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Albany On Hold (Again) Waiting For State Funding

In January 2017, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan appeared at a joint hearing of the state legislature to plead for money to fix a $12.5 million budget gap.
In January 2017, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan attended a joint hearing of the state legislature to plead for money to fix a $12.5 million budget gap.

Once again, the city of Albany's budget hangs on receiving $12.5 million from the state of New York. With five weeks before the state budget is due, the annual Albany nail-biter is in full swing.

"This is an inequity that has existed for many, many years. It is a budget gap that has been filled by gimmicks and spin-ups by the state in the past and by the city in the past, and it's time for this to be permanent," said Mayor Kathy Sheehan.

When Governor Andrew Cuomo didn't earmark any funding for Albany in his 30-day budget amendments last year, Mayor Sheehan turned up the pressure, rallying fellow Democrats like state Senator Neil Breslin.:  "It's unfair not to fill that hole of $12.5 million."

The mayor had already announced an immediate city-wide hiring freeze along with a blanket moratorium in place on all city purchases.

Sheehan took her “tin cup” to the web, launching a social media campaign. Eventually, the money came through. But a year later, that permanent solution remains out of reach.    "My first budget in 2016 was $176,200-and some thousand, and that has grown over four years by .02 percent. So when the governor talks about growth, capping growth at 2 percent, we capped growth... if I had capped growth at 2 percent our budget would be $11 million higher. We've been able to manage within our means, and included in that were multimillion dollar interest arbitration awards, we've settled all of our union contracts, so we have saved millions and millions of dollars with the efficiencies and with effective fiscal management, and we know that this gap is structural. Anyone who's looked at agrees that it's structural and it needs to get filled and it needs to be permanent."

A similar social media campaign could pop up again this year. As the mayor has pointed out many times, other upstate cities get more funding. Sheehan says there are other pressing issues she would love to address with state lawmakers.   "I would love to be able to talk about infrastructure and economic development and the anti-poverty initiative that we have underway and our initiatives around vacant and abandoned buildings and how we can better work with the state on those issues. But every year I have to go up and ask for the $12.5 million. And all we're asking is to get us to half of where other cities are with respect to unrestricted aid. And it's the capital city with much higher tax-exempt properties than other cities and with many of the same challenges. it just is time to do the right thing by the residents of the capital city."

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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