NEW YORK (AP) — New York City lawmakers are holding a high-stakes debate on the city budget as activists demand a $1 billion shift from policing to social services and the city grapples with multibillion-dollar losses because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The City Council was meeting Tuesday, with a midnight deadline to pass a budget ahead of the fiscal year that begins Wednesday.
It comes with protesters camped outside City Hall insisting that the city slash $1 billion from the New York Police Department's budget amid a nationwide campaign to “defund” police — a movement animated by outrage over the deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans at the hands of police.
Protesters want money moved from policing to community and social programs, saying the shift would advance racial justice and curb a police force that the activists say has been given too much power.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday he had a plan for a $1 billion cut from one of the world's largest police departments. He wouldn't detail the proposal but said spending on capital projects would be reduced by $500 million, money would go to the city’s chronically underfunded public housing system and to youth programs, and there could be changes to the NYPD's role in policing schools.
“I certainly understand why people feel so strongly the need for change,” de Blasio, a Democrat, said on cable news station NY1 Monday evening. “I was skeptical at times about how we could make the pieces fit, but we actually found a way to do it that makes sense.”
Activists are suspicious that the cuts will merely shift money around without making what they see as meaningful changes.
“No funny math. No budget musical chairs,” relatives of more than a dozen people killed by NYPD officers said in a letter Tuesday to the mayor and council. “We’ll know if you fought for our communities or whether you will let the NYPD continue to be treated as if they’re above the law, even in the budget.”
The NYPD budget is now around $6 billion, plus several billion dollars more in shared city expenses such as pensions.
The discussion comes as the city is grappling with what de Blasio has pegged at a $9 billion revenue loss because of the coronavirus.
The city budget totaled nearly $93 billion when passed last June.