While We Wait For The State Budget...
This weekend we are awaiting the release of the State’s budget that, among other items, will reveal whether or not the City of Albany has received a $12.5 million request to fill the Sheehan budget gap. A critical part of the job of being Mayor is to explain to the community what is happening, why it is happening, how we got to this place, and what we might do to improve the situation. In this post I want to explain the structural gap in the City’s budget, evaluate the remedies that have been used by the Sheehan Administration, and put forth a vision for a new way forward.
In simplest terms if the City spends more than it collects, a budget deficit exists. When a deficit exists year after year, it is considered to be “structural,” or something that is part of the system itself. While the Federal Government has tools at its disposal to manage budget deficits, municipalities such as ours by law cannot have a deficit. For a city like ours, a budget deficit is a problem, but a structural budget deficit—a deficit that exists year after year—is a crisis.
Since 2010 I have been sounding the alarm about this, and in 2011 I predicted that within the next decade the City of Albany might be facing fiscal insolvency. I have continued to raise this issue over the years, arguing that we have to get to the roots of the deficit, that is, tackle its structural causes. Unfortunately, what we have seen from City Hall are attempts at short-term fixes which I have been critical of before: agreements that give tax breaks to developers and big businesses in the (false) hopes that the wealth will trickle down, a one-time failed land sale in Coeymans, the use of a union-busting lawyer to fight against city workers seeking fair contracts, a red light camera program that, despite projections, has failed to generate revenue for the City, and a trash tax that targets low income residents.
Instead of unfair, predatory, and discriminatory budget practices, I propose we get to the roots of the problem. A first step in that direction requires taking a hard look at the largest, wealthiest not-for-profits in the City of Albany who are tax-exempt —SUNY Poly in particular—and pushing them to contribute a fair share to support city services. I have pushed for this in the past, and most recently in 2014, I, along with five other council members, were obstructed by the Mayor's council allies in pursuit of fiscal fairness. Another step is the City needs to implement a workforce succession plan so that we can control property taxes, settle expired labor contracts, and replenish the City's depleted rainy day fund.
With this type of fair and reasonable approach, the City will be able to present a credible request to state leaders for additional state aid for Albany. Such aid would put Albany on equal footing with other upstate cities. If elected as your Mayor, I, along with council members concerned about basic fairness will be able to pursue this issue to begin to eliminate the City’s structural deficit and invest in Albany's neighborhoods.