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‘Fiscal Discipline’: Libraries, Schools Would Absorb Cuts in Adams’ Preliminary Budget

The financial plan released Thursday sets up a monthslong process of negotiation and hearings within the City Council.

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Mayor Eric Adams speaks about City Hall about his preliminary budget proposal. Jan. 12, 2023.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Mayor Eric Adams released his $102.7 billion preliminary budget for fiscal year 2024 on Thursday — as the City Council vowed to fight his proposed cuts to libraries, schools, and social services.

“Since Day 1 fiscal discipline has been the hallmark of this administration,” Adams said while presenting his budget.

“We are focused on governing efficiently and measuring success not by how much we spend, but by our achievements.”

The mayor described the city’s current economic challenges, from the cost of settling multiple expired labor contracts to this year’s $1 billion price tag to address the bused-in migrant crisis.

He also mentioned additional health care costs and the ending of federal COVID-era stimulus funds by fiscal year 2025. 

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams (D-Queens) said she had concerns about the budget-tightening initiatives, however — and urged more “solutions to the staffing challenges that have hindered city agencies in delivering key services to New Yorkers, such as housing and food assistance.”

The preliminary budget sets up a monthslong process of negotiation and hearings within the City Council, which will submit its response sometime before the mayor releases his executive budget in April. 

Then, there are then more hearings and negotiations leading to a final budget agreement, which is by law required before July 1.

Although it’s only preliminary, the numbers paint a clear picture of how Mayor Adams wants his second year in office to be shaped. 

Here some takeaways from this first round of this year’s budget battle:

Savings and Groans

Emphasizing that he doesn’t want service cuts or layoffs, the mayor said he would create savings by leaving job vacancies at city agencies unfilled.. Losing 4,300 empty positions saved $181 million in last year’s budget, according to the Office of Management and Budget, which gave a supplementary presentation after Adams spoke on Thursday.

The administration anticipates saving $350 million next year by eliminating even more open jobs.

The city also raised its revenue forecast for this fiscal year by $1.7 billion, to more than $106 billion, and by $738 million for next year to more than $102 billion, citing an increase in various tax and other revenue estimates, according to the Office of Management and Budget. 

But costs are expected to increase, as well. While the fiscal plan presented on Thursday represented a balanced budget, the projected gaps over the next few years are in the billions of dollars — $3.2 billion for fiscal year 2025, $5 billion the following year, and $6.5 billion by fiscal year 2027, the mayor said. 

By law, the city’s budget must be balanced, so those gaps suggest more cuts in coming years.

Both the city and state comptrollers criticized Adams for not adding more money to the city’s rainy-day reserve funds. 

Comptroller Brad Lander speaks at City Hall, May 19, 2022.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“Last year’s record deposit into the City’s long-term reserves will buoy services in a downturn, but we do not yet have enough reserves to navigate us through a recession,” city Comptroller Brad Lander said in a statement.

“Key areas remain under-budgeted, including police overtime, housing vouchers, and likely increases in labor costs, which will swell already projected out-year budget gaps,” he added. 

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said the city “had a chance to set aside additional funds in reserves, but missed the opportunity to do so in its preliminary budget and four-year financial plan, even as it faces substantial fiscal and economic uncertainties.”

This year’s budget retains the $1.8 billion that was in last fiscal year’s general and capital stabilization reserves, a move that was praised by the Citizens Budget Commission even as it called for another $1 billion to be added. While the reserves are nominally the highest they’ve ever been, it is below the percentage the comptrollers say is needed to withstand a recession without severe cuts.

Libraries Off the Books

The city’s three public library systems — Brooklyn, Queens, and New York, which covers Manhattan, The Bronx and Staten Island — were already facing 3% cuts in the modified November budget. That would come to $13.6 million in funding in this fiscal year, and $20.5 million next year, according to the city comptroller’s office.

Those cuts remained in the mayor’s preliminary budget released on Thursday, and could seriously affect service and programming, according to library officials.

