New York is withhold millions of dollars in local government aid as the state government awaits federal pandemic relief, a move that is complicating budget making for cities across the state.
The numbers are massive: $20 million for Buffalo, $17 million for Rochester, more than a $11 million for Syracuse. The New York Conference of Mayors first highlighted the withheld aid, calling it "disturbing news."
All told, a dozen city governments had 20 percent lopped off from their state aid, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget office said is being withheld as it awaits clarity from the federal government on the next aid package.
That funding could be used to pay for the mundane, but vital government services that people rely on, like police, fire and sanitation work. The effect: Cutting spending, raising taxes or both in order to make financial ends meet.
“We are not reducing support for AIM at this time and instead are holding back 20% of the funding as the State contends with a cash crunch caused by a 14% drop in revenue due entirely to the pandemic, the federal decision to delay income tax filings to July, and awaits clarity on federal assistance to offset this revenue loss," said Freeman Klopott, a spokesman for the Division of Budget.
Local governments are already reeling from the financial pain created by the pandemic and subseqent economic shutdown. Sales tax revenue has sharply decreased since March as businesses closed, people lost their jobs or stayed home to prevent spreading the virus.
Some local governments have already started the process of laying off workers in orer to balance budget proposals that are coming due in several weeks.
Cuomo's office was empowered to make cuts to spending without initial legislative approval. The governor has warned deep spending cuts to local governments, education and health care are likely if the federal government does not approve an aid package of billions of dollars to offset losses due to the pandemic.
Sen. Robert Ortt, the newly elected Republican minority leader, called instead for cutting spending to publicly financed elections, film tax credits and ending tuition assistance for undocumented immigrations.
"AIM funding is used to pay for essential workers like firefighters, police, and sanitation workers who undoubtedly deserve our respect for serving our communities," Ortt said. "In this time of crisis our taxpayers deserve a government that works for them, and not one that is flush with cash only when it comes to their pet issues."