New York Mayor Bill de Blasio ended months of resistance and agreed to fund half-priced MetroCards for buses and the subway for the city’s poorest residents in an $89.2 billion budget deal with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
The two officials sealed the agreement with a handshake inside City Hall’s rotunda Monday night, with de Blasio committing $106 million over six months, starting in January. About 800,000 New Yorkers would be eligible for the discount, saving an average of more than $700 a year. Those who would benefit earn incomes below the federal poverty line, about $12,000 for individuals and $24,339 for a family of four.
The mayor had supported the concept while refusing to back the council proposal because he wanted to pay for it with a millionaires tax that would also finance mass-transit improvements. The tax proposal never received consideration by the Republican-controlled state Senate. The subsidized MetroCard proposal probably had the necessary two-thirds support to override a mayoral veto had de Blasio rejected it.
“This budget focuses on the central goal to make this city the fairest big city in America,” de Blasio said as he announced the agreement at City Hall, joined by Johnson and several dozen cheering council members. The fare discount, he said “is a profoundly good and moral idea.” The mayor said he’d continue to advocate for passage of the tax.
Johnson said the subway and bus discounts will be funded for just six months while he joins the mayor in an effort to persuade the state legislature to enact an ongoing funding mechanism, such as the millionaires tax or congestion pricing. If those efforts fail, the city will continue to pay for it, Johnson said.
Other provisions in the budget include funding to provide pre-school for three-year-olds, with a goal to make the program citywide by 2020. The budget also contains an additional $1 billion in capital spending for the city’s problem-plagued 400,000-tenant public-housing agency. The mayor also committed $12 million to equip every police patrol officer with a body camera by the end of next year. An additional $10.3 million will pay to expand the city’s summer youth employment program by 5,000 jobs, to total 75,000.
A strong economy has produced robust income and property-tax revenue to generate surpluses for several consecutive years. The mayor has used the unspent money to pay anticipated future expenses and reduce debt service. This budget contains a total of almost $6 billion in reserves, including $4.35 billion in the Retiree Health Benefits Trust Fund, $1.125 billion in general reserve and $250 million as a capital stabilization reserve in the event interest rate increases raises the city’s debt service.