July 3, 2008
BAD, BAD BUDGET
Quinn and Bloomberg justify their budget as Council looks on
Last Sunday—LGBT Pride Day in New York City—Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn shook hands and kissed on a 2009 city budget that included $6 million in heinous cuts to HIV/AIDS programs. Even though there was a budget surplus, the mayor wanted to save for a rainy day—and protect an unnecessary "tourist tax." Bloomberg demanded harsh cuts, pitting poor against poor, while the council spun his demands as a "victory" because in the end education funding was spared at the expense of social services. For a full budget breakdown of the HIV/AIDS reductions click here.
Budget meetings were highly secretive and many councilmembers were cut out of the budget process—so much for Quinn’s vaunted transparency. In the end, funding for services for people with living HIV/AIDS and harm reduction programs were decimated. Money for HIV/AIDS counseling programs and a pilot program set up last year to get HIV-positive people out of shelters and into stable housing was completely eliminated, an inauspicious move in Bloomberg's five-year plan to end homelessness.
The Injection Drug Users Health Alliance (IDUHA) Harm Reduction funding was cut by almost $750,000, or 30 percent. HIV rapid testing services received a $1 million cut, a particularly galling reduction given the NYC Department of Health's effort to expand testing, including the recently announced plan to test every adult in the Bronx.
Advocates at press conference denouncing budget cuts
A broad coalition of activists held a last-ditch post-Pride press conference decrying the cuts—after which a dozen members of the New York City AIDS Housing Network (NYCAHN) and Voices of Community Advocates and Leaders (VOCAL) were kicked out of City Hall, shouting, "Hey, hey! No, no! This bogus budget has got to go!". But the budget still passed 49 to 1, with only Councilmember Charles Barron dissenting. Barron had the guts to show the public exactly what was and wasn't cut. The rest of Council failed to protect its most vulnerable constituents.
"We have to be realistic"
Councilmember Oliver Koppell told the Update that if the city's financial picture improves later in the year some of the cuts can be restored, but "right now things don't look so good." He also said that the mayor has used billions in surplus revenues to anticipate a shortfall in 2010, and if just $100 million of that had been spent this year, social service programs could have been saved. "If the Council had the cooperation of the mayor, we could have done differently," he said. "It was a budget that did some important things. We in the Council did what we felt had to be done, including restoration of the classroom cuts, restoration of libraries, moneys, and a partial restoration of what a mayor had cut."
Barron tells it like it is
Advocates say politics got in the way of sound health policy. "The city is cannibalizing itself for body politick to close a gap," said Joyce Rivera, founder and executive director of the St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction, which receives funding through IDUHA. "Prevention works, and I don't follow the logic destroying a program that has proven effective the last 18 years."
Just two weeks ago, Rivera took part in a rally sponsored by IDUHA praising City Council for its support of harm reduction. Thanks to Council funding, between September 2007 and April 2008, IDUHA members have distributed 94,441 sterile syringes, educated 5,494 New Yorkers about Hepatitis C and 9,652 about the opioid treatment buprenorphine, and trained 8,057 individuals on reversing drug overdoses. The Update even reported, "Despite the uncertain funding climate, rally organizers are optimistic that, with the support of [Annabel] Palma and Koppell, IDUHA's funding will be renewed." Despite Palma and Koppell’s staunch support of IDUHA, the funding still took a partial hit
Palma told the Update this week that she and Koppell don't serve on the budget negotiation team and didn't have a say in the final budget. "While I understand that many of my colleagues do support IDUHA, one of the biggest worries facing the Council in fiscal year '09 was to makes sure that we all kept our promises that we would not support a budget with cuts to our classrooms," Palma said. "Despite my disappointment with some aspects of the budget, it would have been irresponsible for me to vote against the budget. We wish we lived in a Utopian society [but] we have to be realistic about such cuts in any given year."
Such rationales don't convince everyone. "These very City Council members voted for the budget cuts after being supportive of these efforts," said VOCAL coordinator Louie Jones. "It's going to be slim and tight but hopefully we will still be able to respond to a need in this most marginalized population."THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN EDITED FROM ITS ORIGINAL FORM TO BETTER REFLECT COUNCIL MEMBER SUPPORT