At Somos, New York City leaders brace for budget cuts

Eric Adams claimed he stayed home from Somos because of the city’s budget crisis. Some down in Puerto Rico are bracing for – and planning how to combat – coming budget cuts.

From left: City Council Members Erik Bottcher, (elect) Susan Zhuang, Nantasha Williams, Linda Lee, Lynn Schulman, Julie Menin, Shekar Krishnan, Rep Nydia Velázquez, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, City Council Members Crystal Hudson, Chi Ossé and Rep. Grace Meng

From left: City Council Members Erik Bottcher, (elect) Susan Zhuang, Nantasha Williams, Linda Lee, Lynn Schulman, Julie Menin, Shekar Krishnan, Rep Nydia Velázquez, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, City Council Members Crystal Hudson, Chi Ossé and Rep. Grace Meng Holly Pretsky

Explaining why he would not be joining much of the rest of the New York political world at the Somos conference in Puerto Rico, Mayor Eric Adams said earlier this week that he had important work to do at home managing New York City’s budget crisis.

“We still have to produce the November plan that is a few days away,” Adams said, referring to the mid-year fiscal update, though after news broke that the FBI had confiscated his electronic devices, some have speculated that another matter is keeping the mayor in New York. “Some of these cuts are just frightening. It’s going to break our heart, and I have been sitting down with Jacques (Jiha) and his team over at (the Office of Management and Budget) to go over these numbers,” Adams said on Wednesday.

But some lawmakers and advocates who made it down to Puerto Rico were also discussing the upcoming fiscal update, in which city agencies have been directed to find 5% spending cuts. The updated fiscal plan will be released on Nov. 16, according to City Hall.

The latest savings program from City Hall and the Office of Management and Budget is also set to include two more rounds of cuts next year, ahead of the fiscal year 2025 budget. City Hall has said that the cost of sheltering tens of thousands of migrants makes such large cuts necessary. A hiring freeze with few exemptions already went into effect on October 1.

Some worry that across-the-board cuts will thin the city’s workforce and lead to a reduction in services. District Council 37 President Henry Garrido said that there hasn’t been enough flexibility for exemptions in the hiring freeze already in place. “If the Department of Buildings’ application processes are delayed because you don’t have the people, how do you create new construction? If you don’t have the construction, how do you have the jobs? Where’s the tax revenue? There's a multiplier effect,” he said. “Cutting those positions just for the sake of meeting a target because of the migrants is, I think, foolish.” Garrido added that he doesn’t necessarily think the city needs to go on a hiring spree to fill every vacant position, but suggested that the city can be smarter about targeted savings. 

The city has already implemented several savings plans – or “Programs to Eliminate the Gap” – under Adams. Some fiscal watchdogs have agreed with the administration that these measures are needed to close growing out-year budget gaps. “​​These are a substantial and challenging lift, but critical to closing the city’s massive budget gaps; the fiscal year 2025 gap alone may exceed $13 billion if the city’s asylum seeker cost estimate proves accurate,” Citizens Budget Commission President Andrew Rein said in a statement when the latest savings plan was announced in September. 

While the details of cuts at large agencies like the Department of Education and the Department of Social Services will be closely watched, the impact of cuts at much smaller agencies and entities are less visible. Though they come with smaller price tags, they carry real consequences, City Council Member Nantasha Williams said. 

The southeast Queens lawmaker mentioned the Equal Employment Practices Commission and the Human Rights Commission, both of which fall under the civil rights committee that she chairs. “They haven’t been able to fill positions, it’s been very hard for them to meet their charter mandate in reporting,” Williams said of the EEPC in particular. Williams added that investing in the independent entity, which evaluates the city’s employment practices, could save the city in the long run by helping to avoid lawsuits. 

Lawmakers and advocates will closely watch what comes out of the budget update next week, but the real fight may come next year. “I know the November plan will be bad. I fully expect the administration’s proposal for January to be even worse,” said City Council Member Shekar Krishnan. “That’s just unacceptable. You cannot cut your way to prosperity.”

Advocates are gearing up for what could be a bruising budget fight come next year, when the next fiscal year’s budget is negotiated. “We’re lining up all the defenses, basically, against the budget cuts,” said Zara Nasir, executive director of the People’s Plan NYC, a coalition of organizations advocating against budget cuts. “I think we’re not going to let anything through without a big fight that, honestly, should feel politically bad for both the mayor and anyone who’s aligned with budget cuts and doesn’t do anything to stop them.”