By Samar Khurshid
June 6, 2022
Mayor Eric Adams and City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams on Friday announced their first budget agreement, a $101 billion spending deal for the 2023 fiscal year beginning July 1, reflecting an increase of about $2.3 billion over the budget that was adopted in June of last year.
Buoyed by higher-than-expected tax revenues and federal aid, the administration and Council massively increased the city’s reserves and invested in a long list of services and programs, including public safety, affordable housing, nonprofit human service providers, childcare, adult literacy, parks, sanitation, cultural institutions, food assistance, and more.
Given the city’s strong fiscal position, both the mayor and the Council were able to invest in a variety of priorities and there were few fights to be had. The mayor conceded to several Council demands for new or additional funding in certain areas while moving ahead on some of his priorities that the Council opposed, like cuts to school budgets based on dropping student enrollment, and the Council beat back the mayor’s push for more funding at the NYPD and Department of Correction. Overall, there was a great deal of agreement, both city leaders said on Friday.
“In this budget, we are investing in young people, our communities, those underserved by our government for too long and all New Yorkers,” said Speaker Adams, a Queens Democrat, at the announcement at City Hall. Adams said the budget deal included $1.15 billion in additional funding for Council priorities compared to the mayor’s previous proposal, his executive budget released in April. “We're making critical investments in programs and services as the path to our collective success as a city,” she said.
The mayor, for his part, said his priorities were closely aligned with the Council’s. “That's why we have this early handshake,” he said of the budget agreement. “Because what we produced is what we believed in and was brought forward by this body here.”
“Throughout the process, we stayed focused on the basics: building reserves, responsible planning, and cautious management,” he added.
Record level Wall Street profits boosted the city’s personal income tax collections, with the city forecasting $3 billion in additional revenue for the current fiscal year and $1.5 billion more in the 2023 fiscal year compared to revenue predictions from April when the executive budget was released. The budget reflects $2.7 billion in savings across the current and next fiscal year, and projects another $4 billion in savings through fiscal year 2026.
With additional revenue, the mayor and Council added another $750 million each to the city’s rainy day fund and the Retiree Health Benefits Trust fund, and $500 million to the general reserves. Those additions bring city reserves to $8.3 billion, with $1.9 billion total in the rainy day fund, $4.5 billion in the RHBT, $1.6 billion in the general reserve, and $250 million in the capital stabilization reserve. Though reserves are higher than ever before, they are still well under 10% of city spending, where fiscal watchdogs say they should be between 12-18%.
The budget deal also sets aside an additional $3 billion over the course of four years in the labor reserve, bringing it to $4.7 billion as the city moves to negotiating expired labor contracts for the municipal workforce that are likely to prove costly.
The mayor also insisted that projected budget gaps in future years are “manageable” at roughly $4 billion each year.
Funding for the police department has been a particularly contentious issue in recent budget cycles, particularly in the wake of the “Defund the NYPD” movement that engulfed the city in 2020 during the George Floyd protests. But Adams, a former NYPD captain, has insisted that he wants to improve policing with existing resources, deploying officers more efficiently and controlling overtime costs. In keeping with that promise, the NYPD budget increased only slightly, by about $152 million compared to last year, in the final agreement. “I believe we can save a substantial number based on what the police commissioner and I are doing around the deployment of personnel,” he said.
“We want to see NYPD managed more appropriately because the money is there,” said Speaker Adams. “We feel the money's been there and instead of growing, we want to see NYPD manage that funding a lot better.”
Throughout the budget process, the Council pushed the administration for more transparency, particularly by adding additional units of appropriation to clearly track spending. The police department was among the agencies the Council pinpointed for those units and the speaker said the budget agreement accomplished that goal, and created new terms and conditions for agency spending. “Now we will be better positioned to conduct oversight and achieve budget accountability,” she said.
The agreement also dropped the mayor’s planned increase of 574 personnel for the Department of Correction, a proposal that received significant pushback from the Council as well as New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, both of which have pointed to ongoing issues with staff absenteeism and the immense costs of detainment, at roughly half a million dollars per year per detainee.
