It’s not unusual for a local government board to complain about getting shortchanged when it sees similar communities getting more state aid.
What’s unusual is when no one at any level can offer a clear explanation why.
When public officials can’t figure out how aid is determined, and when they can’t get a straight answer from the people in charge of the program or the legislators who fund it, it’s time for an investigation and maybe some changes.
At issue is the Aid and Incentives to Municipalities (AIM) program, which provides local cities, towns and villages with general-purpose aid.
You might remember this particular program being in the news recently, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed withholding about $60 million from hundreds of towns and villages to help close a pending state budget deficit, angering many local public officials.
Now Schenectady Councilman John Polimeni has a completely unrelated complaint about the program, saying Schenectady is being deprived of its fair share of the aid, about $7 million.
He cites the levels of AIM allocated to cities of similar makeup with equal or smaller populations that receive more aid than Schenectady.
In a sane world, one would expect that state officials and lawmakers would be able to provide Mr. Polimeni with an explanation of why Schenectady gets less.
But that has proven elusive.
Explanations given by the New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials (NYCOM) and state Division of Budget indicate the AIM program is a goop-melange of former local aid programs, some kind of aid for financially distressed communities, and get this, according to NYCOM, the political clout of a particular city’s state legislative delegation when the program was initiated.
The political factor is certainly not outside the realm of possibility. Remember what state we live in. The Legislature has a long history of handing out state aid based on political favoritism.
But this aid isn’t supposed to come from some political Santa’s bag. It’s supposed to be distributed to local communities based on specific criteria and needs, to help them provide essential services.
There should be a clear formula with detailed definitions of the criteria. A community should be able to plug in its own figures and make a side-by-side comparison with other communities. The comptroller should be able to audit it and the public should have access to it.
The calculation might not be simple. But it must be measurable and definable.
If the state can’t provide that for this program, then it’s time to re-evaluate it and, if necessary, reconfigure it.
And if Schenectady feels it’s getting shortchanged, it’s up to our state legislative representatives to lead the charge.