Mayor Bill de Blasio has stowed away at least $1 billion in surplus money that could be used to settle the city’s more than 150 open labor contracts, according to city council members leaving the mayor’s preliminary budget briefing.
The new mayor’s preliminary budget has replenished $1 billion to the Retiree Health Benefits Trust Fund–which was on track to be emptied by the previous administration–in addition to increasing general reserve funds from $300 million to $600 million over the coming years.
But council lawmakers cautioned that the mayor made clear in an private briefing that he wants the money to be used for more than just funding wage increases and retroactive raises for the city’s workers.
“That’s money we are going to need some day. It’s not money that’s there just to be spent,” said Queens Councilman Mark Weprin after the meeting. “That’s money that’s needed to protect the pension funds and healthcare funds, which have been going up astronomically.”
“That’s the big elephant in the room: That it’s really unfair to characterize that we have extra money when this is major. It’s a priority for him to make sure we get these contracts done, and anyone who looks at it morally would agree with him that our workers should not have to work without a contract,” he added.
The budget also adds money to areas including NYCHA and homeless services, as well as funding the mayor’s plans to create a municipal ID card and to start an NYPD Inspector General’s Office, council members said.
Overall, members leaving the briefing, which the mayor attended personally, sounded pleased.
“For a preliminary budget presentation this young in the administration … I think it’s great,” said Councilman Brad Lander. “The mayor himself came, he spent a lot of times with us, he answered a lot of questions. I think he’s being very clear about the choices and proposals he’s making, what uncertainties there are.”
“It reflects the challenging circumstances and uncertain circumstances that the city faces,” he added. “It makes some valuable down payments on the goals that the mayor’s articulated.”