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Impact of $75-billion budget deal unknown for city

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio attends

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio attends the 2014 Wildlife Conservation Society Gala at Central Park Zoo on June 12, 2014 in Manhattan. Credit: Getty Images / Stephen Lovekin

The verdict on Thursday's $75 billion budget deal between the mayor and City Council won't be known for years -- whether it jeopardizes the city's fiscal health or adequately cushions the city against economic shock waves.

Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration, his allies and some budget groups say the budget is fiscally sound, while critics say de Blasio and the council failed to make any cuts or increase taxes to pay for raises given to the city's unionized workforce.

One of the biggest chunks of the budget plan is a labor settlement with the United Federation of Teachers that will cost $9 billion over the course of the nine-year life of the contract, to be offset by health care savings to be worked out.

Council negotiators managed to wrangle from de Blasio and his negotiators millions more to send cops to street duty from desk duty, serve free lunch to all middle schoolers and pay for more mental health services in the city's jails.

Those will cost between $100 million and $200 million. There is no exact estimate yet.

Nicole Gelinas of the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute had no quarrel with the council's add-ons -- "These are tiny fractions of [the] . . . budget" -- but renewed her criticism of City Hall for pushing back pay to teachers onto future budgets.

"He cannot say that the teacher contract is affordable. By definition it has helped quadruple the out-year budget gaps," she said.

Comptroller Scott Stringer, an ally of the mayor's, said Friday the budget is "financially prudent but also goes to help a lot of people in the city who are struggling."

But he said he wants to see future budgets identify and cut inefficiencies and waste.

"We should look at how to create savings within agencies," Stringer said. "Now that wasn't done in time for adoption, but there's no doubt in my mind that the administration should take a look at how we can identify inefficiencies, how we can look at old programs, and figure out how we can save the dollars necessary for the future." He vowed to hold the administration's "feet to the fire going forward" to make sure that happens.

Maria Doulis, director of city studies at the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission, lamented that City Hall has not made the underlying budget documents available. But from press reports, she said she remains concerned over future years through up-and-down economic cycles.

"We have the revenue now," Doulis said, "but it's not always going to be there."

Michael Bloomberg, de Blasio's predecessor, set up a rainy-day fund during flush years that cushioned the economic collapse of 2008.

Doug Turetsky, chief of staff to the city's Independent Budget Office, said the city's coffers provide its books with a "pretty decent cushion" for the whims of the economy. He pointed to more than $1 billion in a retiree trust fund and $600 million in the general reserve.

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