The mayors of New York's biggest cities are looking to state lawmakers for more financial help as they struggle with skyrocketing public pension and health care costs, crumbling infrastructure and expanding school budgets.
In an annual rite nicknamed the Tin Cup Brigade, mayors from across the state were in Albany on Monday for a joint legislative hearing on local government aid, the first of 13 hearings on various areas of the 2014-15 state budget.
While New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio concentrated on his proposal for universal prekindergarten funded with a tax on the wealthy, Rochester's new mayor, Lovely Warren, asked lawmakers to replace the current local aid formula with a needs-based system.
"Rochester is facing a $37.5 million gap that will escalate in future years," Warren said. "Like other upstate cities, the city of Rochester faces structural financial challenges that limit our ability to address this gap without the state's assistance."
Warren said she supports Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposals to increase funding for afterschool programs, provide summer jobs for young people and provide universal prekindergarten to all children, which is separate from de Blasio's plan. Citing the summer jobs program, she said, "The NY Youth Works program is laser-focused on exactly the sort of assistance that Rochester needs to start on the long road to restoring prosperity and restoring hope."
Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said that with aid to municipalities remaining flat, her city is struggling to make needed repairs to water mains, roads, parks and other infrastructure. "Without addressing our crumbling infrastructure needs, I fear our economic development investments won't be able to achieve their goals, or will stop," Miner said.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said his city has already enacted scores of efficiency measures and has few alternative revenue sources. "I have committed to not raise property taxes to improve the climate for businesses and residents in Buffalo," Brown said. "Zero growth in state aid is jeopardizing Buffalo's hard-earned fiscal stability."
Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano said "push-down economics" is taking a toll on city residents as the federal government pushes costs onto the state, the state pushes them onto localities, and local governments push them onto residents in the form of higher property taxes or program cuts. Spano called the state's school funding formula unfair and said the city can't afford another year without an increase in state Aid and Incentives for Municipalities funding.
"Our residents have been cut to the bone and we can't afford to cut further," Spano said.