State Lawmakers Differ on Unfinished Budget; City and County Weigh the Impact

Apr 4, 2017

Two State lawmakers from Central New York have a difference of opinion as to why the State Budget hasn’t been finalized.  Monday, the Legislature voted in favor of a budget extender to keep the government operational through May.  Assemblymember Al Stirpe said it’s conceivable that the Assembly could print-out budget bills and wrap-up the budget process.  He feels both sides have already met in the middle.

“There’s been a lot of compromise on both sides, and once you get to the point of compromise, and you realize nobody is going to be thoroughly happy, you realize you’ve done something that is fair. Both sides got something,” said Stirpe.

Senator Defrancisco, pictured left, and Assemblyman Stirpe, pictured right.
Credit Facebook

However, Republican Senate Minority Leader John DeFrancisco shared with WCNY’s Capitol Pressroom Tuesday that issues remain with the budget.

 “I just would hope people would understand that we had no choice yesterday, since we couldn’t get closer on all of these bills, whether it be raise the age or whether it be free college tuition,” said DeFrancisco.

The amount of state funding on the way for public schools is also in limbo.  According to the Assembly’s Stirpe, it’s a first with the tax cap in place.

“We’re just trying to figure out if some districts feel they’re going to have to pierce the cat in order to have enough revenue to keep everybody on board or keep programs going,” said Stirpe. “That’s really the area where there’s the most challenge and the most danger.”

Meanwhile, Republicans such as DeFrancisco are critical of the Governor for his reasoning over the budget extension.

“The governor makes a release that the reason we have to do an extender is because of that terrible ultra conservative congress and we don’t know what they’re going to do in their budget. Well, that’s as political as you could possibly be and it’s not factual,” said DeFrancisco.

DeFrancisco feels lawmakers need to take a break from Albany and return refreshed to complete the budget as they’ve been working on very little sleep.

SCHOOLS COULD BE HIT THE HARDEST

Syracuse schools might be one area most affected by the failure in Albany to get a budget agreement.  And that’s coupled with other challenges as city lawmakers start their own budget process in a matter of days.  Councilor Nader Maroun heads the finance committee…and is worried about uncertainty at both the state and federal levels.

“The importance of the school districts knowing what it is that they’re going to get for funds, they then go out and borrow against that for their operating. But if the school district isn’t aware, that has an impact on their hiring that has an impact on their ability to deliver programs,” said Maroun. “Then if you look at the federal government, if they’re going to cut back on the food program that comes to our kids in the city, it’s a domino effect.”

The budget extender passed in Albany Monday does not settle the amount of school funding Syracuse and other districts might get.  Maroun says the budget for city services is a little easier to figure…though there are still uncertainties.

“Our state aid, which has been pretty flat for the past five or six years now, probably can anticipate that that is going to stay relatively the same.” Maroun said.  “Where it gets into question is the community development block grant that affects our neighborhood and business development that affects our city budget.”

On top of those challenges, an outside audit delivered to the council today uncovered some bookkeeping problems due to new software.  Maroun says city residents count on City Hall to be fiscally responsible with their tax dollars.  He also encourages people to take part in city budget hearings that start April 11th, with a public hearing on the budget in early May.  The schedule is on the city’s website syrgov.net.

COUNTY WATCHES FOR UNFUNDED MANDATES

The chairman of the Onondaga County legislature says he isn’t too worried about the impact of a state budget that remains in limbo after the weekend deadline.  Lawmakers did agree on a budget extender to keep government running into May while they work on some of the more controversial issues.  Chairman Ryan McMahon says the county is keeping an eye out for any additional unfunded mandates.

Chairman McMahon addresses the media earlier this year.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

“That’s what really hits us is the mandates, year in and year out,” McMahon said.  “We’re not allowed to decide if we want to provide these services.  We’re not allowed to decide if we want to provide the services at the levels they’re being provided at, yet we have to pay the bill.”

He said the pushing of state programs into the hands of local government will not be tolerated by both the local government and the taxpayers.

“That goes directly to people’s property tax bills or cutting services.  It’s an important process,” McMahon said.  “I think people are starting to understand how from the state, down to the local government, down to the tax bill, how it’s starting to work now.”

One of the few areas McMahon said the state budget could impact the county in terms of allocated funds is road work.   

“Obviously, our roads program, if we get more money, we’ll do more roads.  If we don’t, we won’t.  It’s tough for us to plan that.  There will be small impacts there.”

McMahon said the budget so far does include funding set aside for state fair improvements, including the gondola between the upper parking lots to the fairgrounds.   He said the local delegation of state lawmakers has been good about staying in touch with local government about budget developments.