Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Budget Process Hits A Milestone

In 11 days, state lawmakers in both the Senate and Assembly have completed 13 hearings focusing on the budget of various state agencies. The marathon sessions lasted as long as 12 hours on some days. Testimony was heard from state agency heads, elected officials, industry advocates, lobbyists and special interest groups. Others just submitted testimony to go into the pile of testimony needed for review.


All the budget hearings were held virtually, and time constraints were implemented to contain the dialogue. Many agency heads had no answers to dozens of lawmakers’ questions; these will be answered privately, keeping the answers away from public scrutiny.

For more than three hours, New York City Mayor Eric Adams faced a barrage of questions from dozens of lawmakers. Adams told lawmakers the $5.8 billion his city received in federal stimulus aid resulting from financial setbacks due to the Covid pandemic had already been spent. Adams budget director fielded that issue.

“The money [$5.8 billion] was fully appropriated in the last adopted budget,” Jacques Jiha, the city’s budget director told the virtual panel. “The money was spent on everything dealing with opening the economy. The stimulus money was basically front-loaded so that we could get the economy back up and running. By law, we had to spend the money down by 2025. It was spent on a combination of recurring expenses and one-shots.”

City budget officials are seeking an increase in its bonding capacity so it could potentially borrow additional money over the next four years. The request is attributed to falling property values throughout the city.

“We are asking to increase the debt and borrowing capacity by $19 billion because currently we are looking at our remaining debt-incurring power to drop to $4.5 billion by 2026, which is concerning to us as managers,” Jiha said. “We cannot wait until 2026 to secure this additional capacity. We are asking the state to basically restore the debt capacity we had before the pandemic at no cost to the state. We expect the property values in New York City to rebound, but it is going to take some time because currently we have a 20 percent vacancy rate of commercial property, which is big. We don’t know if this is a structural shift in the economy due to people working from home, and we don’t know if companies are seeking to shrink their footprint in New York City. We expect the property values in New York City to rebound but it is going to take some time.”

New York City officials have squirreled away $1 billion in a rainy-day fund over the past two years, fearing a multi-billion-dollar budget deficit in the coming years.

“As we saw, Covid was not a rainy day, it was a typhoon,” Adams said.

Just as New York State pays into a revenue-sharing agreement with the federal government and receives less than what it pays in, Adams told lawmakers the hospital distress fund is not a fair deal for city residents.

“We pay into that fund, yet we have not received one dollar to the distressed hospitals here in our city,” Adams said. “It is unfair that New York City pays into the fund. The dollars go outside the city. We know that here in New York City places like the Bronx and Queens were the epicenters of Covid-19 and our hospitals. We need the resources here. We think right now it is unfair and we should require that those dollars come into the areas where you pull those tax dollars from, and we’re not receiving any dollars from the hospital distress fund and it’s unfair.”


Adams Looks For Education Turnaround

Adams justified his seeking four years of mayoral control and responsibility for the nation’s largest school system.

“We spend more than $30 billion on education in New York City and the reality is that 65 percent of Black and brown children never reach proficiency in the city. Fifty-five percent of the prisoners in Rikers Island have learning disabilities. If we don’t educate, we will incarcerate,” Adams told lawmakers. “I need time to turn around a school system that has failed New Yorkers, specifically in Black and brown communities. Education is not K through 12. Education is from the time the mother carries that baby, giving her the support with the right nutrition and the right support that she needs all the way through careers. We want to turn that around. We want to make sure that we give our children inside the classrooms support, look at CTE [Career Technical Education] programs, bringing in our industries to ensure that our children are ready to fill some of the jobs as we see our city continue to evolve and dealing with some of the mental health issues our young children are experiencing.

“I need four years to turn around the school system in a way we expect our schools to produce our children for the future. Our system is unfair. We produce an unfair product every year that our children graduate. We must return the joy of learning in our schools to everything from healthy food, a healthy environment and make it a safe place for our children and I need four years to finally turn around the school system that has failed children,” Adams added.

When it comes to controlling crime and removing guns from the streets of New York City, Adams wanted lawmakers to buy into his slogan, “Many rivers are feeding into the sea of violence.”

One poignant moment came from Assemblyman Robert Carroll (D-Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn) when he thanked the mayor for sharing his story about dyslexia.

“As someone who is dyslexic, it was so refreshing to hear somebody talk about their struggles with reading, not because of intellect or effort, but because of the failure to diagnose and identify dyslexia and give those children the evidence-based reading curriculum that they so desperately need. My life was saved. My life was saved because in first grade, a teacher identified me as dyslexic and my parents had the means to get me a neuro-psych [evaluation] and then I was able to go to a school that provided me with an evidence-based reading curriculum that was multi-sensory, sequential and rooted in phonics.”

Carroll said he is working with NYC Schools Chancellor David Banks to circulate a memo advocating for $10.2 million to be put in the budget for “identification and curriculum interventions. I want to know how we can help you to make sure we can have universal screening for dyslexia and we can get evidence-based reading curriculum in our schools.”

“I was ashamed even as an adult for being a dyslexic,” Adams responded. “It’s unimaginable in this country that it is expected that 30 percent of our prison population is dyslexic. The crime is not only what they did on the street. The crime is the educational system that denies families for so many years, and we’re going to get it done. We need a school that is specifically for children with dyslexia.”

While mayors across the state are being helped with increased funding for transportation as well as water and sewer funding, the main advocacy group for mayors wants more money in state aid – and no new state mandates imposed on local governments in this budget.

“We want to see an increase of $210 million in AIM [Aid and Incentives for Municipalities] funding,” Peter Baynes, executive director of the New York Conference of Mayors told The Jewish Press. “It hasn’t been increased in 13 years. We want a cost-of-living increase. When you look at school aid going up $2.1 billion, it’s 10 percent of that, so that’s a fair share right there,” Baynes said. “That’s one of our concerns about the budget. We know the state can afford to increase it. We know this governor believes in local governments. We have key support in the Senate and Assembly for the increase.”

With their hands out for more money each year the moniker of Tin Cup Day has stuck because the municipal governments (cities, towns, villages and counties) are constantly begging for more money.

“I’ve been trying to get that nickname changed but I haven’t had any luck,” Baynes said. “I was hoping Golden Chalice Day had a better sound to it but it hasn’t struck a chord yet.”

Tweaking bail reform is another issue facing the mayors.

“Violent crime is a concern for our mayors. The mayor’s first job is public safety and we’ve all seen the stories about the increase in violent crimes,” said Baynes. “We think it makes sense to revisit bail reform. We have to make sure we maintain the equity of bail reform while we make sure the public is safe. We’re supporting a reasonable, surgical look at refining bail reform and see what needs to be fixed.”

Budget writing committees in each house are sharpening their writing tools and crafting a spending plan that is expected to be released next month. Then all three budgets from the Senate, Assembly and governor will be negotiated into several massive bills that need to be passed by Friday, April 1.


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Marc Gronich is the owner and news director of Statewide News Service. He has been covering government and politics for 44 years, since the administration of Hugh Carey. He is an award-winning journalist. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press and his coverage about how Jewish life intersects with the happenings at the state Capitol appear weekly in the newspaper. You can reach Mr. Gronich at [email protected].