The budget Mayor Masiello and the Common Council put together in May carries a risk not entirely of their making. It needs $8.75 million in new state aid to be in balance.
To the extent that the state falls short in supplying that money, the city government faces the prospect of layoffs or service reductions.
The word from Albany, now apparently getting down to serious discussion in its budget negotiations, is that the amount of new aid to Buffalo won't be that high. Even the most generous recently announced proposal on the table in the Capitol's budget negotiations leaves the city more than $3 million short of the mark.
Buffalo needs more help. There are three reasons the state should provide it, filling the hole in the city's budget:
It's the right thing to do.
Albany has created no particular policy for dealing with the state's faltering cities. While the big one downstate may be doing well in the middle of a financial-industry boom, all of the upstate cities are struggling. State policymakers show far too little concern about that unpleasant reality.
State laws that might be changed to the advantage of cities aren't changed. Cities don't seem to have much lobbying clout in comparison to some deep-pocket special interests. So the cities line up for extra aid to stay afloat. No surprise there. Buffalo, with much poverty to overcome, has every right to an up-front place in the line.
The state can afford it.
Since Gov. Pataki produced his proposed budget in January, the state coffers have been swollen by $2.6 billion in unanticipated tax revenue, much of it stemming from the Wall Street boom that won't stop. Pataki and legislative leaders wouldn't have to dip too deeply into their great windfall to ease the pain of cities statewide. Buffalo's $8.5 million puts just a tiny dent in the state's overflowing pot of cash.
Much of the dilemma is the state's fault.
Buffalo and other local governments with a July 1 start to their fiscal year put the word "final" on their budgets and local property-tax levies long ago, even though they had no way of knowing their state aid. The risk is not their fault.
Had Pataki and the State Legislature properly finished their own budget by the April 1 start of the state's fiscal year, there would have been no state-aid guesswork among the local governments. Buffalo was free to presume an $8.5 million helping in the absence of anything concrete from Albany.
If the state wants local budgets to reflect aid accurately, it can start doing its own budget on time. Wouldn't that be news?
The state apparently will create a special fund for doling out aid to the cities, following a similar maneuver last year. Reports from the Capitol have Syracuse and Yonkers, with Republican mayors, getting significant aid increases. To the extent that the aid game is being played along partisan lines, it puts special stress on the Democratic-run Assembly to get help for Democratic-run City Hall.
By all accounts, the atmosphere in Albany is bad these days. Animosities at the top are troubling policy and creating gridlock. Partisanship is ruling every issue in excessive ways. Out of the difficult maze must come enough money to keep Buffalo city government on course.
Difficult as it may sound, the reality is as simple as that.