Democratic socialism isn’t free.  How would Walton balance the next Buffalo budget and pay for her campaign commitments?

The mayoral campaign at Labor Day

The 2021 election is like no other that we have seen in the City of Buffalo.  A political newcomer, India Walton, out-hustled a four-term incumbent mayor to win the Democratic Party primary.  Byron Brown’s team slept through the election that potentially leaves him out of office on January 1.  Brown decided to fight back with a write-in effort, recently accompanied by a throw-something-against-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks attempt to secure an independent ballot line long after the legal deadline for such efforts had passed.

Pending any judicial review and reversal Brown’s effort will succeed.  State laws set the requirements for the conduct of elections with the rules in the law for everyone to see and follow, but the law apparently does not apply to Byron Brown.  Brown filed petitions to participate in a Democratic Party primary, which he lost.  He could have, like five candidates for Erie County sheriff did last spring, circulate independent petitions for his own ballot line but did not. He could have asked and may have received either or both the Conservative and Republican lines but did not do so.

State Supreme Court Justice Paul Wojtaszek called the May filing deadline for independent petitions “excessively early.”  As Investigative Post’s Geoff Kelly has pointed out, many states require the filing of independent petitions before party primaries; they call it the sore losers’ law.  If that legal deadline is “excessively early,” why does any deadline in the Election Law need to be followed?  November 2nd is Election Day this year.  Last year it was November 8th, so maybe Election Day in 2021 is “excessively early.” 

India Walton has the right to be ticked off since an Election Law deadline was imposed on her but in a different section of the Law it was overruled for Brown.

After what we have seen thus far it is too early to get out the crystal ball and conclude who will be elected mayor in 2021.  The campaigns so far have included Walton’s policy statements and website promises plus City Hall management issues along with ribbon-cutting program announcements by Brown.  It is time to get down to more serious things.

Time to talk about the issues facing the city

Byron Brown has a fifteen and a half year record as mayor to brag about, explain and defend.  This blog has on numerous occasions discussed that record, particularly as to how it has come up a day late and a dollar short on financial matters.  The city budget under Brown is full of holes which will need to be addressed over the next four years.  A revitalized fully-constituted hard control board is needed.

India Walton’s campaign platform, as proposed on her website, has a long list of things to do.  Many of the goals are laudatory.  The missing element is dollar signs.  There aren’t any there.

Democratic socialism on a federal level is simpler.  A candidate or officeholder can propose all sorts of things to expand public services without worrying about how to pay for the plans.  Washington, of course, can just “print money.”  That is true whether taxes are cut for the rich by Republicans or whether new and expanded programs are proposed by Democrats.  In some sense both are forms of socialism as it is now defined.

On the local level, however, socialism is not free.  Deficit spending is not permitted.  Annual budgets need to be balanced.  New or expanded programs must be paid for by cuts in existing programs or by increasing taxes, fees and fines.

The current 2021-2022 Buffalo budget includes the use of $30 million in one-time federal Rescue Plan money that will not be available in 2022-2023.  So right off the bat whichever candidate will be preparing the next budget must figure out how to fill that money crater.

Byron Brown has been busying himself announcing current uses for the federal largess, paying no attention to next year’s problems.  He should be held accountable for that.  But India Walton, who may be mayor is just over 100 days, also has some explaining to do.

The following proposals directly from Walton’s platform are among the issues that will involve spending money:

  • Increase the number of trained community-oriented officers.
  • Provide financial relief to small landlords in exchange for rent forgiveness for tenants.
  • Create a pot of funds to assist homeowners who have fallen behind on their property taxes due to an unexpected hardship (job loss, medical bills, etc.).
  • Dedicate funding for legal services that offer options to grant fee waivers for adjustment of status fees, work permit fees, citizenship fees, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) fees.
  • Improve outreach and accessibility for the Office of New Americans, which should act as a liaison offering funding opportunities for all organizations providing direct services, community education, and advocacy to immigrant communities.
  • Invest in front-line arts organizations with consistent dedicated funding.
  • Convert City of Buffalo fleets to electric cars.
  • Work to establish a public bank. India will advocate for this at the state level, and ensure it is a priority to invest our city dollars in a public bank that invests in our community— not in fossil fuels or carceral institutions to make profits.
  • Provide a tax credit against the city’s personal property tax imposed on qualified supermarkets within defined “food-desert incentive areas.”
  • Pilot a Municipal Sidewalk Snow Removal Program targeting shared walkways in high-pedestrian traffic areas.
  • Create a municipal broadband network to expand access to affordable high-speed internet across the city, particularly in underserved neighborhoods.

These proposals, among the dozens of policy goals spread among ten different subject areas, will each in some form and amount cost the city.  Some could be quite expensive.  Taking a shot at estimating the dollar amounts would require more information about the proposals beyond the sentence or two included on the website.

A one percent increase in the city tax levy would produce about $1.4 million, an amount that will hardly touch the existing budget hole, much less pay for new programs.

There are community concerns about the financial impact of city-imposed fees and fines, particularly among the poorer members of the community.

There have been suggestions about re-directing some funds currently in the budget of the Police Department for other forms of services that could be carried out by non-uniformed personnel; some describe such action as defunding the police.

In January India Walton may be Mayor of the City of Buffalo.  City residents have a right to know how she plans to manage city finances. 

What will she propose to fill the $30 million or greater hole in the next budget once federal relief funding is gone? 

Will she raise property taxes? 

Will she change the city’s current system of fees for city services and fines for violating city ordinances?

Will Walton re-direct currently budgeted Police Department or other departmental funding to other areas?

How much will the proposals in her campaign platform cost and how does she plan to pay for them?

Byron Brown’s record is public and available to anyone who wants to know what the city is doing, what he plans to do, and how he expects to pay the bills.  Voters should expect no less in the way of public information from India Walton.

Watch this space.

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