Mayors from around the state came to complain about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget, as the first day of legislative hearings on the spending plan kicked off in Albany. Upstate mayors, in particular, have concerns about ever growing pension payments.
Cuomo, in his budget, proposes a plan to “smooth” out pension payments for local governments, by allowing them to sign on to a 25 year fixed rate payment plan. The localities and schools who opt in would pay less for pension payments now, but more in later years.
Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, who is also Cuomo’s hand picked Democratic Party co-chair, told lawmakers she still isn’t sold on Cuomo’s pension stabilization plan.
“I said at the time that this budget proposal came out that I had more questions than answers,” Miner said. “And that still exists today.”
Miner says there’s no guarantee that cities will actually save money in the long run, because no one knows the exact labor force numbers for localities in the future, or where the stock market, which drives pension costs, will be in the years ahead.
Miner called the governor’s pension payment “smoother” a “Hobson’s choice” for fiscally strapped localities, and says it’s not a panacea for the cities’ larger financial problems.
The Syracuse mayor says she’d not phased by the reaction to her comments, including a visit to her city by Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, who suggested the city submit to a financial control board.
“One of the benefits of being a mayor is that you’re used to blow back,” Miner told reporters after her testimony. “It happens in my life every day.”
Miner says she wants to continue in her role as a co-Leader of the Democratic Party, but says that’s up to the governor and the state Democratic Committee. She characterizes her relationship with the governor as “professional,” but says they have not spoken since Cuomo released his budget. She claims the media has blown the disagreement all out of proportion.
Rochester Mayor Tom Richards, who is also a Democrat, testified before the legislative fiscal committees as well. Richards was much more positive about the governor’s pension smoother proposal.
“I’m not here to complain about the pension payments,” said Richards. “What I’m here to do, is support a program that helps us manage it.”
But Richards concedes that cities have large structural problems. He says spending, over time, is not keeping up with revenue. And he says demographics work against large upstate cities. Rochester has one of highest concentrations of poverty in this country and the highest in the state.
The Rochester mayor says the state and local government in New York are going to have to find more lasting solutions.
The first mayor to testify, following tradition, was New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. He focused his criticism on Cuomo’s plan to deny the city $240 million in school aid, because the Bloomberg administration and the teachers union did not agree to a new teacher evaluation plan before the governor’s deadline of January 17.
Bloomberg’s exchange with Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Kathy Nolan became heated, when Nolan asked the mayor why 99 percent of the other school districts from around the state were able to agree on a new teacher evaluation plan by the deadline, while the New York City did not. Nolan, who has a son in the public schools, appeared to take personal offense.
“What do I tell my son, it’s my son who is in the New York City public schools, that I choose to send him. What do I say?” Nolan demanded.
She continued, “Everybody else made an agreement but the city,” Nolan charged.
“Yes, because everybody else is just interested in getting the money,” Bloomberg answered. “And committing what I would call fraud. This is not fair to the public.”
Bloomberg told lawmakers the other teacher evaluation plan agreements are “jokes,” because the pacts last for just one year, but he says it takes at least two years under current processes to remove an incompetent teacher.
Bloomberg blamed the teachers union president, Michael Mulgrew , and State Education Commissioner John King for the failed agreement and what the mayor views as a flawed teacher evaluation process, but he refrained from directly criticizing Cuomo.