A closer look at the Borough President's budget, his marquee Coney project, and the off-books funding via the mayor's office
After all, do we know what Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz does with his operating budget? Sort of, but it takes a little digging.
Remember, when Markowitz met with bloggers on April 23, he lamented the pressures on his budget but couldn't immediately provide details.
I later that day got some overall numbers. His staff pointed me to the city budget office (right; click on graphics to enlarge), which shows that the agency budget has indeed gone down dramatically.
(Click on graphics to enlarge)
But what's next?
A city official the next day pointed me to p. 168 of the Departmental Estimate, Office of Management and Budget (PDF), Markowitz's office stands to lose a significant number of staffers, 24 of 75, in the proposed mayoral budget, as more than $1.4 million will be cut from his $4.4 million personnel budget.
Which staffers will go?
But which ones would be cut? Would it be any of the three chauffeur-attendants, important to moving Markowitz to the many promotional/ceremonial events he attends?
Markowitz spokesman Mark Zustovich several days later told me it's too soon to tell: "Our office is reviewing the budget and no determinations have been made, or timetable established, in respect to staffing."
Also, page 169 of the PDF shows that the $298,662 "special expense" line would be cut almost completely.
Zustovich said that was the BP's discretionary budget, which itself was cut dramatically from the previous fiscal year.
The mayor's proposed Executive Budget (p. 9 of this PDF) shows a dramatic dropoff in funding for the Brooklyn Borough President's office, as well as for the other borough presidents.
Meanwhile, as the New York Post reported last October, since 2003, the Bloomberg administration has provided at least $2.7 million in taxpayer funds to three nonprofit groups Markowitz controls, including Best of Brooklyn and the organizations that run his summer concert series. Forest City Ratner and others connected to Atlantic Yards also gave between $680,000 and $1,075,000 to Markowitz's nonprofits.
The Brooklyn Paper further reported that FCR and affiliated companies gave $200,000 to the Martin Luther King Jr. Concert series, and Barclays gave $60,000.
The capital budget
So, what does Markowitz do with his $71 million capital budget? As noted in a January profile by City Hall News, there's little guiding philosophy:
If he had an opponent, this might be a point of contention, along with the kinds of things which have received support from his discretionary budget over the years. Though Markowitz has a knack for grand thinking—Brooklyn as an international tourist destination? Astroland retooled for the 21st century?—his capital expenditures have been decidedly small-bore. Unlike Adolfo Carrión in the Bronx, who directed much of his capital money toward creating affordable housing, Markowitz has spent less than $9.5 million over seven years on this construction, lacking any identifiable emphasis toward this or anything else for his capital investments. In disbursements rarely higher than $1 million and generally much less, Markowitz has spread the money around to things like adding street planters and buying new equipment for community centers. To his critics, this is evidence of an inability and unwillingness to flex the full power of the office, though to defenders like Council Member Lew Fidler (D-Brooklyn), the hundreds of thousands of dollars the borough president has been pouring in to renovating school playgrounds in recent years is “not a small thing if it’s your playground.”
Well, maybe not so small-bore. Markowitz in February 2007 unveiled a $35 million plan for a new Coney amphitheater, as the Brooklyn Paper reported. By November 2008, it was a $64 million project, as the Brooklyn Paper reported. In January of this year, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that Markowitz would contribute $54 million from his capital budget, and $10 million would come from the Mayor’s Office via Council Member Recchia.
That $54 million obviously isn't being disbursed in one year, since this year's budget, as the chart at right (supplied by the BP's office in response to my request) shows some $24.6 million. It also shows$10.75 million for the refurbishment of the Loews Kings Theater in Flatbush.
The rest of the numbers are somewhat opaque. There's apparently funding for playgrounds at schools and fixing libraries. There's little apparently directed at affordable housing, despite Markowitz's rhetoric about the importance of affordable housing at Atlantic Yards.