By Felipe De La Hoz
With a new year also comes a new mayor and City Council, and today we are going to talk about Mayor Eric Adams’ preliminary budget.
The main thing to note about Adams’ proposed $98.5 billion city budget for fiscal year 2023, released in the middle of last month, is that it self-consciously avoids significant new spending in keeping with the new mayor’s carefully cultivated image as a technocratic pragmatist. The number itself is eye-popping, but we have to remember that it always is for the largest and most complex city in the United States, whose municipal workforce of over 300,000 and robust government programs — universal pre-K, a large public hospital system, a police force with armament and technology that are both military grade — rival a small country’s.
In fact, the proposal is all of $200 million less than the fiscal year 2021 adopted budget, a small percentage in the context of these massive budgets but no doubt included for headline value of saying the budget plan has actually shrunk instead of grown. As is to be expected, this means that several advocacy groups and interested parties didn’t get what they wanted, exacerbated by the fact that Adams had made a number of campaign promises around municipal spending.
Housing affordability advocates slammed the proposal for not including any funding increases for either NYCHA’s nor the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s capital budgets, despite an earlier pledge to ramp up this spending for housing production. Parks champions were similarly incensed by a lack of increase in the budget for the Department of Parks and Recreation, parent groups and education activists denounced plans to reduce education spending in tandem with a recent decline in school enrollment, and so on.
Adams has fixated on the idea of fiscal responsibility, having ordered almost all municipal agencies to identify so-called “program to eliminate the gap” (PEG) cuts, essentially three-percent reductions in spending that agencies themselves select based on what they think they can do without. The proposal would also greatly reduce the municipal headcount, though the administration emphasizes this would be accomplished through attrition, not layoffs. Budget reserves would be beefed up to $6.1 billion, more than they’ve ever been before but still below what some say is necessary to weather another economic turmoil of the magnitude of the Covid-19 pandemic, which could come at any time.
Spending advocates are particularly steamed given that the city is awash in federal funds meant to bolster the city’s recovery from the pandemic. It’s not that Adams doesn’t want to use it—the money is indeed going to one-off spending, which is what it was more or less intended for, including an expansion of the Fair Fares program (which provides subsidized Metrocards to low-income New Yorkers) and an expanded income tax credit. The mayor just seems allergic to expansion of operational funding for city agencies.
This is of course not the final word. Adams will spend weeks wrangling with the City Council, with its 51 members each pushing for their own priorities. It’s decently likely that the ultimate enacted budget will be significantly larger. Yet it is a clear display of Adams’ priorities, which at this stage seem more in line with fiscal caution than big spending.