By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka was sworn into office five and half weeks ago and walked straight into a budget crisis.
On an annual budget of $800 million, there was a $30 million operating loss left over from 2013 and an estimated $63 million shortfall for 2014, for a total shortfall of $93 million.
Last night the city council approved the mayor’s plan to seek help from the state in return for some loss of control.
Baraka himself seems unfazed by the problem.
“We’re not under state takeover. We’re getting state assistance. We’re getting assistance and help and support from the state,” said Baraka. “I don’t think that’s the problem. I think that municipalities around the country understand because we share the same difficulties around the country. What we’re doing here in Newark around budget crisis or whether you talk about crime or anything else, foreclosures, all of that is a prevalent kind of themes around the country. So I don’t think it would be a shock for anybody but what they will hear is that a new mayor is tackling these issues that he’s inherited and he’s going to find a way out.”
Baraka is asking the Department of Community Affairs in Trenton for $28 million to $30 million.
He also plans to tighten the collection of parking and payroll taxes, find other efficiencies and raise new revenues.
“Whether we talk about container taxes in a form of Y’know, when they come here to our city, not taxing them as they go back and forth but as a storage tax. And we need to be able to find fees around storm water drain off, one because the EPA is demanding to do different things around storm water drain off, but also we need the revenue in our city. There’s many opportunities to raise revenue,” Baraka said.
He vows not to reduce the police department or the fire department as his predecessor Cory Booker did, talks about sharing services with Jersey City and Paterson and says he’s had positive discussions with Gov. Chris Christie.
“He always seems like he wants to help, whether we’re on the phone or in person. Like he’s interested in helping us get out of the situation that we’re in. It’s only when he gets in front of reporters — you guys — it sounds different, he’s always expressed to me that he’s interested in seeing Newark successful. Any governor should feel that way.” he said.
There is an unflappable quality to this new mayor. He seems to think the budget crisis is manageable, even sees it as an opportunity. Perhaps it’s other city problems that keep him up at night.