New York City Forgoes Billions in Revenue — While Cutting Essential Programs

October 19, 2023

The positive benefits of early education have been well documented: children are more likely to do well in math, graduate from high school, and earn higher wages later on. It also strengthens the overall economy, by expanding the workforce and increasing productivity.  

Busy crosswalk in New York City, surrounded by large buildings
Source: Luca Bravo on Unsplash

Yet soon after taking office last year, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, citing revenue shortfalls, cut funding for a program providing free learning for children once they turned three, making it no longer universal.  

In that same year, NYC gave up more than $4 billion in revenue due to tax breaks. Between 2018 and 2022, the total hit almost $20 billion.  

That’s according to end-of-year spending reports released each year by the city. The documents, called Annual Comprehensive Financial Reports, detail the types and costs of abatement programs that let companies get out of paying billions of dollars that would otherwise have gone to public services.  

You can search these entries and others in Tax Break Tracker, our database chronicling what localities lose to tax abatements. 

In fiscal year 2022, New York City’s largest tax break program was also the country’s single largest: its price tag of $1.8 billion was enough to pay for more than 22,000 teacher salaries for a year. The abatement – called the Commercial Conversation Program but known as 421a – was designed to encourage the construction of multifamily rental buildings, but the program has long been criticized for primarily benefitting luxury housing developers.   

Another giveaway, the Commercial Growth Program, cost the city more than $180 million last year. Recipients in 2022 included NBC Universal (more than $10 million), Chase Bank (more than $700,000), and Deerfield Management (more than $3 million).  

Another expensive program, clocking in at $43 million, reduces the taxable value of the perennially popular Madison Square Garden. 

 NYC is not the only metropolis funneling billions to corporations in the name of economic development. In fiscal year 2022, Houston gave away half a billion in tax breaks through a huge tax increment financing program called Tax Increment Reinvest Zone, our analysis shows. And, Chicago’s massive TIF program cost the Windy City $79 million.  

In 2022, NYC spent $2 billion on transportation services, $720 million on parks, recreation, and cultural services, and $424 million on libraries – which combined is far less than what the city gave to companies. 

 What else could the money have been spent on? For starters, to restore the parks department budget, expand the shelter system for migrants, or strengthen the city’s flood infrastructure.  

It’s time to rein in these subsidies and put the money toward services that improve not the profit margins for some of the world’s biggest companies, but the lives of everyday New Yorkers. 

Tax Break Tracker LogoThe latest update to Tax Break Tracker adds 1,034 entries, all collected from 2022 Annual Comprehensive Financial Reports. When available, we collect these entries from each state’s government, along with the five largest counties, cities, and school districts.    

 The added data came from 357 jurisdictions throughout the US. These entries account for $17,311,575,174 in abated taxes in 2022. Tax Break Tracker now contains over 14,000 entries, totaling more than $100 billion in abatements.