“This budget is really a downpayment on the comeback of New York City,” said Council Member Justin Brannan, a Brooklyn Democrat who chairs the finance committee. “From day one, this Council said our recovery would require real and meaningful investments in every community. We knew we couldn't cut our way to prosperity so we doubled down on what matters.”
In his initial reaction, Comptroller Lander praised the mayor and Council for making crucial investments and increasing reserves. “This budget takes some good steps forward, but of course much work remains,” he said in a statement. The $1.5 billion increase in reserves was below the $1.8 billion that Lander had recommended, he noted, and he urged the two sides to set a formula for annual deposits and safeguards against withdrawals to prepare for a possible recession.
Lander critiqued what he and advocates are calling a failure to include adequate capital funds for housing. The budget includes about $5 billion more over ten years for affordable and public housing, bringing the city’s total investment to about $22 billion over that period, part of the larger $133.7 billion capital strategy. Lander, the Council, and housing advocates, however, had called on the mayor to spend at least $4 billion each year. While Mayor Adams had pledged to do just that during last year’s campaign, he has declined to follow through at this point, while touting the increases he has made. Adams is expected to release a housing plan any day, coming during an immense affordability crisis and with depleted staff at city housing agencies that the budget seeks to address on the expense side.
Lander also pushed back against cuts at the Department of Education for individual schools that have lost student enrollment, much of it during the pandemic. “[W]e should not be forcing schools to implement sharp cuts to their budgets this summer,” he said. Instead, Lander said that while the city evaluates enrollment numbers over the next year, the city should revisit Fair Student Funding formulas and continue to use a portion of billions in unspent federal stimulus funding for education.
Asked about those cuts -- which amount to roughly $215 million in the coming fiscal year -- at Friday’s budget agreement announcement, the mayor described them as necessary right-sizing. “We're not cutting, we are adjusting the amount based on the student population,” he said, though they will be felt by individual schools as budget cuts.
The mayor also pointed to the recent state approval of an extension of mayoral control of city schools that he was granted for two years, which came with mandates to reduce class sizes by 2027. The Adams administration is estimating that it will cost the city about $20 billion in capital funds and $500 million in expense funding, though those numbers have yet to be vetted and the mayor’s pushback against the new mandates has been refuted by state lawmakers, especially Senator John Liu, the chair of the Senate’s New York City Education Committee, who has pointed to additional state education aid on its way to the city.
“If we don't do this right, this city can be in real fiscal crisis and we have to make the smart decisions,” Mayor Adams said Thursday.
Andrew Rein, president of Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit fiscal watchdog, said the budget should have put more money towards the Rainy Day Fund. “While the budget funds priorities and takes some steps to save for a future recession and stabilize the budget, it misses the opportunity to make a substantially higher RDF deposit and massively increases spending to a level not sustainable over time with City revenues,” he said in a statement.
Rein also warned against future risks including a fiscal cliff from federal stimulus running out, the cost of labor contracts and economic uncertainty. “While this year’s revenue windfall made it easier to increase spending in the short run, the City will need to take actions to bring recurring revenues and recurring spending in line. Restructuring operations and focusing on priorities will be essential,” he said.
The mayor and Council sought to invest in public safety, both in the city’s response to emergencies and in the root causes of crime.
The budget includes $226 million in the 2023 fiscal year for the mayor’s Subway Safety Plan, which involves funding the Behavioral Health Emergency Assistance Response Division (B-HEARD) initiative that sends health professionals to respond to mental health-related 911 calls, and 1,400 new safe haven and stabilization beds for homeless individuals.
Speaker Adams also announced a new “speaker’s initiative” to provide $100,000 to each Council member to fund community safety and victim services programs. “This new initiative is a key part of my goal to balance our safety priorities by investing in holistic safety solutions for New York City,” she said.
There was also agreement for $237 million in funding to increase the value of FHEPS vouchers – which prevent evictions for families with children on cash assistance – to bring them in line with federal Section 8 vouchers. The move was praised by the Family Homelessness Coalition, which represents housing providers and children’s advocacy groups.
“At a time when thousands of New York City families are experiencing homelessness or on the brink of losing their homes, we applaud Mayor Adams and the City Council for advancing a budget that prioritizes rental assistance and helps ensure that more families with children will have the support they need to thrive,” the coalition said in a statement.
