Massive city council budget ignores reality and inflation
Last month, Mayor Eric Adams proposed a city budget of $101 billion for the fiscal year that begins in July, about 1% more than de Blasio’s final budget. Now the city council is rewriting the document. The massive increase in spending proposed by the council shows that if the mayor is not living fully in the reality of high inflation, the council is fully in never-never land.
Adams’ proposal for fiscal year 2023 is what passes for a fiscally conservative budget in New York, especially with inflation approaching 8%. The mayor released a rather cautious document, asking city agencies to save money and downsize while his commissioners figure out how their departments actually work.
The council, however, wants to increase spending by another $1.3 billion.
The numbers show the council’s new aggression. During Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first budget season, the council offered $257 million in its own programs, less than half a percentage point of taxpayer-funded spending.
This council wants to add 1.8% to tax-funded spending. (Municipal taxes and fees make up about $71 billion of the city’s budget; the rest comes from federal and state sources.)
The council is particularly bold when it comes to social services. He wants $800 million a year in additional spending for “affordable, supportive, public housing.”
But Adams has already budgeted more than $2 billion a year for such expenses. Even at the height of the de Blasio era, we were “only” spending around $1.5 billion a year on such projects. There is no evidence that without cost control we can wisely double that.
Same with new homeless spending. The council wants $115 million to expand “shelter” shelters with on-site health services, as well as drop-in centers. The money would pay for 2,376 such beds, 490 of which the mayor is already creating – because the number of 2,376 “aligns[s] with the number of homeless without shelter” each night.
But it’s not like the city skimped here. Five years ago, the city was spending $1.1 billion a year on homeless services. Today, excluding extraordinary COVID-related expenses, it’s $2.2 billion.
Funding beds all at once for every person who sleeps on the streets or in the metro makes no sense until we know how many of these people will agree to stay in such shelters. The “safe haven” is still a communal shelter, which many street dwellers resist.
The council also wants $50 million to convert hotels into homeless housing. There’s no doubt that seedy hotel owners, who can no longer get away with charging high rates to naïve European tourists, would love this city bailout.
Other ideas are bogus: $59 million for “restorative justice coordinators” in 250 schools, as well as for “restorative justice” training.
Some things are small, but still, $5 million is $5 million – instead of spending it to “support communities affected by hate crimes”, why not prevent hate crimes?
Finally, despite the Post’s expose on the futility of surveillance “monitors,” the board wants $12.3 million to allow the Board of Correction to do more investigations on Rikers Island.
We to know that Rikers Island is messed up. It’s time to get real with the real obstacles, including union rules, to fixes. Give the board some credit, at least: they know the Rikers’ problem isn’t a lack of money and aren’t offering any more money for the jails.
How is the council going to pay for all this? By evoking money out of nothing. The council says tax revenue will be $4.4 billion higher than projected over the next 15 months (it suggests putting the balance in hard-day funds).
Maybe taxes will go up, maybe not.
There is, however, one certainty that the council practically ignores: the fact that the unions will ask huge salary increases to take inflation into account. An 8% wage hike would cost $4 billion a year.
Noting that the city has not budgeted for any raises for the next two years, the council observes that “it is unlikely that the unions in the city will work out. . . for that.”
In effect. Until the council and mayor realistically tackle inflation, the budget is a fictional document.
Nicole Gelinas is editor-in-chief of the City Journal at the Manhattan Institute.