Rochester’s mayor was part of the “tin cup brigade” that went to Albany to testify before state lawmakers about the state of their finances and the governor’s proposed budget.
Richards said, “I’m forced to prove how poor we are.”
Richards, along with Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, pointed out Upstate’s cities have particular challenges. Their populations have fallen, their residents are poor, their pension costs are high and their property tax bases have shrunk. The cities didn’t get in this pickle on their own. Decades of suburban sprawl – aided by state policies – have caused much of this distress.
“If Upstate cities are to be successful…we must continue to invest in them…all of that costs money,” Richards testified. “If we back off, Upstate cities will deteriorate.”
Richards called the property tax funding structure an “18th century model for a 21st century reality.”
Astoundingly, downstate Sen. Liz Krueger asked whether Rochester has thought about an income tax, one that would tax people who work in Rochester, but use city services. New York City once had such a commuter tax.
“We’re very much different from New York City. We brag about how our commuting time is one of the lowest in the country. That’s the good news. The bad news is it’s very easy to get out of downtown Rochester….as a practical matter, the ability to go somewhere else is so much easier today…particular when the kind of industry we’re talking about is not locked into large industrial facilities that can’t move. As a practical matter, if we tried to impose a commuter tax or income tax on the city of Rochester, we would make things worse.”
When asked what he would propose instead, Richards said more state aid is an answer. He said it’s more “equitable.” The revenue comes from state income tax, Richards said, and the state already distributes it to schools in need.
“You’ve done it already. You’ve recognized cities like Rochester cannot pay for its school system,” Richards said. “The urban school systems have a demand that we cannot pay for.”
A local income tax would “further penalize people in need,” Richards said.
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s response to all of this is that cities have to buck up. He threatened control boards for the cities that cannot make structural changes. The Albany Times Union reports:
“The answer is not an additional, ongoing subsidy on a fundamental economic model that doesn’t work,” Cuomo said. “The Rochester problem, or an upstate cities problem — if it was a corporation in a private-sector setting, you would be talking about restructuring. If the corporation does not restructure quickly enough, it goes bankrupt, and it goes to bankruptcy court. You need a restructuring here. The answer is not an additional, ongoing subsidy on a fundamental economic model that doesn’t work.”
Such an approach exacerbates haves and have nots in municipalities. It treats cities – the centers of regional civic and cultural life – as second-class citizens.
Links of the Day:
– I thought the Democrats won their fight on Monroe Community College staying at Sibley. They were stupid to allow the county legislature to bond for a non-specific location when a super-majority was needed. The county has wasted no time putting forth legislation to buy the Kodak buildings. The Democrats have no leverage anymore. No super-majority is needed.
– School districts – mostly wealthy ones like Fairport and Pittsford – want to drop out of the federal school lunch program.
– The Dutch queen is abdicating. People in Albany apparently care.
– The Syracuse Post Standard is teaching people how to read the newspaper online.