ALBANY – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has sought to raise fiscal red flags over the shape of the state budget.
Many are not getting the message, or they think he needs to reshape some of his own funding ideas to pay for other needs.
An assortment of people came to the state Capitol Monday with a succinct message: Provide us more state funding, no matter if the state, according to Cuomo, is facing a large tax revenue shortfall.
The line was long, and it included the mayors of Buffalo, New York City and smaller local governments. There were opioid addiction prevention and treatment advocates in the halls seeking money, as were groups pressing for raises to relatively low-wage workers at nonprofit agencies that provide state services to people with a range of developmental disabilities and New York City residents pushing for a tax on people driving into parts of Manhattan in order to fund subway repairs.
On Tuesday, before legislators start a two-week vacation, some 800 students, professors and others will be hitting the Capitol to urge more money for the State University of New York.
Also on Tuesday, Cuomo heads to Washington for a meeting he requested with President Trump. Cuomo said he will try to convince the president that the federal tax law’s cut in state and local tax deductions is having a disproportionate effect on New York’s economy because, the governor says, high-income earners are leaving the state to lower tax states.
In Albany on Monday, the fiscal asks ran the gamut.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown asked lawmakers to approve Cuomo’s plan to spend $50 million on various – and largely unannounced – projects on Buffalo's East Side. “There are some pretty specific ideas," Brown said in an interview, though he said it’s up to Cuomo to announce them at some point.
The Buffalo mayor, in Albany to testify with other local government officials on Cuomo’s budget, also asked lawmakers to nudge more money out of the state’s finances to be driven to Buffalo. He wants state funding of $5 million to help the city construct a new public works facility and for legislative backing for money to be spent in the city on lead pain abatement, infrastructure and energy efficiency projects and another round of money for transportation projects.
The mayor also wants the state to direct tax revenues from legalizing marijuana – as is being considered at the Capitol – to communities such as Buffalo that “have been disproportionately affected by the old drug laws." A number of lawmakers, noting disproportionate marijuana arrests of minorities in localities throughout the state, have wanted tax revenues from pot to be specifically earmarked for economic development, social services, housing and other programs in areas with high pot arrests of blacks and other minorities.
Brown is also asking for the state to decrease the percentage it gets in revenue-sharing from slot machine proceeds at the Seneca Nation’s casino in Buffalo – and shift the revenues instead to the city.
The city gets 6.25 percent of the revenues the Seneca Nation sends to the state each year under a provision in a casino exclusivity compact that was recently upheld by an arbitration panel following a couple of years of a nasty dispute. The funding formula drives about $7 million a year to the city’s treasury.
Brown wants the city’s share to increase over five years to 7.5 percent, resulting in $1.5 million to $2.5 million in added revenues for Buffalo during that period. “It is a modest amount. The money is generated in the locality and now that this will be the eighth year that we haven’t gotten an AIM increase. It’s warranted,’’ Brown said of the request.
AIM? That’s the state’s Aid and Incentives to Municipalities, a pot of unrestricted funding that goes to 1,300 localities across New York. Local officials have become accustomed to the funding stream being frozen year after year.
But this year, Cuomo has proposed major changes to who gets the money, a move that effectively cuts out 90 percent of cities, towns and villages in New York State. Cuomo marks down $60 million in budget savings from the idea.
But the plan brought local officials from across the state to the Capitol Monday in an effort to convince lawmakers to reject the idea.
In a rare retreat so soon after proposing a budget, Cuomo on Monday afternoon signaled the final budget deal will amend his AIM cut plan. He said in a news conference that he is going “to be taking a second look” at the AIM cut. He said the specific cuts are not all that big to individual communities but said local officials have told him “it is a big situation for them so we’re going to try to make that adjustment."
Their trip comes a week after Cuomo announced that the state was facing a sudden $2.3 billion revenue shortfall because of a drop in income tax receipts that started showing up in December.
“We believe this is a time where there should be a lot of concern," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told lawmakers about the drop-off in tax revenues. He said fiscal officials are being “very cautious” about his own city government’s budget.
Cuomo appeared to take Monday’s flood of funding requests in stride.
“The numbers have to balance. In an ideal world, you don’t cut anywhere and everybody gets more money … but then the numbers have to actually add up," Cuomo said.
But Springville Mayor William Krebs, one of hundreds of local officials making the rounds here Monday, said Cuomo’s AIM plan would cut $35,000 in annual state aid, which represents 1 percent of his village’s local budget. “It’s a penalty on small villages," he said of the AIM plan. He said such a reduction would have to come via raising taxes rather than cutting what he called essential services for recreation, public safety and street maintenance programs.
“It just shows the lack of understanding the budget office in Albany has about local governments," Krebs said.