Gov. Andrew Cuomo, under pressure from local government and school officials, now says he will join their discussion to address the fiscal crisis facing cities, counties and their taxpayers.
Cuomo recently met with some local officials to build support for his proposal to change the binding arbitration law that guides labor disputes. He wants to require mediators to consider taxpayers’ ability to pay when awarding judgments to public workers, most of which go to firefighters and police officers.
“Their situation with the police and fire contracts is a specific that is begging that larger problem,” Cuomo said on a radio show last week. “I want to use it as an opportunity to talk about the larger problem of distressed communities and governments and how the state can help.”
The comment was welcomed by those who have long sought a summit with Cuomo. Local government and school officials had sought more tools from Albany to reduce their costs and avoid raising what are already some of the nation’s highest property taxes.
Cuomo’s spokesmen declined to comment about his radio statement when questioned by The Associated Press.
The Democratic governor had secured a pension plan that would allow schools and local governments to reduce their staggering payments to public pension systems now by banking on projected savings years and decades from now. But some officials found that risky, saying it simply put off the problem.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said of Cuomo’s new willingness to talk about the issue. She was appointed by Cuomo to be the co-chairwoman of the state Democratic Party and has led the effort to get Cuomo to hold a summit on the fiscal crisis. He previously called for summits to expand the yogurt industry and to help beer and wine sales but not to address this issue.
“He has the skills” to tackle the crisis, Miner said. “If he’s going to put people in a room, that’s a good thing.”
When Miner raised the issue in February, Cuomo’s director of operations, Howard Glaser, responded critically on an Albany radio station.
“Syracuse wants somebody else to solve that problem,” Glaser said then. “If you’re unwilling or unable to solve a problem in fiscal management in a city, there’s a mechanism for that: You ask the Legislature to create a financial control board, and the financial control board will solve the problem for you.”
Richard Brodsky, a former Democratic assemblyman who is now with the Wagner School at New York University and has been working with local officials, said the rising costs of health care and pensions of public workers is hitting local governments as cities outside New York City are losing population and tax base. Several are on the road to insolvency. Some municipalities in other states have already gone broke.
“There have been a lot of people around the state calling for a broader discussion,” Brodsky said. “All of the elbows thrown over the past year will have been worth it if it leads to a discussion. A verbal acknowledgement is good. An actual meeting is better.”
Cuomo told public radio’s “Capitol Pressroom” that the state can’t continue to give cities handouts.
“That does nothing,” he said. “I just perpetuates the structural imbalance and it perpetuates the denial of the structural imbalance ... you can’t have fewer taxpayers paying for more government.”