait times for patients. And the specialty areas that would be affected would be treatment of cancer, heart disease, mental health, a number of other very, very serious needs. This could potentially lead to the total elimination of the Summer Youth Employment program, which reaches 70,000 young people each summer. It could lead to the total elimination of the Compass program, which is after school programming that reaches 120,000 students each year. This is the magnitude of what we would have to do both in Health + Hospitals and beyond because Health + Hospitals alone could not sustain this cut without even more profound setbacks to the health care of New Yorkers.

That said I want to be clear, we stand ready to work with the State to find solutions. Our Social Services Commissioner Steve Banks already helped the State to achieve $180 million in Medicaid savings. We believe there's at least $260 million more if the State will work us and the key point here, who runs Medicaid? The State of New York runs Medicaid. The State of New York sets the rules, the State of New York sets the rates, handing the bill for the State's responsibility to the people of the City of New York or any other locality isn't right and isn't workable. There is no locality that could handle the fiscal impact of this cost switch and even to achieve savings, which we stand ready to do. We can only do it with State cooperation.

I believe there's three ways out of this situation. First, the Medicaid Redesign Team should work with localities to achieve real savings. Second, the State should revise the Medicaid Global Cap to reflect the health care that New Yorkers actually need and its real costs. And third, if we're going to make health care available for everyone who needs it, then we must ask the wealthiest among us to pay their fair share in taxes so that all can be healthy. Lives are literally on the line and we urge the State to remove this cut to localities and safeguard public health by focusing on finding efficiencies and reforms in the State-run Medicaid program.

Second, potential risk is about the future of our children – $136 million shortfall for education and real consequences for our kids in our schools. This would mean the equivalent of removing 400 social workers and guidance counselors from our schools. That is what this cut could lead to in addition to ending programming for restorative justice that has been successful in reducing the need for suspensions and creating a safer school environment.

Everyone here knows that we have still not gotten the resources, neither New York City nor Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, none have gotten the resources promised by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement, and we still need that. If we had that, we could bring 100 percent Fair Student Funding to every school in New York City.

Third, cuts to TANF. Last year, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families was slashed by 10 percent. This year, an additional five percent cut is proposed. That would result in the loss of $100 million over two years. We would have to eliminate preventative services that help 5,500 children and help protect them from child abuse and neglect. Again, these cuts, year after year, are adding up and are going to take away our basic capacity to serve people. We urge you to restore this cut as well as the education cut I mentioned a moment ago.

Very quickly I need to note that there is an unrealistic deadline and, I have to say, absurd penalties that have been proposed in the executive budget regarding the relocation of the Pier 76 tow pound. The executive budget imposed a $12 million fine on New York City with $3 million additional per month after the end of this year. It's utterly unrealistic. It literally would cause us to violate City law that requires a land use process for any such action to take place and that process by law takes more than a year to begin with. This tow pound is basically the size of Union Square Park. Finding an alternative in and near Manhattan is a very complex undertaking. We need your help removing this unrealistic and, I think from City perspective, unlawful act to penalize the City of New York.

I know my time is short. I will only say very quickly by way of summary, we do agree with the executive budget on the proposal on e-bikes and e-scooters. We do agree with the executive budget on the legalization of the adult use of cannabis products – want to make sure that there is also economic justice in what is done on that change.

And then finally I will run through very briefly some areas that we need your help in. First, homelessness – we are taking aggressive steps to end long-term homelessness in New York City. The most expansive strategy we've ever employed, the Journey Home vision announced in December. We ask that you support the Krueger-Hevesi Home Stability Support Act. This will allow us to keep 25,000 New Yorkers in their homes and out of shelter.

We also ask your help addressing the question of the MTA. To this day the MTA has only finished 30 percent of the projects delineated in its last capital plan – 380 projects out of 1,300 that were authorized in 2015. And yet the MTA is asking us for billions of dollars more in resources. I want to make clear to all of you the last time we funded the MTA capital plan in 2015 that money has still not been spent by the MTA. Before the MTA asks for more money, we insist that they do an actual audit to determine the changes they need to become efficient, that they use the money we've given them before, they use the money that you rightly authorized last April, the new funding that would be coming to MTA, and that they commit to accountability and transparency that we have not seen previously from the MTA.

