Want to solve the budget crisis, Mayor Adams? Stop out-of-control migrant spending
New York City doesn’t have a budget crisis. It has a crisis of a mayor who has no idea how to budget, and who thinks that everything – including what should be a routine, dry, midyear budget update – is yet another opportunity to try to wring money from Washington for migrants.
It’s reaching the point that no one should take anything he says seriously – except the risk that his mismanagement poses for New York City is serious stuff.
This week, Adams scored the headlines he wanted with his November update to the current fiscal year, which began July 1. The mayor projects a $8.9 billion budget deficit for next summer, up from a $5.1 billion estimate in June.
“Eric Adams slashes budgets for police, libraries, and schools,” the Times wrote.
With agencies having to cut $1.8 billion, the number of police officers will fall to below 30,000, from above 34,000 now, a low not seen since 1993. The streets will be dirtier, as sanitation workers will empty litterboxes less frequently. Kids won’t be able to visit libraries on Sundays.
And even after these cuts, the budget deficit still stands at $7.1 billion.
Wealthier New Yorkers will have to donate more to charity, on top of the high taxes they already pay for basic public services. “I’m going to need you more than ever to support … organizations like [the Police Athletic League], Robin Hood Foundation, and others, the Boys and Girl Scouts. This is a moment where it’s an all-hands-on-deck moment,” Adams implored.
And all because of mean old Joe Biden, who won’t give us money to house 65,000 migrants.
“The national government must do their share,” the mayor also said Friday. “This is a national problem. It’s not a New York City problem …. The national government should be picking up this tab and it should not be coming out of the backs of everyday New Yorkers.”
The only new crisis, though, is the one the mayor is ginning up.
Before this week, in all of modern New York City history since our recovery from our 1975 near-bankruptcy, the only budget crises that emerged mid-year were the result of external shocks that had happened between the June budget agreement and the fall November update – unforeseen shocks that cratered tax revenues.
Those shocks included: the stock-market crash of 1987. 9/11. The financial crisis of 2008.
This time, tax revenues – for the moment, at least – are just fine. For the current fiscal year, they’re coming in $800 million higher than predicted. Next fiscal year, they’re coming in $600 million higher than projected.
The only thing that has changed in four and a half months, between June and now, to make this budget such a disaster is Adams’ projection of migrant spending.
In June, the city projected $2.9 billion in “asylum-seeker” costs for the current fiscal year, and another $1 billion for the fiscal year that starts next summer.
Shortly after enacted the budget, the mayor informally warned New Yorkers that migrants could cost up to $4 billion a year for three years.
Now, the mayor is blowing up these projections. Migrants will cost an extra $1.3 billion this year – for a total of $4.2 billion, 44% over the June budget. Migrants will cost an extra $4.8 billion(!) for the following fiscal year – a whopping near five-fold increase, relative to the June projection, for a total of $5.8 billion in new spending that year.
All told, that’s $10 billion on migrants over just two fiscal years, not three, more than double the mayor’s $3.9 billion official estimate for these two years in the June budget.
The mayor should have known all this in June – and put it in his June budget.
This is not a surprise – and the mayor should have dealt with it fairly in June.
Absent some credible explanation from city hall why the numbers have changed so much in mere months, when no fact on the ground has changed, the only conclusion is: Either the June budget he sent to the city council and, later, to the state-run Financial Control Board for approval was essentially a fantasy, or this budget update is a fantasy. Take your pick.
The mayor thinks his apocalyptic doom warnings will rouse Biden to send us billions. They won’t; Biden doesn’t care.
One measure of how Adams doesn’t even take himself seriously is his proposal to slash police to Dinkins-era levels and to slash library hours and litter pick-ups. The mayor well knows that New York’s taxpaying population base is more fragile than it’s been in three decades, and that any further decline in public safety and public services will send more middle-class and upper-income people fleeing.
To save mere pennies, in the short term: his cancellation of new police-academy classes would save less than three hundred million dollars next year. Reducing litter pickup will save … five million dollars. Reductions to library hours barely hit $20 million annually.
The mayor wants to scare Biden, but he’s only scaring the people he needs to stay here and pay their taxes.
He can solve his entire new budget crisis himself, right now: put a firm cap on the amount of money that New York will spend on migrants – keep it at the levels he set in the June budget, although that was already too high – and do it now. Crisis over.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.