By Matthew Fischetti
The Progressive Caucus is putting up a fight.
Last Wednesday, the 20 members of the left leaning city council caucus debuted their budget priorities: which include building and preserving affordable housing, expanding mental health and substance use support as well as blocking education cuts.
Back In January, Mayor Eric Adams unveiled his preliminary $103 billion budget for Fiscal year 2024. Recently, Eric Adasm has suggested $1 billion in annual budgets cut for four years citing the migrant crisis, slowing economic growth and proposals in the state budget, per the New York Post. The cuts would reportedly impact government services such as library hours and education.
The Progressive Caucus has dubbed Mayor Adams’s proposals as “fear-mongering” and a “manufactured crisis”, saying that the city is expected to end the current fiscal year with a surplus of $4.9 billion and substantial reserves.
“In a month-long discussion and a process that entailed a survey, we asked our members of the caucus: what will our fight this cycle look like? And so in collective collaboration, we determined these three urgent priorities that also pushed back against the mayor’s austerity budget,” Progressive Caucus Co-Chair and Park Slope Councilwoman Shahana Hanif said at the rally.
In terms of housing, the caucus’ budget would invest $4 billion to expand and preserve affordable housing, including $2b in capital funding for the Housing Preservation and Development Department as well as the New York City Housing Authority. Additional funding for housing would come in the form of $351 million for Right to Counsel to ensure legal representation for people facing eviction in Housing Court and increasing supporting housing funding by $60 million.
In order to expand mental health and substance use support, the Progressive Caucus would like to see $4 million added to Crisis Respite Centers – which are alternatives to hospitalization for people experiencing emotional crises where people can stay for up to a week – to increase the quantity from eight to 16 across the five boroughs. The caucus also wants to open 24/7 overdose prevention centers in every borough with wraparound services. Specifically, the budget priorities say that the budget should add $20 million to expand two existing centers in East Harlem and Washington Heights to operate 24 hours a day, and open 4 additional centers in each borough.
The caucus’s final priority is to block education cuts by fully funding Universal 3K and prevent any cuts to individual school budgets.
“Our budget proposal is upstream thinking, investing in housing, education and mental health services are the solutions that we need to keep our community safe. Do you want to know what the definition of downstream thinking is? Cutting education, cutting houses, getting access to food – this is how we drive crime in New York City,” Progressive Caucus Co-Chair and north Brooklyn councilman Lincoln Restler said at the rally. “By failing to address the root and invest in the root causes that prevent violence.”
In an interview with the Brooklyn Star, Bushwick Councilwoman and Progressive Caucus Vice Chair Jennifer Gutiérrez said that the diminished caucus size (15 members of the progressive caucus had previously left over language in their statement of principles regarding reducing the size and scope of the NYPD) allowed them to have more robust conversations about budget priorities.
Last year several members of the Progressive Caucus voted no on the final budget for Fiscal Year 2023 while a majority of the caucus voted for the budget.
“We haven’t had the conversation in that way,” Gutiérrez said regarding whether the priorities represent a red line for how the caucus would vote on the upcoming budget. “But absolutely, I think every single caucus member who participated in these priorities, has strong convictions around what we need to do.”
Mayor Adams has yet to release the executive budget, which is an updated proposal after the council provides their response. The final city budget must be approved before July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year.