State aid is the once and future solution to Syracuse's fiscal crisis


The City of Syracuse is moving ever closer to bankruptcy. By the end of next fiscal year, we face a Detroit-like takeover of our elected city government by a state-appointed Financial Control Board.

The once and future solution to the city's fiscal crisis is state revenue sharing, funded by progressive taxation. Revenue sharing is not a bailout. We already pay for revenue sharing with our state income and sales taxes. It is a fiscal responsibility the state took on to fund the services it mandates that municipalities provide.
By Kevin Bott and Howie Hawkins
October 22, 2013

In 1970, New York state adopted revenue sharing to remedy the decline of cities' property tax base because manufacturers had left the central cities. Tax-exempt universities, hospitals and government agencies replaced manufacturing as the economic engine and major employer for the suburban and central city residents of metropolitan regions.

But revenue sharing came only after a successful lobbying campaign by the Big 6 Mayors, including Syracuse's Lee Alexander. In January, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller said "the cupboard is bare," just as Gov. Andrew Cuomo today says "we don't have the money." By June, Rockefeller was touting his new revenue sharing program. It is again time for a campaign to change the budget politics in Albany.

A Financial Control Board would take government away from city residents without solving the underlying cause of the fiscal crisis: The city property tax base cannot support the services that the city provides for the entire metropolitan region. A control board would only hike property taxes and impose more cuts to city services and schools, spurring a further exodus of homeowners and businesses who want decent schools and services, driving down property values, and reinforcing the downward spiral of declining property tax revenues and spending cuts.

The state created this fiscal crisis by repeatedly cutting revenue sharing since 1980 to give tax cuts to the rich and balance the state budget in recessions. Meanwhile, the share of all income in New York state going to the top 1 percent tripled from 10 percent in 1980 to 30 percent in 2012. Over the same years, the top income tax rate was cut in half while the bottom rate was doubled.

The 8 percent of state revenues that state law once dedicated to revenue sharing is less than 1 percent today. Syracuse now gets $72 million a year in revenue sharing to help pay for a $299 million city operations budget. A modest restoration of progressive taxation and revenue sharing would easily wipe out the $24 million a year average recurring gap projected for the city budget over the next three years.

Similarly, state Foundation Aid funding for urban schools legislated in 2007 is now a cumulative $8.9 billion behind what was promised statewide. The result for the Syracuse school district budget has been a 25 percent reduction in school staffing over the last four years.

Instead of a restoration of revenue sharing, Mayor Stephanie Miner calls for state labor law changes to give her more leverage in contract negotiations with city unions. City workers don't have $24 million a year in wages and benefits to give to balance the city's budget. Not one elected official in Syracuse -- every one a Democrat -- is calling for a restoration of previously promised revenue sharing and school funding. City Democrats take Cuomo's conservative urban austerity policies as a given.

We don't. As Greens who are independent of the Democratic machine, we are free to speak up for Syracuse and campaign for a restoration of previously legislated revenue sharing and school funding.

The Democrats would like the public to believe they have no other choices.

It's a travesty that, in the midst of this fiscal emergency, the mayor continues to decline invitations to defend her record and share her vision for the future of the city, including the invitation to participate in the only mayoral debate scheduled during this general election. The people of Syracuse deserve better.

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Howie Hawkins is the 2017 Green candidate for Syracuse Mayor
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