New York City Mayor Eric Adams kept cool during his annual budget testimony in Albany on Tuesday as lawmakers from around the state grilled him on his response to the migrant crisis, crime in the city, mayoral control of public schools and housing.
The migrant crisis took center stage in both Adams’ testimony and in many of the questions he fielded from members of the state Senate and Assembly. The mayor appeared at the joint state legislative budget hearing on local and general government, an annual event when local officials from across the state lay out their funding priorities. Acknowledging that the federal cavalry might not be coming, he called on the state to cover at least half of the city’s spending on asylum-seekers.
During his “Tin Cup Day” appearance in Albany to push for funding and legislative priorities in the state budget, Adams said that because the federal government has committed only $156 million to help pay for the costs of sheltering and providing other services to asylum-seekers, the state needs to step up to contribute a larger percentage of the $10.6 billion that the city expects to spend on migrant-related costs between fiscal years 2023 and 2025.
“While we are deeply grateful for the $1 billion that was appropriated in this year’s state budget, the midyear adjustment of nearly $900 million, and the $1.1 billion in shelter costs proposed in in the governor’s executive budget, we are still shouldering the largest share of asylum-seeker costs,” Adams said in his prepared testimony. “Today, we are asking the state to increase its commitment and cover at least 50% of our costs.”
More than 173,000 asylum-seekers have come through the city since spring of 2022, and more than 66,000 remain in the city’s care, Adams said on Tuesday. While Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed committing $2.4 billion in funding for migrant-related costs in the next fiscal year – an increase from what was committed in the current year – the actual amount that will be included in the state budget is still up for negotiation.
A partisan grilling on migrants
While not many lawmakers directly argued against including more state funding for asylum-seekers, plenty had questions about how the city is managing the crisis, bemoaned the lack of federal support, and questioned what the mayor is doing about migrants who have committed crimes in the city.
Democratic Assembly Member Ed Braunstein of Queens asked the mayor to commit to making it a priority to close large tent shelters for migrants – like the one at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in his district – when the number of asylum-seekers in the city’s care comes down. “As soon as we can move those people out of the tent, we’re going to do that,” Adams replied.
Assembly Member Chantel Jackson, a Democrat who represents the South Bronx, raised a question she said she’s heard from constituents in need of housing. “When they see that we’re putting $2.4 billion in the budget for migrants and asylum-seekers, they think, ‘Well what about me,’” Jackson said. Adams said that he’s heard this concern raised before, but maintained that asylum-seekers are not getting better services than others in the city’s shelter system. “I think you should respond to them that the mayor is not overlooking them,” Adams said. “The same services, and more, that we give to migrants and asylum-seekers, we’re giving to long-term New Yorkers.”
Another line of questioning, mainly coming from Republican lawmakers, asked whether the mayor would support deporting migrants who have committed violent crimes. The questions follow the arrest of several migrants charged with assaulting NYPD officers in Times Square late last month. The incident has drawn condemnations of the city’s sanctuary laws from Republicans. Asked in recent days about the city’s laws limiting cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Adams has deferred to the City Council’s law-making authority.
Republican Assembly Member Michael Reilly of Staten Island pushed Adams on Tuesday to address whether he would support an executive order that would allow the NYPD to work with ICE following an attack on police. “If my legal team tells me I have the authority to have cooperation with ICE for those who commit felony dangerous crimes, that is something we would love to entertain and to look at,” Adams said.
But Adams also said several times that he does not believe the vast majority of asylum-seekers pose a threat to public safety. In remarks towards the end of the testimony, state Sen. Liz Krueger sought to put a strong emphasis on this. “Would you agree with me … that the majority of asylees to New York, the majority of migrants to New York, are not criminals and are not committing crimes?”
“Without a doubt,” Adams said. “If we would allow them to work, it would be a game-changer for our city.”
Krueger welcomed that response. “Sometimes I sit up on this podium and I hear some of my colleagues and I just think, even if they don't live in New York City like we all do, they have this illusion that every person who has come here from a different country has come here to commit crimes and create threats,” she said. “It’s far from true.”
Mayoral authority over public schools
Overall, Adams said he felt he had a good reception from lawmakers, particularly when it came to his handling of the migrant crisis. “They know what it is to handle a crisis at this time, and I appreciate that,” Adams told reporters. “They know how hard we’re working to navigate this.” He summarized the response he received from state legislators broadly as praise. “They all said, ‘You’re doing a good job, you’re doing a great job,’” Adams said.
In between wide-ranging questions covering everything from bus lanes to property tax reform, Adams managed to re-emphasize his priority requests in the state budget, which in addition to funding for asylum-seekers, include tools to build new housing, an extension of mayoral control of schools, and authority to crack down on illegal cannabis shops.
As New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks did at a separate hearing last week, Adams argued that the city needs to retain control of schools in order to make progress on improving reading and math test scores. Hochul proposed a four-year extension of mayoral control of schools in her executive budget, but few stood up on Tuesday in strong support of such a long extension being included in the state budget.
“I’m not willing to give anyone more than their term,” Democratic state Sen. Robert Jackson said, noting that Adams’ current term in office only lasts through 2025, though he’s running for reelection. Democratic Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman suggested mayoral control should be decided outside of the budget process. Adams, meanwhile, said that mayoral control has led to better education outcomes and warned that failing to renew it would have dire consequences on students. “We can’t play with this and go backwards,” Adams said.
Housing in New York City – and tenant protections too?
Adams has also pressed for tools to create new housing in New York City, including a replacement to the expired 421-a tax break for developers, flexibility to build more densely, incentives for converting office buildings to apartments, and legalization of basement and cellar apartments. Hochul’s executive budget addressed each of those asks, but a housing deal has eluded Albany as tenant protections continue to prove a sticking point between Hochul and the Legislature. State legislative leaders are intent on tenant protections being included in any housing deal.
Asked about his support for tenant protections, Adams offered only a vague commitment. “I support a version of tenant protection,” he said. “I’m a small property owner and I know what tenant protection is. Every one of my tenants signed a lease that I would never raise their rent as long as they’re in. So I support tenants, and there’s a place we can all come together, that we can build and protect.”
Speaking with reporters following his testimony, Adams offered no more specifics, leaving the details up to state lawmakers. “I didn’t say I support ‘good cause,’” Adams said. Asked directly about the proposal in December, Adams told Crain’s New York Business that he would support a housing deal that included “good cause” and a replacement for 421-a. “I think that our lawmakers, with all of the entities involved, will come together and come to a solution,” Adams said on Tuesday. “I think that we can land this plane… they are going to work that out and come to a solution.”
Adams’ testimony on Tuesday kicked off a long day of appearances by other local leaders, including the mayors of Buffalo, Yonkers, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany. But while “Tin Cup Day” is about local governments making their budget appeals to state lawmakers directly, it’s also an opportunity for those lawmakers to question local executives who don’t often sit in the hot seat in front of legislative bodies.
Following Adams’ short opening remarks, state lawmakers peppered the mayor with questions on a range of topics – some directly related to the state budget, others less so.
Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani asked about the city’s slow progress on building new miles of bus lanes, and whether the mayor would call for a ceasefire in Gaza. Adams rejected the characterization of slow progress on bus lanes, and pointed to his previous calls for Israeli hostages to be returned and said no innocent families should die on the Israeli or Palestinian side. “I don’t think anyone who has come on the scene recently can look at my 30-year uninterrupted history of fighting on behalf of Palestinians, Jews, African-Americans, AAPI,” Adams said in one of the more tense exchanges in his two-and-a-half hours of testimony and questioning. “I have a solid record, brother, and you cannot come up against it.”