Capital Region municipal leaders continue to warn of looming cuts after the latest federal COVID relief package left out direct aid to states and localities.
Nine months after Congress passed a pandemic relief package known as the CARES Act, a second round of stimulus funding has been signed by President Trump: $900 billion in COVID-19 aid. But leaders from Governor Andrew Cuomo on down say without direct aid to states and localities, budgets will be under further strain in 2021.
As he released his 2021 spending plan in October, Democratic Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy waxed optimism:
"We're operating in difficult times and we're hopeful that the rational minds will prevail at the federal level and assist not only Schenectady but other communities across the state and across the country who are dealing with the ill effects of COVID-19."
Schenectady’s spending plan relies on more than $1.5 million in federal assistance.
There will be some money in the pipeline designated for small businesses, vaccine distribution and public transportation. Democratic Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan:
"Certainly for businesses and families and the arts, you know, it is important relief and necessary relief. But the piece of it it's missing is how we are going to pay for our firefighters, our police officers, our sanitation workers, the snow removal crews, because it does not contain that aid that we were seeking which is to replace the revenue that we've lost as a municipality because of COVID-19."
Binghamton New York Mayor Richard David is the President of the New York Conference of Mayors. The Republican says the outlook is rather grim, leaving mayors and other municipal leaders "with a bunch of very bad decisions" to make, which include raising taxes, cutting services, laying off employees and dipping into fund balances or reserves.
"In the middle of the most severe pandemic that we've ever seen in the recorded history of our nation, you're eliminating funding that would go to first responders at the local level, your police officers, your firefighters, your EMTs, your paramedics, and a host of other employees who have been on the front lines dealing with the pandemic, keeping our respective communities safe. And so, the major financial impact for municipalities is a loss of sales tax revenue, major increases in pandemic related expenses, reductions in state aid. And so all of these things add up to the tune of millions of dollars or tens of millions of dollars."
David adds government leaders will need to be creative. He says those who have prepared for a rainy day will experience a little less pain than large and small municipalities that have little or no reserves to fall back on.
Echoing President-elect Joe Biden, Congressional Democrats like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York have said another COVID relief package is on the horizon.