With Donald Trump coming along kicking and screaming the federal government has a new relief package in place. There is not a dollar in the bill for state or local relief assistance, which makes the Trumplican Party happy but poses serious problems for anyone who depends on services from those governments or who pays taxes – so basically all of us.
Many states controlled by the Trumplican Party are just as much in need of assistance as places like New York. It doesn’t matter. Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy’s message to those folks is simple: drop dead. That’s a strange message for someone like McConnell who represents Kentucky, one of the most federal tax dependent states in the union.
This blog post is being published on January 5th, the day of the two run-off Senate elections in Georgia. Maybe we’ll know the results tonight or maybe in two or three weeks. After all, they had to count the November results three times in that state. Democrats have not done well in previous run-off elections, with turnout dropping more than forty percent from the November election. But three million people already voted early, 60 percent of the total November vote, so maybe 2021 will be different.
If both Democrats are elected to the Senate that body would be tied at 50-50 Democrat and Republican with Vice President Kamala Harris able to cast tie-breaking votes. Even in that situation, however, the Democratic caucus will run the range from Bernie Sanders on the left to Joe Manchin on the right, so expecting unanimity on all or most Biden initiatives is overly optimistic.
Joe Biden, with both houses of Congress in Democratic control, will certainly have a better chance to propose and get approval of state and local government relief funding. How much money, going to which levels of government, and perhaps most critically, for how many years, are questions for which there are no answers. Under the best of circumstances such funding will not become available until February or March; actions concerning COVID-19 and the organization of the Biden’s government with appointments and new executive orders will likely dominate Washington’s attention for the first several weeks.
If it turns out that Republicans win one or both of the Georgia Senate seats then Biden will be left to dealing with McConnell. His majority margin will be slim and badly fractured by extremist Trumplican politics, but McConnell knows a thing or two about how to navigate within such an environment. His opposition to aiding state and local governments will continue.
In the face of this uncertainty there are the real life circumstances that will complicate matters for governments that have gone through the entire pandemic period without taking major action to deal with the impending fiscal calamity that results from cratering revenues, particularly sales and personal income taxes. The State of New York and the cities of New York and Buffalo are ground zero for potential financial disasters.
The New York State Legislature last spring approved budget legislation that essentially gave Governor Andrew Cuomo near total control of spending decisions. The Governor and his Budget Office have made some publicly announced reductions in spending and have taken away 20 percent of various local government and school district funding which is being called “withholding” for the time being. Best to think of such actions like tax money withheld from your paycheck – that is, you’ll never see that money again.
Some state legislators, including 59th District Senator Pat Gallivan, have called for the restoration of legislative powers over spending decisions. The Legislature has been mostly a non-player in Fiscal Year 2021 budget matters, which is interesting since the governor this month must present his budget for FY 2022. It’s hard to imagine legislative non-involvement continuing in 2021.
Up until now Governor Cuomo has declined to reveal what his plans are even though the 2020-2021 year is coming to an end. He has staked everything on relief from the federal government, while acknowledging that the state might go for massive borrowing to balance the budget. What we do know about the state’s finances is that cuts in state and local services are inevitable, as are increased taxes. The order of magnitude and the duration of those actions remain to be seen but the state budget office is already projecting cuts in local assistance extending through 2024.
The Brown administration has also been incredibly vague about its finances considering that Buffalo is more than half way through its 2020-2021 fiscal year. The $65 million that the city budgeted in federal pandemic relief and the $11 million in casino revenues are at the moment just fiction. Sales tax revenues are down and the bungled school safety zone program is requiring the refund of more than $1 million in illegally collected fines.
Then there is the question about where the city will come up with $25 million that they borrowed to close out the 2019-2020 budget. It should be noted that over the four year period from 2021 through 2024 the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority (BFSA) estimates that the city could be in the hole by a cumulative total of more than $200 million.
Some members of the Buffalo Common Council have suggested that legislation is necessary to improve transparency and accountability in the city’s police operations. They might want to also consider imposing the same requirements on the city administration concerning budgeting.
It would also be helpful to managing the city’s mess for the governor to fill out the membership of the BFSA so that it could revert to a hard control board. A hard board could play a significant role in structuring the city’s budgeting over at least the next four years of fiscal chaos.
Town of Aurora Trumplicans are looking for candidates
As Stefan Mychajliw moves to take his Trumpian style of politics from County Hall to the Town of Hamburg, Town of Aurora Reps are looking to head in the same direction. A recent story in the East Aurora Advertiser reports that party Chairman Earl Jann is recruiting candidates for town office this year. The candidates, of course, must be committed to standard party policies on such things as taxes and guns. What is more, however, Jann says that the party is “opposed to multiculturalism, including identity politics and socialism/communism as we believe these policies are responsible for dividing our country.” Well, that certainly clarifies things for the Town of Aurora. Donald Trump must be so proud of those folks.
Many, many people in Buffalo and Western New York lost a great friend recently with the passing of former Buffalo Common Council President George K. Arthur.
I knew George for many a year, but I got a chance to work with him close-up in 2005 when we were both appointed to the Erie County Charter Revision Commission. George was named Chairman and he asked me to serve as vice chairman. We worked together for several months including many Saturday morning meetings with Legislature Chairwoman Lynn Marinelli, hosted by former West Seneca Supervisor Joan Lillis. A lot of good reforms came out of that work.
For George that was just another in his long series of achievements in public life that included about 30 years in elected office. His work as the lead plaintiff in the Buffalo school desegregation case in the 1970’s was perhaps his biggest public accomplishment.
But most of all George was a good man – knowledgeable, friendly, helpful, someone who could put anyone in his company at ease. Rest in peace George.
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