NYC Budget Process
March 30, 2020
Creation of the NYC budget is an ongoing process, but each year’s budget has to effectively be agreed upon by July 1. This is a brief guide to what that process looks like, and how you insert yourself.
Keep in mind that the budget for every year is named by its end year, so even though right now we’re focusing on a budget that will start on July 1, 2020, this will be the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 budget, because it runs through June 30, 2021. So when you refer to budgets, remember the date they’re named with—e.g., FY21—covers July 2020 through June 2021.
The City’s budget goes across many documents, and is very hard to piece together. The City’s budget is separated into several parts:
Expense: basic costs of City programs, e.g., staff, materials, administration, etc.
Capital: spending on buildings, heavy equipment—basically things that are built, or installed somewhere. This is paid for with bonds, so the costs of these are paid for over many years, as payments to bondholders.
Contract: these are services contracted out to various organizations to carry out City functions. The Mayor has the power to baseline, or commit funding for several fiscal years. Council has a pool of money, but its money mostly goes for “one shot” purposes, or for one fiscal year. Council can effectively “trade” money to the Mayor to get baselined.
A lot of the budget is a negotiation between the Mayor and City Council. The chief entity in Council that negotiates with the Mayor is called the Budget Negotiating Team, or BNT. Each member of Council also can give away one year grants to community organizations (discretionary member items), or support slightly bigger-ticket programs (called Initiatives).
BNT negotiations are pretty secretive. Some Council Members will tell you details about them; others are pretty close-lipped. Just because a Council Member is close-lipped about what’s going on in BNT doesn’t mean they’re being shady. They might just need to keep things quiet because they don’t want to overpromise, or, in the case of the Council Finance Chair, keep sort of a public stance of neutrality.
Though most of the activity for budget creation takes place from January through June, the budget process is truly year-round. Never stop fighting. Money can be added or cut at just about any time. Even after this budget is adopted, we have to immediately plan for deeper abolition action in the next budget cycle.
Budget Cycle Events
July 1: this is the start of the City fiscal year. The City is supposed to have what is known as an “Adopted Budget” passed by City Council by this point, and that budget consists of things the Mayor and Council agreed to in June.
November: the City puts out a plan updating its budget, and this sometimes includes new spending items or cuts
January: the Mayor releases what is known alternately as the Preliminary Budget or the January Plan. This is the formal start of budget season.
Mid-February: City Council Discretionary Funding applications are due: whether you want individual Council Member dollars or to have your nonprofit be part of an initiative, you need to file for discretionary funds.
March: Council holds its Preliminary Budget hearings. Most City agencies testify, Council questions them, and members of the public testify.
March-April: Participatory budgeting, where Council Members give community members a small amount of capital funding to allocate.
Early April: Council releases its Response to the Preliminary Budget, which is basically an outline of Council’s goals for the rest of the budget cycle.
April 26: The Mayor must release his Executive Budget.
May: Council holds Executive Budget hearings. Most government agencies testify with Council questioning. The public gets one final hearing, on all subjects, at the end.
June: Council and the Mayor are supposed to agree to the Executive Budget with changes—the “Adopted Budget”—with Council’s changes reflected in its “Schedule C” document. The agreement technically is supposed to happen by June 5, but it frequently lasts longer. The basic agreement on the major budget issues is known as “The Handshake,” which is generally a series of speeches about the budget from the Mayor, Speaker, and other officials in City Hall. Schedule C is released roughly 24-72 hours after the handshake. Changes to the budget can still happen after Schedule C is released and Council votes on the Adopted Budget.
Other NYC Budget Resources
Though the City budget is hard to navigate, these documents and sources can be helpful for finding information:
Budget Function Analysis: This is released by the Office of Management and Budget. It outlines the basic expense program areas of city agencies. E.g., if you want to find the cost of the NYPD “school safety” program, it’s in here. But not everything is in here. There are programs whose budgets are super-hard to understand, like Department of Education, and the NYPD.
Schedule C: This is the document that outlines what City Council is spending its money on, and what it negotiated with the Mayor. There are Initiatives (basically programs that Council created), and member items (nonprofit programming that Council Members find important to fund). Most of the things in the Schedule C are called “one shot,” because Council funds things for one year.
Financial Plan Reconciliation: This is the basic summary of the Mayor’s cuts and additions to the budget.
NYC Open Data: Start by searching for “budget,” and then you can search several aspects of the budget, most prominently Expense and Capital. It takes some getting used to, but you can spit out custom made spreadsheets.