Critics say city budget’s ‘defunding’ of police is a ‘bait-and-switch’

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LOWER MANHATTAN — In a late night Zoom meeting Tuesday that crossed into Wednesday morning, the New York City Council passed one of the most high-profile and controversial budgets in recent memory.

Facing an unprecedented challenge, lawmakers passed an $88.19 billion budget that left many of the city’s eight million residents unhappy amid the ongoing pandemic, economic crisis and calls to defund the police.

One initiative united most council members: saving employment and camp opportunities for young people, including the summer youth program.

But much of the rest of the budget divided City Hall, with members from different boroughs and different political views agreeing — they’re not happy with how the numbers broke down.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer’s “no” vote was an act of protest. He wanted to see more funding redirected away from policing to support young people.

Others who voted “no” did so in defense of the NYPD, saying funds shouldn’t be taken away from the department during this time.

President Donald Trump tweeted about those cuts to the NYPD Wednesday, saying the city’s police have been neutralized and scorned by the mayor.

But City Comptroller Scott Stringer called the mayor’s claim that he removed $1 billion from the police budget a bait and switch.

“They used fuzzy math,” he said. “They didn’t direct money to communities, all they did was change the name on the door. So in the matter of school safety officers, they shifted that oversight from the NYPD to the Department of Education.”

An advocacy group agreed, saying the mayor and Council agreed to a flawed budget.

“New York City leaders may be breathing a sigh of relief for meeting the budget deadline after particularly arduous negotiations, but the fiscal crisis is far from over,” said the Citizens Budget Commission in a statement.

“The budget for fiscal year 2021 is precariously balanced, and actions taken do not go far enough to shrink large budget gaps in fiscal year 2022 and beyond. New York City’s leaders did not make sufficient hard choices needed to put the City on a firmer fiscal foundation for the long term.”

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams isn’t happy either.

He vowed to invoke an obscure section of the City Charter to block the collection of property taxes until there’s greater reform, including a hiring freeze at the NYPD.

The mayor, once public advocate himself, said Williams is misinterpreting the law and doesn’t have that authority.

The city lost millions in revenue since the start of the coronavirus outbreak and also paid out millions in unexpected expenses as officials battled the deadly virus; the initial budget proposal from Mayor Bill de Blasio was $95.3 billion.

“We’ve lost so many things, including the money that helps our City government to run, including the revenue we depend on to provide basic services to our people,” de Blasio said.

While confronted with managing the financial disaster, protests began in the wake of George Floyd’s May 25 death at the hands of Minneapolis police. Demonstrators in New York decried police and demanded $1 billion be cut from the NYPD budget.

Some of those demonstrators, as part of the Occupy City Hall movement, remained outside the building in protest of the budget and police funding.

The mayor said even though the budget passed, the possibility of laying off 22,000 city employees is still on the table due to a lack of financial help from Albany and Washington.

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