After much back and forth, yesterday Mayor Eric Adams released a revised executive budget that partially walks back some of his enthusiasm for budget reductions and comes more in line with the City Council’s demands.
This whole process has been enormously complicated by the fact that the state budget is now almost a month late. Reasons include the clash over bail reforms that we wrote about last week (which seems to have culminated in some kind of half-deal that doesn’t change much) and a dispute over Gov. Kathy Hochul’s ambitious housing plan, which we dissected earlier this year and which was ultimately stripped out by a recalcitrant State Assembly that agrees on the fact that there’s an acute housing shortage but apparently got cold feet over how sweeping the effort was.
The city budget is due after the state’s budget for a reason: our municipal finances are inextricably tied to the state’s, and to make our own plans we need to know how much the state will be paying for, including contributions to the jointly financed Metropolitan Transit Authority and public education. That means the current budget process to some extent is depending on guesswork, given that we don’t concretely know what the state’s budget picture will look like, and Albany seems relatively unhurried in getting to a final document. Even now, points of contention like a minimum wage proposal are being raised, over three weeks after the budget was due.
Adams backs away from some steep cuts
As for the new executive budget, the biggest takeaway is that Adams has somewhat backed off some of the steep cuts that had elicited public outrage. While he has often waved away the notion that his cost-savings measures — which include efforts to eliminate altogether positions that had been vacant, and a so-called program to eliminate the gap cuts that would mandate most agencies find savings of 3 or 4 percent per round — would impact delivery of city services, he acknowledged the concerns in remarks yesterday, saying “I want New Yorkers to understand we did not take savings that could threaten these critical services. We did not cut budgets for the sake of cutting.”
Notably, the library systems, which had been warning about dire reductions in programs and operating hours, have now been spared the latest round of 4 percent cuts along with the Department of Cultural Affairs, though earlier cuts remain in effect. Several other agencies will also face smaller reductions than previously contemplated, including uniformed services like fire and sanitation as well as service departments like youth & community development.
That doesn’t mean the budget is letting the good times roll; at $106.7 billion, it’s about $4 billion larger than the mayor’s first preliminary budget, but none of that is being budgeted for spending on standard city services. Rather, it’s for increased labor costs after the city struck some new deals with labor unions — including an eye-poppingly sweetheart deal with the police union which provides raises retroactively to six years — and caring for asylum seekers. On this latter front, the city has stuck to its estimate that caring for newly arrived migrants will cost $4.3 billion over this fiscal year and next, a claim that many find questionable.
Sources close to the budget process have complained that the city’s budget office has relied on some dubious and very general assumptions to reach this number, including the assumption that the number of migrants in city shelters will continue increasing pretty much linearly over the next year. There’s also uncertainty around how much the state and federal government will provide in assistance for asylum seekers, or what actions the federal government will take to manage their flow, making the administration’s estimate seem like a politically opportunistic worst-case projection.
Paired with the fact that the administration has brought its revenue projections much closer to the City Council’s after initially projecting a much gloomier picture has some in the Council and in the advocacy space grumbling that the mayor has intentionally been creating a more dire budget picture in order to justify some cuts he wanted to push through anyway. In the end it’s not the sort of slash-and-burn proposal some had feared, but some advocates are already calling it an “austerity budget.” The process isn’t finished, though. Council speaker Adrienne Adams and finance chair Justin Brannan chided the administration over maintaining cuts, and they might still work to reverse some of the cuts in the final budget, which is due July 1.
City Council elections are coming up in June
Switching gears for a minute and still on the topic of the Council, elections for that body are coming up this June. The incumbent-stacked Council is unlikely to see much in the way of fireworks, and most races — which, remember, now utilize ranked-choice voting — will probably be little more than cursory. There are some contests, though, that might present genuine challenges. Among them is Upper Manhattan-based District 9, currently represented by freshman member Kristin Richardson Jordan, who has attracted a good deal of controversy for her outspoken stances, in particular her staunch opposition to the One45 redevelopment project in Harlem.
Jordan had maintained that the project needed to have more affordable housing than was initially promised, which is a standard push by elected officials representing zones of potential redevelopment. Yet, even after developer Bruce Teitelbaum increased the below-market share of the over 900 potential new apartments to about half, Jordan insisted that they weren’t affordable enough, and the project was killed. Instead, the site now features a truck depot and no affordable housing whatsoever, and while Teitelbaum has discussed relaunching it, the plan remains up in the air, leading some critics to hit at Jordan for killing the possibility of any housing at all in favor of a perfectly pure development.
The councilmember is now facing challenges from some well-funded heavy hitters, including her predecessor Assemblymember Inez Dickens, her predecessor in that Council seat, Assemblymember Al Taylor, and Yusef Salaam, a member of the so-called Exonerated Five, the group of five teenagers falsely arrested and jailed for a rape in Central Park decades ago.
Also promising drama is Brooklyn Councilmember Ari Kagan, of District 47, who announced late last year that he was switching parties from Democrat to Republican and would be challenging the aforementioned Brannan in the general election in District 43, which along with the other districts was redrawn in last year’s redistricting. Brannan himself has been an outspoken member in favor of generally progressive causes, something of a rarity in the redder Bay Ridge area he represents, and Kagan is positioning himself explicitly to run on the argument that the Democrats have gone too far left, setting up an interesting showdown.