City has funds to reverse library, education cuts and more, Council says

The City Council’s official response to Mayor Eric Adams’ preliminary budget proposal found an additional $6.1 billion they say can be used to reverse cuts and pad reserves.

New York City Council Finance Committee Chair Justin Brannan speaks at the unveiling of the council’s preliminary budget response for fiscal year 2025

New York City Council Finance Committee Chair Justin Brannan speaks at the unveiling of the council’s preliminary budget response for fiscal year 2025 John McCarten

Two months and 30 preliminary budget hearings later, the New York City Council is out with a response to Mayor Eric Adams’ preliminary budget that would reverse cuts to libraries, early childhood education seats, cultural institutions and more. 

The council released its official response to Mayor Adams’ initial budget proposal for fiscal year 2025 on Monday, citing higher tax revenue and underspending on personnel costs that they argue can be used to reverse recent budget cuts, pad reserves and help blunt the impact of expiring federal stimulus funds. 

The council’s budget response identifies an additional $6.15 billion in fiscal years 2024 and 2025 beyond what Adams’ preliminary budget in January included. That consists of a previously announced tax revenue projection of $3.35 billion more than what the mayor’s Office of Management and Budget projected, as well as $2.25 billion that the council says could potentially be accrued from wages and fringe benefits that is budgeted but not being paid for vacant city positions, and $550 million in in-year reserve funding. 

The council’s response aligns with op-eds and statements from both council leaders and rank-and-file members over the past several months that advocated for restoring funding to agencies. The Adams administration has instituted multiple rounds of so-called “Programs to Eliminate the Gap” to close budget gaps that the administration has said were significantly widened by spending on services for asylum-seekers over the last two years. 

Last fall, Mayor Adams announced three rounds of 5% budget cuts across city agencies set for last November, this January and this April. Adams followed through with cuts in November and January, but canceled the third planned round for April, citing higher than expected tax revenue and managing costs on asylum-seeker services. The city has also reversed some of the earlier cuts to agencies piecemeal, but other cuts remain, including to library services, pre-K and 3K seats, park services and more.

“We have consistently said that the budget cuts made by the administration were far too broad and have negative impacts on our constituents and the stability of our city,” City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said at a press conference on Monday. “Today's council budget response makes it clear that many of these were never necessary in the first place.”

The council is proposing using about $1.6 billion of the additional resources identified to be spent on reversing cuts from recent rounds of PEGs as well as cuts that date back to last year, and on new spending. That includes funding that would restore slashed 3K and pre-K seats, allow libraries to return to 7-day service and restore funding to recidivism reduction programs, among other programs. The plan would also replace some of the diminished headcounts in certain agencies and offices, including in the Parks Department, Civilian Complaint Review Board and school cafeteria staff.

Out of the rest of the roughly $6 billion in additional resources, the council is calling for $3 billion to cover under-budgeting that the council identified in the mayor’s preliminary budget for existing programs and services, and $500 million to go into fiscal year 2025 reserves, leaving roughly $1 billion for any other fiscal needs.

A spokesperson for Mayor Adams didn’t comment directly on the council’s proposals but cited its “strong fiscal management” in closing a $7 billion budget gap for the coming fiscal year in the preliminary budget. “We made the right decisions without interrupting New Yorkers’ access to the critical services they need and deserve,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “At the same time, we still need additional support from our state and federal partners to help the city deal with the reality of billions of dollars in asylum seeker costs. We look forward to working with the City Council to negotiate a budget that reflects our shared priorities that keeps the city safe, clean, and a welcoming place to live, work, and raise a family.”

The Adams administration has previously pointed to emergency spending on services for the tens of thousands of asylum-seekers who have come through the city’s care over the last two years as a major – though not the only – driver of the city’s budget gaps. City Council Finance Committee Chair Justin Brannan said on Monday that a bigger risk is the fiscal cliff created by expiring federal stimulus funds that have been used for city services and programs. The council is calling on the mayor to baseline funding for some of the services that had been covered by stimulus dollars, such as preschool special education, community schools and restorative justice programming in schools.

As in previous years, the council’s response includes a call to improve transparency in the city budget, advocating for adding more descriptive categories to agencies’ budget breakdowns, allowing the public and the council to see in more detail how funds are being used. Proposed new categories include isolating spending on asylum-seeker services at various city agencies, as well as spending by the Department of Transportation on the Streets Master Plan.

Budget watchdog group Citizens Budget Commission praised the council’s response for addressing under-budgeted services, but warned about budget gaps in the outyears.

There’s still a lot of work ahead of the city’s June 30 budget deadline. The mayor is expected to release his executive budget proposal this month, followed by another round of City Council hearings. Asked about the tone of budget negotiations between the Adams administration and the City Council, Brannan said that the first step is agreeing on how much money there is to spend, which the two sides of City Hall often disagree on. “We don't want it to be hostile, and I think if everyone can agree on how much money is there – at least we’re in the same ballpark – then negotiation should be productive and positive,” he said.