Leaders of several Buffalo-area municipalties joined State Senator Chris Jacobs in downtown Buffalo Friday, urging Governor Andrew Cuomo to reverse course and restore millions of dollars in direct funding that, they say, helps them keep balanced budgets while overcoming other fiscal challenges from Albany.
Governor Cuomo's budget proposal, unveiled earlier this month, slashes Aid and Incentives to Municipalities (AIM) funds to approiximately 90 percent of municipalities statewide. Senator Jacobs, who represents the 60th District, says eleven local governments within his district are among those affected.
Combined, he estimates, they're losing about $60 million in AIM funding. The timing, he states, could not be worse.
"The vast majority of governments have already approved their budgets for the fiscal year," Jacobs said. "And in doing so, they were being responsible in their budgeting by assessing AIM funding only at the level that were received in the last several years."
The state senator suggests AIM funding should actually be increased. Mayors and supervisors joining him didn't go that far. They're not asking for more AIM funding, they said, only for more fairness from Albany. They point to the state's additional budget pressures, including a two-percent tax cap and mandated spending. Mary Hosler, Evans Town Supervisor, says local governments including hers have even agreed to the governor's demands for more sharing of services.
"We met that challenge. Stop moving the goal on AIM funding," she said. "We, as supervisors, are challenged every year. Most of the supervisors who remained under the tax cap went through their fund balance."
Evans stands to lose close to $100,000 which, according to Hosler, amounts to a one-percent tax increase. Raising taxes, say leaders joining Jacobs, is an option they don't to consider. They also don't want to cut services but warn losing AIM funds could force them to do that.
"What do you suggest I cut from the services our residents need and deserve?" asked Orchard Park Town Supervisor Patrick Keem in his call to Cuomo to restore funding. "Police protection? Infrastructure repairs? Programs for our youth? Vital programs for our seniors? Or should I eliminate the inclusive playground pieces for the children who need them most? Please, Governor Cuomo, come to your senses and restore this much-needed funding."
The Town of Tonawanda stands to lose up to $400,000 in AIM funds following the governor's cuts. Town Supervisor Joseph Emminger repeated the concern for compromises in service and spoke of the snow clearing which was required in many Western New York locales Friday morning. Even the ability to get plows on roads to clear streets and neighborhoods efficiently, he warns, is threatened.
Critics of the governor's move say he does not target municipalities that depend on AIM funds for more than two percent of their budgets. As local elected officials see it, governments who have exercised good budgeting practices are now being punished.
"Every one of our local governments has a balanced budget," Emminger said. "Federal government and state government, as we know, they run deficits. Big deficits. Local governments don't have that luxury because we don't have a printing press. We've done our job. We expect the people in Albany to do their job. We expect the governor to step up to the plate and be responsible to the local elected officials."