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Eric Adams Spurned on Key Asks in State Budget Talks

Mayoral control of public schools and a housing tax break are no longer on the table, sources tell THE CITY. Not helping: The mayor’s first and last appearance in Albany was in mid-February.

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Mayor Eric Adams speaks at the Capitol Building in Albany, Feb. 14, 2022.

Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

In his first state budget go-round with state lawmakers, Mayor Eric Adams will likely be coming home empty-handed on two top priorities that had been in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposal for the state’s $200 billion-plus spending plan. 

Adams seeks to extend mayoral control of New York City schools and renew a program that gives developers tax breaks in exchange for setting aside affordable housing, known as 421-a. Both have been dropped from the state budget, according to sources familiar with the ongoing discussions approaching an April 1 deadline.

Those items could resurface later in the legislative session, which runs through June. But their omission from budget bills sidelines Adams at a moment when much of Albany’s business typically gets done with an up-or-down vote by the Assembly and Senate.

Albany sources not authorized to speak publicly about the matter told THE CITY that state lawmakers are reticent to acquiesce to the Adams administration’s request to include mayoral control of schools and the 421-a tax abatement program in the state’s fiscal plan in part because he and his administration have been absent from the state Capitol until very recently and haven’t meaningfully engaged lawmakers.

While discussions over the pair of items appear to be dead, budgetary discussions between the State Senate, Assembly and governor are mercurial and subject to change drastically before a deal is cut and budget bills are printed. 

Before Adams spent Monday evening partying with celebrities at One Vanderbilt at a promotional event held by Wells Fargo for a new credit card, more than a dozen City Hall staffers – including top advisor Ingrid Lewis-Martin, NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell, Chief Housing Officer Jessica Katz, Deputy Mayor Lorraine Grillo, schools Chancellor David Banks and Phil Banks, the deputy mayor for public safety – spent the day in Albany making their case to state lawmakers. 

NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Priority issues include revamps to bail and other criminal justice procedures, child care funding, and housing. 

“Today our entire team is in Albany walking the halls, and at the top of our agenda is to fight on behalf of this critical issue of child care as we move to the place of closing the budget,” Adams said at a Monday news conference in Rego Park, Queens. 

But their visit came too late, several lawmakers remarked, adding that the absent Adams should have been pushing his priorities weeks ago instead of at the last minute.

“While we have been actively working on the budget for the last couple of months, it wasn’t until about two weeks ago until the mayor or his team attempted to engage many of us on what his priorities would be,” said one city legislator. 

Adams’ first and last appearance in Albany was in mid-February. In the weeks since, he’s been to Miami, Chicago and Washington D.C., spending more time in other cities than in New York’s capital, where state officials dictate many of the laws governing the five boroughs, lawmakers noted. 

Mayor Eric Adams spends time with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer while visiting Washington, D.C., March 14, 2022.

Chuck Schumer/Twitter

On Tuesday, the Adams administration sent state lawmakers proposed bill language for changes to New York’s 2019 bail reform law, which currently prohibits cash bail for most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. But details about exactly what Adams is asking for remain scant.

Adjusting the bail laws has remained the most contentious issue in the state budget so far, stalling discussions in the last few days. 

Earlier this month, Hochul proposed a 10-point public safety plan to legislative leaders, including a provision that would grant judges the ability to consider a defendant’s “dangerousness” when considering pretrial release measures, something progressive Democrats have been fighting against for years. Adams has also called for empowering judges to weigh “dangerousness.” 

Democrats in the Assembly and Senate are expected to discuss changes to the bail laws on Wednesday evening that would allow judges to have some discretion over repeat offenders in certain cases and allow them set cash bail, as well as lowering the threshold for gun trafficking charges, according to people briefed on the proposal. 

Adams Still Has Room 

Adams is hardly the first mayor to get the cold shoulder from state lawmakers at budget time.

Failure to engage fellow Democrats almost jeopardized mayoral control of city schools for his predecessor, Bill de Blasio, in 2019, prompting the former mayor to make a last-minute trip to Albany to speak with members. 

Looking to make allies of the new mayor, Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed to grant Adams a four-year extension of mayoral control — one more year than what lawmakers gave de Blasio.  But Democratic lawmakers in both houses aren’t willing to hand Adams a win so easily and they still have lingering questions for the mayor. 

But all hope is not lost for mayoral control and 421-a.

Both measures are slated to expire in June, giving lawmakers roughly three months to come up with proposals outside of the state budget, which is typically yoked with policy decisions that shield elected officials from otherwise politically risky votes, especially in an election year. 

Hochul proposed to eliminate the 421-a program and rebrand it as the Affordable Neighborhoods for New Yorkers tax incentive program, dubbed by the governor’s office as 485-w, that would make more affordable housing units available to people in lower income brackets. 

But Democratic lawmakers have been pushing back on the measure, arguing in their closed-door conferences that the program should lapse when it expires in mid-June because the tax breaks to developers don’t translate into enough affordable housing, legislators told THE CITY. 

A recent report from city Comptroller Brad Lander’s office estimates that the city will forgo $1.77 billion in tax revenue from the 421-a tax program this year. Despite that, the tax abatement renewal is backed by major labor leaders and Adams, who penned an op-ed earlier this week calling the replacement program a “welcome new development” that would spur “robust housing production and job creation in New York City.” 

Comptroller Brad Lander spoke at an affordable housing protest at the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, Jan. 14, 2022.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A spokesperson for Hochul did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

A spokesperson for the mayor said Adams has personal relationships with many in state leadership, as a former state senator, and has kept in contact throughout budget talks. 

“Mayoral accountability is vital to the stability of our education system,” the spokesperson told THE CITY.

“We’ve been working with the legislature and making clear our priorities when it comes to mayoral accountability for months, but we believe it’s best to prioritize our students and ensure our schools are the safest and most supportive environment possible.”

Additional reporting by Katie Honan

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