By NORIMITSU ONISHI
Published: June 17, 1998
The last two weeks of June usually mark the end of the budget-negotiating season in New York City. But because of the overheated political atmosphere in City Hall this year, the fight over the budget will continue for several months and perhaps for the entire next fiscal year, officials predict.
In the past, a budget agreement would have been announced at a carefully orchestrated photo-op, with the Mayor and the Speaker slapping each other's backs and flashing toothy smiles at television cameras. Then on July 1, the start of the city's fiscal year, the Mayor's office would have begun using the new budget.
But this month the City Council passed its own budget after Speaker Peter F. Vallone and Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani reached an impasse. A large part of their differences centered on the future of Yankee Stadium, but the Mayor also complained that the Council had increased spending by $200 million.
Voting along straight party lines yesterday, the Democratic-controlled Council easily overrode items that Mr. Giuliani had vetoed.
It is the first time since the City Charter revision of 1989 gave the City Council its current fiscal powers that the city will have a nonconsensus budget. And that has carried the fight between the Mayor and the Council onto unfamiliar ground.
''The budget is done,'' said Douglas A. Criscitello, director of the city's Independent Budget Office, adding that it was now just a matter of ''arguing over its implementation.''
The Mayor's office has almost exclusive authority in implementing the budget. Mr. Giuliani emphasized yesterday that he would use the full extent of his considerable powers to do so according to his vision.
''The Mayor gets the chance to determine how much money should be spent and in what
order,'' Mr. Giuliani said.
Another section of the City Charter allows the Mayor to impound money, or simply refuse to spend it. But Council leaders argue that the Mayor can exercise these powers only during a fiscal crisis; to do so now, when the city has a $2 billion surplus, would just be political retaliation, they said.
If Mr. Giuliani withholds spending, the Council has vowed to take the Mayor to court, which is the stage on which the budget battle will likely end up.
Mr. Giuliani did not disclose his entire strategy yesterday, but he said he would delay spending in certain areas until the fall, when he expects to have a clearer picture of the city's fiscal condition.
Withholding money from agencies will hurt the city's most vulnerable residents, said Thomas L. McMahon, director of the Council's finance division.
''All New Yorkers will feel some impact,'' Mr. McMahon said. ''But the Upper East Sider who has access to one less library book obviously will be less affected than the southeast Queens mom who cannot get day care. Our hope is to insure that all essential programs continue.''
Mr. Giuliani said yesterday that his actions would not hurt the average New Yorker.
As a practical matter, the Mayor's capacity to tinker with spending is limited, since more than 90 percent of the city's $34 billion budget goes toward salaries and pensions and other mandated costs. He said he would rein in spending on what he described as frivolous programs, starting with the so-called members' items, the $16 million that was handed out to Council members.
''Once we finish with those, then we'll see what's left over,'' the Mayor said. ''This is not going to really hurt many people, except the politicians who run the City Council.''