Quinn’s Council passes a $68.5 billion budget, with discretionary money and overrides

Christine Quinn and G. Oliver Koppell. (Dan Rosenblum)
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Amid what Council Speaker Christine Quinn called “a bit of a hat trick of overrides,” the City Council last night approved a $68.5 billion budget and easily passed three bills that were vetoed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. 

The 10:26 p.m. budget resolution passed 50-1 (the sole holdout was Charles Barron). It restores Bloomberg-proposed funding cuts to libraries, childhood education, fire companies and other city services.

The Living Wage Act, which passed with 46 votes, willl force most companies doing more than $1 million of business with the city to pay hourly wages of $10 with benefits or $11.50 without them.

At a City Hall press conference before the vote, Quinn was asked about a potential lawsuit from Bloomberg to block the measure. Quinn said she hadn’t talked to the mayor that day, but defended the law in terms of the previous Living Wage bill passed in 2002.

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“They are no different in philosophy or concept, and I don’t believe they’re any different in legal authority, so I don’t understand why the mayor would sue," she said. "But if he sues, we’ll defend the bill, and if we defend the bill, we will win.”

The Council also passed the Responsible Banking Act with 47 votes, forcing banks that take city funds to create advisory boards better identify how they serve residents and small businesses in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. Brooklyn councilman Al Vann, who sponsored the bill, defended the bill against criticism from Bloomberg, who in May called the bill “idiotic.”

“We deposit millions of dollars that they use and they do it well and continue to do that and even in the legislation, even though we’re…developing a new level of accountability, if you will, that they would not have to change the way they now use their banks,” he said.

The third veto override put in place a measure that is intended to clarify collective bargaining rules for contract disputes between the city and union employees.

The Council also voted to approve a bill that would limit banks to Amsterdam and Columbus avenues on the Upper West Side in order to preserve much of the neighborhood's local character.

Part of the budget for fiscal year 2013, which begins Sunday, contains $635 million in revenues from anticipated taxi medallion sales, from a scheme that is currently being fought in court by medallion owners

While she said she was optimistic the medallion sales would go through, Quinn said as a contingency the city would have to look at reductions instead of raising property taxes.

“But obviously, if for some reason, which I don’t anticipate, we didn’t get any of the medallion sales in this year, like any other reduction in revenue, we would have to compensate for it," Quinn said. "How do you compensate for reductions in revenues? You make cutbacks.”

The budget included millions of dollars in discretionary funds distributed to the members to fund services primarily in their districts. Quinn was asked whether distribution of member items was an example of cronyism.

“If you look at the system that we have in place, the system that we have greatly reformed, changed significantly,” she said. “We basically went from a system we inherited here that was kind of an honor system to a verification system. We work closely reviewing all of the different distribution.”

She used the example of a group in Midtown Manhattan or Downtown Brooklyn that may serve the entire city as well as services that support people neighboring districts. Quinn added there were other funding sources such as through budget restorations.

“There are a lot of different factors that go into it, and I think at the end of the day we end up with distribution that is truly citywide, truly supports a lot different types of diverse groups, supports a lot of smaller groups that often just don’t have the ability to go out there and be part of the RFP system, which I think is one of the best things about this system,” she said.

When a reporter pressed her on the leverage she derives from her discretion over funding distribution to members, Quinn simply said, “I disagree."