The city will also spend $54 million to expand the Precision Employment Initiative, connecting up to 3,000 people who are at risk of participating in gun violence with green jobs; another $1.5 million will be spent on dyslexia screenings at the Department of Correction, a key priority for the mayor who suffered from dyslexia as a child and has repeatedly spoken of the high rates of dyslexia in the city’s jail population, while the city is also implementing such screenings throughout the public school system.
As the mayor emphasized, the budget invests heavily in working families. “We're placing real money in the pockets of New Yorkers,” he said. The budget includes $250 million to expand the city’s Earned Income Tax Credit, which the state Legislature approved in the state budget this year. The budget will also provide a $150 property tax rebate to roughly 600,000 homeowners, at a cost of about $90 million.
Other investments include $30 million for the New Family Home Visits program, which will provide health services to first-time mothers in 33 neighborhoods that were hardest hit by the pandemic; $25 million for a property tax abatement to incentivize retrofits for childcare space; $25 million for tax credits for businesses that provide free or discounted childcare; $19.2 million for childcare vouchers for low-income and immigrant families, of which $10 million is allocated for undocumented families; $6.7 million to enhance adult literacy programs; and $1 million in capital funds for low-interest home repair loans for one- to four-family homeowners.
Among the Council’s major budget priorities were increases in funding to improve the city’s public spaces by improving parks, cleaning litter and making the streets safer for pedestrians. The budget included additional funding compared to the executive budget along all those fronts.
The final spending plan has $43 million more to improve and maintain city parks, $4 million more to hire 50 more Urban Park Rangers, and $2 million more for tree stump removal. There’s also $488 million more in capital funds for broader park improvements, including planting 20,000 trees annually. The budget does, however, fail to fund the mayor’s campaign promise to dedicate 1% of the city’s total budget to the parks department.
“There is a lot for parks supporters to appreciate in the new budget, including increased investment across forestry and key staffing areas; we look forward to learning more details,” said Adam Ganser, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, an advocacy group. “However, it is clear that this budget falls significantly short of Mayor Adams’ campaign pledge to devote 1% of the City’s budget to Parks. New Yorkers for Parks and our partners will continue to work to see that NYC’s parks and public spaces get the full funding they deserve."
The city will spend an additional $53 million in expense funding in fiscal year 2023 and $580 million in capital funds over five years for the Streets Plan to improve traffic and street safety infrastructure; $2 million was allocated to restore twice-per-week alternate side parking.
Sanitation became a prominent budget issue this year and the budget agreement includes additional funding from the executive budget for many of the Council’s requests. It allocates $22 million more to increase litter basket service above pre-pandemic levels, $20 million more to expand the incipient organics collection program; $12.4 million more for precision cleaning teams and lot cleaning staff; and $5 million for a waste containerization study and 1,000 rat-resistant litter baskets.
Recognizing the previous fiscal state of the city’s many human service providers — nonprofit organizations that contract with the city — the administration and Council provided $60 million to provide cost of living adjustments to providers. The budget also includes $14 million for community-based organizations to help increase access to benefits for New Yorkers.
The budget includes major investments in education and career development for young New yorkers. With $101 million in fiscal year 2023, the city wil fund 210,000 slots for the Summer Rising academic enrichment program, an increase of 110,000 slots from last year. The city also increased the baseline funding for the Summer Youth Employment Program by $79 million, for a total of $236 million in funding for 100,000 summer youth jobs. And the budget increased funding for the Fair Futures program – which provides mentoring and tutoring services to foster care youth aging out of the system – by $13.5 million for a total of $30 million.
The Council also successfully negotiated to add $1.6 million to the Department of Investigation to increase staffing and $452,000 for the City Commission on Human Rights to restore staffing for the unit that investigates source of income discrimination.
The city cultural institutions took a major hit from the pandemic and the budget is meant to provide them assistance with $40 million allocated to the Cultural Development Fund and Cultural Institutions Group.
To help tackle food insecurity, the budget includes a $30 million increase, for a total of $53 million, for the Emergency Food Assistance Program and $10 million to launch a “Groceries to Go” pilot program for online access to local grocery stores to food insecure residents.