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Mayor unveils 2008 city budget

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"Because of our strong economy, tax revenues are running higher than expected this year," the mayor said.The city has added 124,000 private sector jobs since 2003 and $25.1 billion in Wall Street bonuses in 2006 were a record. The 5 percent unemployment rate in 2006 was an all-time low. More tourists visited New York last year Ð 44 million Ð than at any other time in its history and the commercial real estate market is booming.The mayor's proposed budget for fiscal year 2008 would pour $500 million into a city trust fund he created last year in the wake of increasing costs for city health benefits. Bloomberg added $1 billion each to the fund in fiscal years 2006 and 2007, saying the fund would provide long-term stability for the city.Although Bloomberg said the city has collected more in taxes than it expected, which is adding to the expected $3.9 billion surplus, the city is forecasting deficits in fiscal years 2009 through 2011. His proposal for fiscal year 2008 would use $1.4 billion to help close the gap in the 2009 budget. One day after Bloomberg unveiled his $57.1 budget Jan. 24, the mayor and the City Council announced an agreement that would baseline funding for the Department of Cultural Affairs, Parks and the Administration for Children's Services. The pact would help put an end to the so-called "budget dance," where the mayor proposes cuts in funding for institutions that are later restored by the Council when it approves the budget. "These significant reforms... will increase transparency and accountability and shorten the budget dance we see every year," Bloomberg said.The plan would baseline Ðmeaning funding would not go below what the mayor proposesÐ $14 million for maintenance and enforcement of city parks and $10 million for family child care programs under ACS. City-owned cultural institutions and separate cultural programs receive funding through the Department of Cultural Affairs. Under the agreement, the city would allocate $30 million for a merit-based fund that uses a peer review process to determine how much money groups receive. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) said under the agreement on baseline funding "arts organizations, parks and our child care can all now bank on the city's annual support rather than worry each year about whether they'll get funded."Coinciding with his budget proposal, Bloomberg also announced his 10-year capital plan, which runs through fiscal year 2017. The $77 billion capital plan would allocate about $28.5 billion for schools, assuming that the state continues to fund half of the city Department of Education's capital plan.Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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