Adams' cuts to NYC services amid migrant crisis is unserious political theater

POLITICS: Adams’ cuts to NYC services amid migrant crisis is unserious political theater

If you need more evidence Mayor Eric Adams has no idea how to manage the migrant crisis, look to his apocalyptic warnings about city budget cuts.

The mayor’s intent is to terrify President Joe Biden into giving us billions of dollars.

Instead, he’s scaring city residents, showing he has no plan.

The mayor last Saturday directed agencies to cut 5% from city-funded spending by November.

Though the overall budget is $111.1 billion, city taxpayers fund just $82.8 billion (the rest comes from state and federal grants).

So the budget cut would be $4.1 billion. Spending would be 3.5% below last year’s levels, instead of 1.5% higher, the current level.

This is hard. The city never cuts spending.

After the 2008 financial crisis, then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg cut spending by 3%. After 9/11, thanks to federal aid, we didn’t cut spending at all.

And during those eras, inflation was low, 2% — so a 3% budget cut was a big deal.

These days, with prices 9% higher than when Adams took office, a 5% budget cut doesn’t go far.

Indeed, Adams has already pushed spending up by 11% over two years, but that was to keep up with inflation, not expand services.

Plus: Much of the budget is not just hard to cut on short notice but impossible.

Pensions and health care for city workers and retirees, plus debt costs, total $30.7 billion.

Since that stuff is untouchable, absent long-term reforms, the real cut to services Adams proposes — fire, police, sanitation, education — will be 8%.

An 8% slash would be something we didn’t even see in the mid-1970s fiscal crisis. And the mayor would follow this cut with similar cuts over three more years.

So the mayor has proposed cuts beyond a level not seen in five decades, even as the economy is doing OK. (A recession would bring cuts to double digits.)

Sounds drastic but consider: The city budget is only 11 weeks old.

It was just June when the mayor crowed about his “balanced” budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.

“I am proud to say that we have successfully navigated” a “strong and fiscally responsible budget,” Adams said then.

Nothing has happened between June and now to surprise us.

Adams knew in June that offering shelter to tens of thousands of migrants was costing billions.

If this spending was going to devour city services — as it obviously was — Adams should have leveled with the City Council during the June budget process, outlining which services he plans to cut.

And it was just two weeks ago that the state’s financial control board, controlled by Gov. Kathy Hochul, met to agree the city’s budget is balanced under state law, a requirement since the 1970s fiscal crisis.

At the meeting, Hochul lauded Adams’ “strong management.”

How could the budget be balanced two weeks ago but a disaster today?

Finally, contrast the dry statement announcing the mayor’s budget cuts last week with the mayor’s dire warnings.

The city’s statement assured everyone, “The administration will seek to minimize disruption,” and “there will not be layoffs.”

But there was the mayor, days later, telling attendees at a “community conversation” in Jamaica, Queens, “This is not sustainable. . . . Where do you think those $5 billion are going to come from? It’s going to come from what we fought for,” including “after-school programs” and mental-health care.” He declared, “Our roof caved in.”

So on one hand, the city is saying nobody — neither city workers nor residents — is going to notice these budget cuts.

On the other hand, the mayor is telling Queens residents, repeating his language on the Upper West Side the week before, that “this could destroy our city.”

The mayor talks seriously, but he isn’t serious.

The only serious thing would be to pledge to Queens residents — and everyone else — he won’t let an open-ended influx of migrants consume the city’s recovery.

He will not take in more migrants to shelter because the city doesn’t have the fiscal capacity.

Adams’ only strategy is theater: He wants Biden to quake at the idea of massive cutbacks to New York City police, fire and sanitation services during the presidential election and hand over cash to avoid these cuts.

But the president doesn’t care.

The only people stuck in this theater are city residents, and the only person who thinks screaming “Fire!” in the theater is going to prevent the fire is Adams.

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.

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