From The Mayor's Desk ...
Barely four years ago - with the City weathering a fiscal crisis and a national recession - we faced the challenge of closing a budget gap of some $4 billion. But last week, with our economy now on a strong footing, the City Council and I agreed on a budget which included a $4 billion surplus. This shot of good fortune gives us the chance to take a number of fiscally responsible steps to secure our future - including fulfilling the pledge I made in my State of the City in January to provide $1.3 billion in tax relief.
As part of this package of tax cuts, we are instituting a one-year 7% across-the-board reduction in the property tax rate, which is 2 percentage points more than what we proposed in January. If our economy continues to grow stronger, we'll seek to extend the property tax cut next year, too - although right now, it's wiser to take a "wait-and-see" approach.
Too often in the past, whenever government has found itself with more money on hand than anticipated, it has squandered that surplus on politically popular giveaways, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill later. We are not about to make that mistake. That's why we're putting another half-billion dollars of our surplus revenue into a trust fund to pay for the health care of City retirees, and why we're committing some $2.3 billion to close the projected deficits in Fiscal Years 2009 and 2010. That's more money than the City has ever set aside to plug future budget gaps.
In every area of the city, our priority is to make the smart investments today which will reap even greater benefits tomorrow. Nowhere is that more true than in our efforts to improve education. In a system involving 1.1 million students, you are never going to turn things around overnight with quick fixes. So over the past five years, we've laid the foundation for reform by establishing accountability, setting high standards, and providing students with the supports they need to succeed. Everyone - from our principals to our teachers to our students - has worked har, and now that hard work is starting to pay off.
Last week, the State released the results of its standardized math tests - and city students posted the biggest one-year gains since 1999: 65% of elementary and middle school students are now performing at or above grade level, up from 57% last year.
The good news doesn't end there. Graduation rates continue to climb and the intolerable achievement gap between students of different ethnicities continues to close. And in another sign of our success, Andres Alonso, the deputy chancellor in charge of teaching and learning, has been hired by Baltimore's school system to lead their revival. He did a great job for us - and on behalf of all our students and parents, I thank him for his hard work.
You can count on us to keep our eyes focused on the road ahead - because by making the right decisions in our budget and the smart investments in our schools, New York's future is brighter than ever.