Opinion: Don’t forget about the city’s capital budget

Democratic socialists in office are calling for an infrastructure of care in the city’s capital budget.

Demonstrators rally in favor of “The People’s Budget” outside City Hall on June 20, 2024.

Demonstrators rally in favor of “The People’s Budget” outside City Hall on June 20, 2024. Gerardo Romo / NYC Council Media Unit

June at the City Council brings a churn of public hearings and backroom meetings as council members and the mayor race to cut a deal that will shape spending, in part, for the year ahead. While significant debate covers expense budget programs like language access and workforce development services, another pot of money largely remains out of the headlines: the capital budget.  

The capital budget often centers on brick-and-mortar expenditures like school buildings, fire stations and libraries, all laudable investments. Year over year, this funding stream gets allocated in relation to the city’s capital plan, which totals approximately $152 billion and spans a decade. Ideally, these annual capital investments are made with our shared future in mind; however, once these dollars are put into motion, there is much to be desired. A report published by the Office of the New York City Comptroller found the city’s capital projects typically “take too long, cost too much, and deliver too little” due to a lack of transparency, weak project management, ballooning costs and bad interagency coordination.  

As democratic socialists in office, we are often at the forefront of the fight for greater transparency, equity and accountability within city government. We view planning within the capital budget as a process that at its best can collectively build an infrastructure of care. Far too often, though, this critical city resource is used to triage mismanagement – or, even worse, further Mayor Eric Adams’ agenda of expanding systems of punishment. 

We are gravely concerned with this administration’s waste of public dollars and lack of accountability and transparency. Under a mayor who would rather pay to keep Rikers open than keep our public libraries open, we are outraged that he’s now floating the construction of a quarter-of-a-billion dollar, capital budget-funded, police academy in Queens. 

As we look ten years down the line, as the capital plan sets out to do, in no way do we believe such a facility will better the lives of everyday New Yorkers in working class communities like ours. Instead, we support major capital projects that would bring about our collective vision of a city grounded in equity. These include repairs at NYCHA complexes, the Homes Now, Homes for Generations program, fixing crumbling school buildings, building classrooms to bring down class sizes, and filling cracked sidewalks.

Within this multi-billion dollar document, the City Council makes innumerable choices that as a whole can collectively fund either long term infrastructure projects that bolster systems of care, or the mass incarceration of the next generation. As the council moves in earnest to rein in this mayor’s worst impulses, we are calling for a cohesive and compassionate capital budget.