With state lawmakers in their final days of budget talks in Albany, local leaders are raising concerns about the spending plan’s impacts.
With the budget due by April 1st, one proposal has raised the hackles of county executives: Governor Andrew Cuomo's plan to fund Aid and Incentives for Municipalities out of the counties’ share of sales tax.
Stephen Acquario is Executive Director of the NYS County Executives Association. "In 2008 the New York state budget was $121 billion. In 2018, that's 10 years later, the New York state budget is $175 billion. We think the state of New York has a spending problem. And over the years and decades it has become too reliant on local taxes to help fund state obligations. If it's worth mandating, then it's worth paying for. That's the message that we would like to get out to the communities, to the public at large. If Albany wants to mandate a program, or create a new law or provide a new service: if it's worth mandating then it's worth paying for."
Counties are calling on Governor Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, all Democrats, to continue to fund the AIM program the way they argue it was designed to be funded: by the state. Acquario says concerns were brought to the state's attention in February.
County Executive Association President Albany County Executive Dan McCoy cites New York's 2 percent property tax cap, which Gov. Cuomo wants to be made permanent in the budget. "We've been making difficult decisions here in Albany County, we've been under the cap for the last seven years, zero percent tax increase for six, and this year alone we've reduced taxes by 1.5. As New Yorkers, we're paying the highest taxes in this country. We've done our job and the problem is with the 2 percent property tax cap which we all got behind and it save the taxpayers of New York state $24 million, we rolled up our sleeves we worked together and we've made difficult decisions. And now what they're doing to us with this AIM funding, with the college tuition, with everything else, they've forced it down on us without even bringing us into the room to discuss anything with, that's the most disturbing thing out of this whole story, because the governor and the legislature wants this great relationship, but at the end of the day they're not sayin' 'Hey, how's this affect you?'"
Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro shares McCoy's frustration. "Having served in the state legislature and in fact, to the displeasure of some of my colleagues, been a co-sponsor of the property tax cap, we expected at that time, in fact I had served on the Governor's Task Force For Mandate Relief, we had expected at that time with imposition of the property tax cap that in fact the state would engage in an effort to reduce mandated spending. We know that that hasn't happened, and I while I certainly support making permanent the property tax cap, in this county the elimination of AIM is an additional $1.3 million worth of new expenses with no guarantee. And by the way, creating a combative and adversarial relationship between the county and the local municipalities."
Speaking on WAMC's Roundtable program Monday, Cuomo did not address the County Executives’ concerns directly, but emphasized his budget proposal is all about funding as he shifted some blame to Washington. "The challenge for the budget is, number one, economic, because the budget is about numbers and it's still math and we don't have the funding that we would like to have, thanks to President Trump and thanks to SALT and thanks to the most egregiously political tax act ever seen, that taxes the Democratic states. But we're down $2.3 billion. Every economic forecast is conservative, so we don't have the funding. It's about the funding. And then, we have very difficult issues that want to really wrestle to the ground substantively. A real MTA reform plan after decades of bandages. A real permanent tax cap to give New Yorkers comfort."
This is the final week legislators can make amendments before the new fiscal year begins April 1.