ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The co-chairwoman of the state Democratic Party says Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed budget should be rejected because it doesn't include measures to save upstate cities from insolvency but, instead, offers only "an accounting gimmick."
Stephanie Miner, who's also the mayor of Syracuse, said Cuomo, who as governor also heads the state party, needs to show leadership by holding a meeting with legislators and local government officials to find ways to ease the burden on local taxpayers.
Miner and other mayors outside New York City and around the state have been urging the Cuomo administration for months to provide relief from state-mandated costs and laws that drive up the cost of local governments to levels they say taxpayers can no longer afford. Upstate cities are faced with aging infrastructure, costly pension systems for once large public workforces, and an exodus of taxpayers and businesses to the suburbs while remaining the hub for social services and the poor.
"The Legislature and the state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, should reject the proposed budget and begin a search for lasting solutions," Miner stated in an opinion piece in Thursday's New York Times. "Instead of confronting these realities, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposed state budget avoids them."
Miner said in an interview Thursday that she shared her opinion piece with the Cuomo administration before it ran. She said she got no direct response on her proposal for a local government summit.
"I think there is lots of support outside of Albany for that," Miner said. "If we had more tools then we could solve it, but these problems were created to a large part by state regulations."
Cuomo has held what he called "summits" to boost the Greek yogurt business and beer and wine industries in the state, and is planning to involve local government officials in a whitewater rafting exhibition in the summer. But so far, he has not called for a meeting to address local government concerns.
Miner's extraordinary opinion piece struck home in Albany where few question the popular and powerful governor.
"It's obviously provocative, if not game changing," said E.J. McMahon of the fiscally conservative Manhattan Institute.
Miner, who doesn't ask for aid or a bailout, says she wants to work with the governor to come up with more cost-reduction measures, many of which were won by politically powerful unions in Albany.
She discounts Cuomo's proposal to allow local governments to voluntarily ease their pension costs now based on the projected savings of a new pension tier for new hires that should save money over 25 years. She says that proposal is too risky and calls it an "accounting gimmick."
Miner's detailed concerns rebut Cuomo's argument that the state can't and shouldn't bail out local governments and instead should fix their fiscal crisis as the state has.
"To have a mayor who is that prominent with that political role to make those points — it makes it harder to avoid addressing those points," McMahon said.
Cuomo didn't respond to a request for comment. Thursday morning, Cuomo's director of operations, Howard Glaser, appeared on an Albany radio station that provides a regular voice to the Cuomo administration.
"Syracuse wants somebody else to solve that problem," Glaser told WGDJ-AM. "If you're unwilling or unable to solve a problem in fiscal management in a city, there's a mechanism for that: You ask the Legislature to create a financial control board, and the financial control board will solve the problem for you."
Glaser said it doesn't make sense for Miner to say: "Just give me more money to solve my financial problem that my city created."
A control board of Cuomo-appointed members could take sweeping action to correct fiscal problems with extraordinary legal power, overriding the wishes of local elected officials.
Miner's strongest criticism yet came a day after DiNapoli found Cuomo's budget increased debt while avoiding taxpayer approval, relies on one-shot revenues for recurring costs, and includes overly optimistic tax projections, and tries to consolidate power with the governor.
"This is not a personal disagreement between the governor and a mayor," said Richard Brodsky of the Wagner School of New York University who has been studying the issue and meeting with local officials. "This is a mayor saying there is a tidal wave on the horizon and it's in everyone's interest to do something now. That's the smart thing to do and, in the long run, that's good politics."