ALBANY — The Cuomo administration is facing strong opposition from the leaders of municipal governments over its plan to chop nearly $60 million in state assistance to towns and villages.
The proposed cut in state funding will force towns to "dry up reserves and tighten budgets that are already stretched too thin," said Gerry Geist, director of the Association of Towns of New York State.
The state Conference of Mayors also registered a strenuous objection to the proposal, one of hundreds salted into the $175.2 billion state spending plan released by Gov. Andrew Cuomo during his Jan. 15 State of the State address.
New York's villages and towns "are the governments that are closest to the people — and they don't have a lot of fat," said Peter Baynes, director of the mayors' group.
Baynes said it is disingenuous for the Cuomo administration to suggest that the local governments can weather the cut because many of them are carrying significant fund balances in reserve.
"I would tell the state that the $60 million in revenue the state would recapture through this cut is one one-thousandth of a single percent of the state budget. So it's infinitesimal to the state — but it's significant to our villages," Baynes said.
The towns and villages contend that the budget clever being wielded by Cuomo could force the municipal governments to override the state's property tax cap — often cited as one of Cuomo's signature accomplishments since taking the helm of the state government in 2011 — in order to maintain essential services to the public.
The spigot of state money that would be crimped is known as Aid and Incentives for Municipalities (AIM).
A booklet prepared by the Cuomo administration to explain elements of the proposed budget suggests the municipalities that will see cuts won't suffer financial hardships.
"For affected municipalities, AIM is not a significant source of revenue — the typical impact is just 0.65 percent of expenditures," the booklet states.
Morris Peters, a spokesman for the Cuomo administration, said the budget in includes $225 million to match local government savings through efficiencies resulting from a shared services program as well as $390 million in new local sales tax by expanding tax collections for internet purchases.
But Baynes said: "The problem with that argument is that the majority of these villages and towns don't receive any sales tax revenue from their counties, so they aren't going to see any of that either."
One former village mayor, Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay, said he will oppose the proposed cut on behalf of North Country villages and towns.
"We can't put more burdens on these local governments and then cut their funding," Jones said. "I will be a loud voice in the room to make sure these cuts will be restored."
In Niagara County, Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, a former village mayor, also knocked Cuomo's proposal.
"It seems Governor Cuomo and his Democratic allies in the Legislature have a formula for upstate — more unfunded mandates, less state aid,” Ortt said. He said the fact the cut was included in the state budget shows the concerns of GOP lawmakers about a takeover of both chambers by Democrats were "well-founded."
Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-Schoharie, said one of the largest municipalities in his district, the village of Cobleskill, will lose $36,461 in state aid unless the Cuomo budget is amended.
E.J. McMahon, research director for the Empire Center for Public Policy, questioned the rationale for reducing the aid at a time when Cuomo wants to make the tax cap permanent.
"The governor may have done this to give himself added leverage in favor of permanently enacting the tax cap," McMahon said. "However, given the small amount of money involved, it comes off as petty and feeds resistance to the cap."
Following the release of his budget, Cuomo deployed a cadre of politically-appointed agency commissioners to various communities in an attempt to build support for his agenda.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org