I'll be very quick with your indulgence. We ask your commitment – continued commitment to the New York City Housing Authority and the 400,000 people who live there. The City of New York, because the federal government has stepped away from its obligations to public housing over years and years, decades – the City of New York has committed during my administration $6 billion to help improve and fix public housing. I want to commend the advocates and the elected officials all over the city including the Council Speaker, Corey Johnson, who have been calling on the State to invest an additional $2 billion in NYCHA’s capital needs. This will allow us – to give you one example of the impact that it would have – to renovate 8,000 apartments and make them acceptable and quality housing that would reach 20,000 New Yorkers.

I also want to note, on the issue of criminal justice reform. My thanks again to the Legislature for the actions you took last year which were necessary and crucial and will help us advance justice and fairness and reduce mass incarceration. I believe it is important, however, for judges to have more flexibility, as I've said before, and I believe we can work together to find a solution acceptable to all.

I also want to ask your help addressing what has become a crisis – the loss of small businesses all over New York City. I believe one of the solutions to save our mom-and-pop stores is to institute a vacancy tax. I want to thank Senator Hoylman and Assemblymember Glick for their proposal, which we agree with. It simply says, if a landlord consistently leaves a storefront vacant for a prolonged period of time, blighting a community, keeping that storefront from a small business, undermining the quality of life, that landlord should have to pay something more. I urge you to act on this proposal this session and in this budget, ideally.

Finishing up, we have seen tremendous progress legislatively last year. What all of you did to protect millions of rent-regulated New Yorkers was one of the most profound acts in recent decades to keep New York City affordable, but there is more to be done. There's nearly 900,000 apartments that do not have protections. Two-and-a-half million New Yorkers at this moment have no protection against rent gouging, have no guarantee that their lease will be renewed if they are acting appropriately, have no guarantee they will not be arbitrarily left on the street. We need universal renter protection. That legislation, to be effective, must include well-crafted exemptions including for new construction and owner occupied housing and must ensure that the anti-gouging measure within is based in real and vigorous analysis.

I also want to note on housing, we have an extraordinary opportunity to do something never done before in this city and state, which is to give people the opportunity to get an apartment without having to pay a traditional security deposit. There is a new approach which I support, which will allow people to pay very small monthly payments and avoid that overwhelming upfront cost that's made it impossible for so many people to get affordable housing. I urge you to act.

Lastly on property taxes, something I know there's tremendous concern on, not just in the Assembly and Senate but in our communities. I've heard this at town hall meeting after town hall meeting. The City Council and I put together the first commission since 1993 to review this issue. It's preliminary report, 10 recommendations, would create the biggest reform in 40 years in our property tax system, it would finally end the vast disparities between neighborhoods that are so unfair to so many of our constituents, it would create the kind of consistency and transparency we need. We have made sure in the preliminary proposals – and the final proposals will be out in the months ahead – but the preliminary proposals speak very clearly to need to protect seniors and low-income New Yorkers and folks who need to be exempted or treated differently in this process. And of course this would be something that would be phased in mindfully, but we need property tax reform. It's a matter of basic fairness.

I want to, in conclusion, thank everyone for the opportunity to bring the City's concerns forward to you. Today's hearing is part of what I could call a time honored budget process, but there is nothing business as usual about the threat we face from the executive budget. I'll conclude as I began. This process involves a lot of dialogue and a lot of thoughtful questions and a real conversation about what's best for our people. But the executive budget has put into play a series of cuts that we have never seen before on this scale that could literally undermine the health care and the basic quality-of-life of millions of New Yorkers. We can't let that stand. I ask your help and support in addressing this urgent challenge.

And with that, I want to thank you for the opportunity to be with you. I look forward to your questions and thank you, Chairs, for your indulgence.

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