City Council takes Adams for a ride on risky budget ‘plane’

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Mayor Adams stood with his toy airplane Friday, boasting of his $112.4 billion budget agreement with the City Council.

“We guided the plane through all the turbulence,” he said, borrowing City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams’ metaphor of the contentious budget deal and describing themselves as co-pilots landing the plane.

But in fact, the mayor entirely ceded the plane’s joystick to the speaker — he had no flight plan and seemed happy to have been taken for a bumpy ride in a pointless circle.

Mayor Eric Adams and City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams at City Hall, holding a model airplane symbolizing the 2025 NYC budget agreement. Robert Miller

The mayor came into office promising to be a pragmatic pilot, but this budget — more like $115.1 billion, when adjusted for a surplus carried over from the current year — represents a loss of control.

The budget’s approximately $88.1 billion in city-funded spending (after state and federal grants) is $13.6 billion, or 18.3%, higher than the final budget Adams inherited from Bill de Blasio — and that’s saying a lot in the wake of that spendthrift administration.

A little more than a third of that increase is attributable to the migrant crisis; the rest is higher payroll and debt costs.

The overall spending rise of 15.6% has even outpaced high inflation.

Last year, the mayor warned apocalyptically of the need to make major budget cuts to pay for migrant spending, including the slashing of library hours and police classes, saying the belt-tightening would be “extremely painful.”

“We guided the plane through all the turbulence,” Adams said to the crowd. Robert Miller

He reversed himself on trims to the police budget earlier this year, leaving some of his fiscal integrity behind on the tarmac.

Now, he’s thrown the rest of that credibility out of the cargo hold: He let the City Council entirely reverse almost all the rest of his proposed cuts.

As the council estimated in a Friday statement, “Over $1 billion of the council’s priorities were added, including full library service, cultural institutions, school and student support programs.”

Some of these reversals are perfectly valid: New York needs libraries to remain open on weekends, for example.

The mayor himself said at a Friday post-budget rally, “we spend time in our libraries . . . We know this is where seniors go.”

The city’s 15.6% spending rise has even outpaced high inflation. Robert Miller

Raising the question: Why did he even propose such a cut — which would only have saved a drop-in-the-bucket $58.3 million — in the first place? 

Even worse, these proposed cuts weren’t just part of a budget charade, but actual: Libraries started closing on Sundays in December.

This, while middle-class parents rely on weekend library events to entertain their kids — at a time when New York City has lost nearly 200,000 children, or 9%, since COVID-19 lockdowns, according to reports.

Parents already must navigate much higher crime, disorder and costs — why give them needless anxiety, and another reason to leave, by taking away one of the city’s few free weekend amenities?

Plummeting school enrollment — down 12% since pre-pandemic years — does mean the city could stop its constant increases in the public-school budget to better allocate the money it has.

Yet the $39.5 billion schools budget Adams proposed in April included $22.7 billion in city taxpayer funds, up from a $37.7 billion budget, including $19.4 billion in city funds, in 2022.

This 17% percent increase in three years should be plenty for a shrinking system, but Adams let the council add another $700 million.

As well, the council convinced the mayor to add $2 billion over the next few years in longer-term housing rehabilitation.

The city will borrow the money to do this, adding to its annual debt costs, which are already rising from $7.5 billion this year to $8.2 billion next year.

Mayor Eric Adams and City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams described themselves as co-pilots while celebrating the budget deal. Robert Miller

Meanwhile, though Adams ran as the anti-crime, pro-police mayor, he has never proposed any increase in the size of the police force, now about 34,000 — a steep drop from its peak strength of 40,000 around the turn of the millennium.

Police are exhausting themselves with overtime, and felonies are 39% higher than in the pre-Adams era.

And for all the talk of turbulence, the city has been enjoying economic smooth air, albeit at low altitude.

Though New York continues to lag the country in economic growth, we aren’t suffering recession.

That makes this a good time to put some money away in the rainy-day fund, in case of an economic downturn — but as the Citizens Budget Commission points out, Adams is skipping that this year.

Yes, the mayor’s budget plane is back on the ground.

But with the City Council’s spending adding $1 billion or so to the $5.5 billion deficit already projected for next year, it may be too heavy to lift off again, leaving New Yorkers stranded on the runway.

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.

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