Jiha again using the budget as a political weapon

In a hours-long budget meeting with councilmembers Monday, Adams’ budget director, Jacques Jiha, made some sweeping statements about the city’s bottom line.

The headlines from that meeting this week focused on Jiha’s assessment that closing Rikers Island jail by 2027, as mandated by law, is “not going to happen.” In his testimony on the city’s budget, Jiha claimed that the mandate to close Rikers and make way for borough-based jails throughout the city was interfering with his ability to provide space in the budget for popular infrastructure plans and city services. The comptroller disagrees with that assessment. Wait a minute, haven’t we heard this before?

Oh! That’s right! This fall, Jiha told us a $6.5 billion deficit, largely caused by asylum seekers, was responsible for closing library services and slashing education spending — only to quietly correct the record when discovering the city actually has a $2.8 billion surplus. In the same meeting Monday, Jiha told city council that the Biden administration has not delivered federal funding promised to the city when in fact, according to a federal official, it is the mayor’s office dragging its feet on the necessary paperwork holding up the money.

Jail reform and asylum seekers are easy scapegoats for austerity concerns — especially when you imagine billions of dollars in budget deficits to fuel it. We all know Adams is not a fan of the Rikers closure, he has publicly lambasted the plan and cast doubt on the jail’s documented inhumane and deadly conditions. But the law is the law and the mayor has a mandate to follow through on his duties, regardless of his feelings on the matter.

As for Jiha, we advise he take another stab at his assessment of the budget now that he’s got almost $10 billion more that we thought on hand and, in the words of his boss:

“Stay focused. No distractions. And grind.”

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