Libraries were forced to give money back to the city following the November budget changes. They were able to avoid service cuts mainly by slowing down hiring, said Nick Buron, the chief librarian for the Queens Public Library.

“With limited resources we cannot provide everything that is needed in our borough,” Buron told THE CITY. “It will be real, actual cuts.”

That could mean cuts to English classes and resume-building lessons, and scaling back to only five day-a-week service at some branches, he said.

Speaking to reporters after his budget speech, Adams told THE CITY, “I’m a big believer in libraries. What we’re looking at are the vacancies,” referring to unfilled jobs.

Mayor Eric Adams stands in the doorway of his old high school classroom at Bayside High School in Queens, March 8, 2022.

Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

“We have to send a strong message, we must find more efficient ways to run our cities and we can do that,” the mayor added.

City budget officials said they will work with the library systems to prevent slashing programs. 

The Department of Education, meanwhile, is looking for savings by losing 390 non-teaching positions, according to budget officials. 

One of the biggest cuts to education comes from the city reducing the number of available seats for 3-K, an initiative launched by former Mayor Bill de Blasio. 

Mayor Adams’ new budget slashes $567 million from the 3-K spending in what City Hall officials call a “rightsizing initiative.”

Councilmember Carmen De La Rosa, a Democrat who represents parts of Upper Manhattan, said the cuts to libraries and schools hurt the city’s safety net. 

“If we don’t give access to education, it also begets a lack of access to opportunity. We know how poverty adds to the underlying problem of violence and an overall lack of safety and communities,” De La Rosa said.

Benefits and Administration

The preliminary budget continues vacancy reductions at all city agencies, including the Human Resources Administration, which administers public benefits and other social-services programs.

Councilmember Diana Ayala and Queens Assemblymember Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas sent Mayor Adams a letter on Wednesday sharing concerns about those cuts, citing a City Limits article that found the Human Resources Administration is processing just 46.3% of applications for SNAP benefits after reducing 773 staff positions. 

The Department of Social Services — which oversees the city’s homeless response, among other things — saw its workforce reduced by 900 people as vacancies were left unfilled. The Department of Health saw its workforce reduced by around 400 people.

Funding the Police

The NYPD’s total budget figure of $5.4 billion released Thursday for fiscal 2024 did not include grant payments that are factored into the fiscal 2023 figure of $5.7 billion, so it’s not clear whether the department’s budget has actually been cut. 

“I am not going to trade off public safety, we have to be safe,” Mayor Adams said.

“New Yorkers must feel safe and they feel safe when they see that blue uniform.”

The mayor did not address a chronic issue that raises questions about the credibility of the NYPD’s budget numbers — the department’s track record of spending millions of dollars more on overtime than they budgeted for.

Adams vs. Adams

The mayor’s budget plans aren’t expected to sail through.

City Council Speaker Adams and Council Finance Committee Chair Justin Brannan, a Democrat from Brooklyn, announced Thursday they wouldn’t sign off on cuts from November that took $17 million in city funding from nonprofit organizations.

The mayor’s office puts out multiple rolling budget modifications throughout the year to fully capture evolving spending and revenue. The changes go into effect even without the Council’s support, but refusing to sign off on them sets up a big fight on the way to the final budget for the coming fiscal year due this summer.

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams speaks at City Hall. Nov. 3, 2022.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“The city is facing multiple crises that require smart investments, and the approach in the November Plan only undermines the health, safety, and recovery of our city,” Adrienne Adams and Brannan wrote in a joint statement.

“We also reject the false choice in this budget modification of having to choose between cuts to city agencies or cuts to nonprofit organizations providing services on the frontlines in our communities to underserved and vulnerable New Yorkers.”

Mayor Adams on Thursday brushed aside any notion that he was at odds with the Council speaker, whom he attended Bayside High School with decades ago.

“I have partners in every part of government and I consider Adrienne one of those. I may be the pilot but she’s the co-pilot and we need to land this plane,” he said.

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