Mayor Adams reduces cuts to schools, libraries and elderly services with $109B budget

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By Dan Sears

Mayor Eric Adams on Tuesday unveiled a $109 billion budget that contained sharp cuts, but unexpectedly exempted or softened the blow to key services, including schools, libraries, social services and programs for older New Yorkers.

The proposal contrasted with previous proposals for cuts, reflecting the unpopularity of Adams’ earlier reductions and projecting significantly better-than-expected tax revenues than a prior forecast. The police, fire and sanitation departments were entirely spared from another round of cuts.

Some agencies, including parks and sanitation, had initially planned to reduce critical services amid a 5% cut ordered by Adams. The city’s libraries said they were prepared to cut hours of services if their funding had been reduced further.

“After reviewing agency submissions, we determined that some agencies could only meet their targets by significantly disrupting service,” Adams said during a livestreamed address at City Hall on Tuesday afternoon.

At the same time, Adams said New York City was “not out of the woods” and implored the state and federal government to provide more aid to help fund the city’s response to the ongoing migrant crisis.

This year’s budget process began with Adams calling for deep cuts after warning that the migrant crisis would “destroy” the city. In November, he ordered across-the-board cuts that he said he had no choice but to make amid multibillion-dollar deficits he mainly attributed to spending on migrants.

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But Tuesday’s plan acknowledged two bright spots for the city’s near-term fiscal picture. Budget officials are now projecting nearly $4 billion more in anticipated tax revenue over 2023 and 2024 – significantly higher than the City Council’s estimate of $1.5 billion and around $1 billion more than projections from the city’s Independent Budget Office.

And earlier in the day, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced she would commit $2.4 billion to help the city with the migrant crisis, an increase from the $1.9 billion she allocated last year.

Nevertheless, some severe cuts are expected to remain and will likely face opposition from some city councilmembers, who have deemed many of them unnecessary.

In a move that seemed to help their case, Adams last week restored funding to police, fire, sanitation, parks and schools. The restoration amounted to $200 million, a tiny slice of nearly $4 billion in cuts that have been made.

Over the weekend, Adams said he would spare libraries from another cut after Gothamist first reported the news. However, he did not restore funding from a previous cut that resulted in the loss of Sunday service at all but one library branch.

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City officials have also lowered their estimate on migrant spending from $12 billion to around $10 billion over three fiscal years. The dramatic revision will likely intensify criticism that the administration’s projected migrant costs had been too high.

Before releasing his budget, Adams announced a plan to create a panel of experts to advise the city on fiscal issues and help “identify creative ways to protect vital services for New Yorkers, achieve efficiencies and cost savings, and maximize federal and state aid to the city,” according to the press release.

Some political observers said the mayor’s decision to announce drastic cuts and then roll some of them back damages his credibility with New Yorkers.

“How does this help? Damage is done & cynicism is more deeply rooted. Mayor doesn’t come out looking like a hero here. It’s just messy,” former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito wrote in a social media post on Tuesday.

George Sweeting, a fiscal policy expert at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs, told Gothamist that the swings of this year’s budget process seemed more dramatic and confusing than those of prior years. New York City mayors have previously exaggerated the city’s fiscal challenges as a way of demanding more funding from Albany and Washington in what is often described as the “budget dance.”

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“If it’s a budget dance, it’s not clear to me who they are trying to dance with.,” Sweeting said.

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