The New York City Council will enter the next two years with four new members and nothing short of a mountain of issues to tackle, including the influx of migrants, the looming Rikers Island closure deadline and building more affordable housing – work that will likely be both complicated by the city’s dire fiscal reality.
Pointing to slowing tax revenues, the rising costs associated with caring for asylum-seekers and the end of pandemic stimulus finding, Mayor Eric Adams announced the latest round of deep budget cuts in November. Additional cuts may lie ahead.
But budget battles aside, council members are gearing up to work on a host of policy issues in 2024 and 2025. It’s not like there isn’t precedent. The body, led by City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, passed over 200 pieces of legislation during the current session while opposing cuts during budget negotiations with the mayor’s team. Much of the council’s agenda in the coming term will build on recently passed bills like Local Law 97 and expanding housing production targets in every community. Members will also resume their work on bills that haven’t passed yet.
“What’s old is new again,” a City Council spokesperson said.
One of the City Council’s priorities over the next two years will be making sure the city is on track with its mandate to close Rikers Island and replace it with four borough-based jails by August 2027. Despite the legal requirement, the Adams administration has cast doubt on the likelihood of the city meeting the deadline, which the City Council has called unacceptable. Supporting the commission tasked with creating a new plan to close the embattled jails complex and continuing its oversight over parts of the plan will likely be an important part of the council’s work.
The council also plans to focus on bolstering its mental health roadmap and strengthening the city’s early childhood education system. Members outlined a slew of education recommendations in May, urging the city to implement higher pay for workers in preschool programs run by community-based organizations, improving parent outreach to encourage more families to enroll and ensure the equitable distribution of seats around the city.
There’s also a number of bills and legislative packages that’ll likely gain traction in the next session. A measure aimed at ending solitary confinement in New York City jails would likely continue in earnest if it doesn’t pass in December. The same goes for a package of police transparency measures and a bill to prohibit housing discrimination based on arrest record or criminal history.
The council will likely take action on regulating electric bikes and scooters next year. A string of deaths and over 200 fires connected to the lithium-ion batteries that power the popular micromobility devices has propelled e-bike safety into the limelight over the past year. While the council has passed several bills on e-bikes, there are several more ideas on the table.
One bill sponsored by City Council Member Robert Holden would require owners to license and register their e-bikes and e-scooters with the Department of Transportation. The bikes would also be required to be outfitted with a license plate. With 32 sponsors, the bill has won the backing of both Republicans and Democrats.
“This is one of those issues where you are going to see a coalition of moderate Democrats and Republicans probably win the PR battle of getting the public on our side when you hear countless stories of people getting killed or nearly hit by scooters,” City Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli said.
Ensuring city retirees can keep their health care plans instead of being switched to a privatized Medicare Advantage plan will be another issue with bipartisan support that may see traction early in 2024.
A package of bills that could pave the path to the city creating a municipal public bank would require the Department of Finance to submit quarterly reports about its deposit accounts, including information about the purpose of each account, average daily balances, the interest rate and minimum account balance.
It won’t be easy for the city to create a lot of new programs. Budgetary issues will take center stage as the city contends with a $7 billion budget deficit next year. The impacts of the latest iteration of cuts announced by Adams were sweeping: The expansion of the city’s prekindergarten program would be delayed. The city’s police force would be pared down to numbers of officers not seen since the 1990s. Migrant services are expected to diminish significantly after the mayor recently asked for a $2.1 billion cut in migrant services costs. The city’s composting programs would be delayed in the expansion to the Bronx and Staten Island. Libraries would no longer be open on Sundays. Adams already warned about two more rounds of 5% cuts in the coming months. Staffing shortages across a variety of New York City agencies have also disrupted city services.
More details about the City Council’s response to the mayor’s most recent budget plan will likely come to light during a Dec. 11 hearing, but members have condemned Adams’ approach and floated alternatives like using the city’s financial reserves and asking Albany for tax increases next year. One of the council’s priorities will be preserving essential safety net programs.
“This moment requires effectively managing with precision to protect vital services for New Yorkers,” Speaker Adams and Finance Committee Chair Justin Brannan said in a statement. “The administration’s approach of reducing budgets of all agencies broadly through additional cuts and a hiring freeze, along with inflicting cuts on our libraries, CUNY, and cultural institutions, is too blunt and not the prudent or sole choice.”
The ideological bent of the 51-member council won’t be shifting much after the November elections. Only four new members will be joining the body in January.
Republicans lost Ari Kagan but gained political newcomer Kristy Marmorato. A caucus composed of the council’s six Republican members and a handful of moderate Democrats will grow slightly. Susan Zhuang, a Democrat elected to represent the council’s new Asian-majority district, is expected to join the Common Sense Caucus, bringing its membership up to nine.
The New York City Council Progressive Caucus was nearly halved early this year after leadership asked members to sign a new statement of principles in an effort to tighten up its ranks. There are currently 20 members in the caucus, although Council Members Kristin Richardson Jordan and Charles Barron will be leaving the body – and the caucus. It’s unclear whether any of the incoming members intend to join the progressives.
“I hope that our incoming colleagues will recognize that they are stronger when they are in a united caucus that recognizes that we need to stand up against this mayor who continues to propose austerity who continues to show us that his style of governing is failing every day workers and working families,” said Progressive Caucus co-Chair Shahana Hanif.