Crime is only the biggest obvious omission in Adams’ new city budget
Mayor Eric Adams revealed his budget draft for the fiscal year that starts in July — and just like last year, he proposes to slash spending.
We can’t take this “austerity” too seriously. Last year, Adams’ similar budget cuts melted away before the final version was inked in June.
There is something we should take seriously, though, from what Adams de-emphasized in his budget presentation: Is the mayor losing his mojo on crime?
The 2024 budget draft projects $103.4 billion in total spending, including $77 billion funded by city taxpayers. (The remainder comes from federal and state grants, mainly for education and health care.) That $77 billion would represent a 2.6% decline over this year’s spending, even before accounting for high inflation.
New York hasn’t seen a proposed decline in spending since the financial crisis of a decade and a half ago. So outright proposing a decline is a dramatic opening move by the mayor.
And some part of this decline will doubtless happen, as the city is simply axing another 4,300 vacant positions it can’t fill, on top of a similar reduction this year. Adams argues that with 23,000 positions still vacant citywide, agencies can still do their jobs. “Don’t believe them” if they say they can’t, he said. After Mayor Bill de Blasio padded the payrolls with tens of thousands of new administrative positions, this is theoretically true.
But it sure doesn’t make a lot of sense for Adams to be adding six-figure “chief decarbonization officers across multiple agencies” when key enforcement positions across the city are unfilled, and the city clearly can’t grapple with its acute quality-of-life issues, including new, unregulated marijuana stores all over Times Square.
And a year ago, the mayor also proposed a slim budget — to hold spending nearly flat. The final budget instead increased city-tax spending by 6.7%. And though much of this was the work of the City Council, Adams didn’t fight that hard, signing his agreement with lawmakers a few weeks early.
We can expect a similar outcome this year, especially as the teachers union heavily embarrassed the council last year, after council members tried to back away from the tiny education cuts they had agreed to with declining enrollment.
And one might think the same outcome would be acceptable this year: If spending goes up by another 6.7%, that’s at least only in line with high inflation, still running 6.5% last month after skidding toward double digits last year.
But: Most of the impact of high inflation isn’t even reflected in the budget — yet.
As Adams reminded reporters Thursday, almost all the city’s labor contracts with its more than 300,000 workers are expired, and workers are demanding inflation-linked raises. “These settlements will add billions of dollars to our city’s budget,” he said. “The bills will come due.”
It’s hardly wise to give away so much money in public; save it for negotiating.
Another big-ticket item missing from the budget: a true accounting of the cost of housing more than 40,000 new migrants. “We are conducting a new analysis,” the mayor says.
So far, though, the administration has been less than transparent about why it must house migrants in the middle of Manhattan in near-top-rack hotels or build emergency tents and then immediately close them down. Who is benefitting from these opaque contracts?
The final issue absent from Adams’ year-two budget, though, is much emphasis on crime. Adams only mentioned crime in his presentation to tell us that crime is down, and the word “crime” doesn’t appear in his blueprint.
That’s a turnaround from last year, when Adams’ inaugural budget focused mainly on crime. That budget had a graph showing how felony crime had soared in the previous year (2021).
Guess what? Felony crime still soared last year, up 21% (actually a higher rate of increase than the previous year). And though it’s good that murders are down, relative to 2020 and 2021, they were still more than a third above 2019 levels.
Yet that felony-crime chart is entirely missing from this year’s budget presentation.
Yes, it’s nice that things have moved in the right direction over the past two months — although that’s mostly based on unsustainable police overtime.
Are we declaring victory, and moving on, by omission? New York isn’t quite ready for that.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.