A clash over discretionary funding for nonprofits has become the latest sign of a growing rift between Mayor Eric Adams and members of the City Council who will vote whether to approve proposed budget cuts next month.
Since late summer, progressive councilmembers have lashed out at the mayor over a broad range of budget cuts, including reduction in school funding, as well as hiring freezes. Tensions heightened Tuesday following an unexpected proposal by the mayor to reallocate half of a $563 million pot of discretionary funds that councilmembers direct toward nonprofits in their districts.
Gale Brewer, a Manhattan city councilmember, said she was caught off guard by the mayor’s request to cut discretionary funds.
“Every dollar I have allocated keeps the community safe, keeps it clean,” Brewer said during a council meeting.
Her remarks occurred as members were deliberating proposed budget cuts from the mayor that they are expected to vote on next month. Jonah Allon, a spokesperson for the mayor, said the modifications total roughly $900 million.
More than a dozen members of the council expressed their opposition to the budget cuts.
“He is more aligned with our colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle than this Democratic conference,” said Brooklyn City Councilmember Lincoln Restler.
New York City currently has a $104 billion budget, but concerns about the city’s slowing economy and mounting costs from the migrant crisis have prompted the mayor to seek belt-tightening measures.
But some have questioned the severity of the situation. On Monday, the Independent Budget Office projected that the city would see a more than $2 billion surplus at the end of the current fiscal year and predicted that there would not be a recession. The council’s economist has forecasted a $2 billion surplus as well and predicted a mild recession.
During a press conference on Wednesday, Council Speaker Adrienne Adams accused the mayor of attempting to cut vital services that are “a lifeline to New Yorkers in need.”
“What we should be asking is why the administration is being so opaque about its spending on contracts during the asylum seeker crisis,” the speaker said. “We need those answers.”
The city has so far spent $250 million on addressing the needs of migrants, according to the mayor. He has estimated that the total costs this fiscal year will approach $1 billion.
Part of the councilmembers’ anger stemmed from how they learned about the mayor’s intention to slash the discretionary funds, which requires renegotiating with the council. The mayor made his desires known during an interview with the New York Post editorial board. His remarks were later reported by the Post.
“That’s not exactly how city government works,” Speaker Adams said.
The speaker confirmed the mayor sent her a letter shortly late Tuesday stating that he wanted to cut the discretionary funds by as much as half.
Prior to the speaker’s remarks, the council issued a statement condemning the mayor’s proposal while questioning the city’s handling of the migrant crisis.
“The mayor is starving city agencies of staff and resources, leaving non-profits to fill the gap without his support, and now he wants to take funding away from these non-profit service providers,” read the statement. “When the mayor is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on for-profit contractors to construct tents that go unused but not investing in the non-profit organizations delivering services, it raises serious concerns.”
Members of the LGBTQIA+, Black and Latino and Asian, and the women’s caucuses also released statements criticizing the mayor.
At a press conference at City Hall, the mayor defended his actions by arguing that the council has made the migrant crisis a priority by holding two days of hearings examining the administration’s response.
He said he had been approached by some councilmembers asking that he provide migrants with more resources such as free cell phones and Metrocards.
“You guys have a half a billion dollars in discretionary dollars,” he said. “If you really feel we should be giving free [resources], can you voluntarily give us 50% so we can do this together?”