ALBANY — County and municipal governments throughout New York stand to gain more than $10.8 billion in pandemic relief funding from the stimulus package awaiting congressional approval, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer said Tuesday.
In addition, the state government would reap $12.6 billion for its needs at a time when lawmakers have been contemplating approving proposed state tax increases.
CLINTOn, ESSEX, FRANKLIN AID
The plan calls for Clinton County getting $15.6 million; Essex County would collect $7.1 million; and Franklin County would receive $9.7 million.
The New York State Association of Counties said the funding can cover expenses related to public health needs and the economic devastation caused by the pandemic, including assistance to households, small businesses, nonprofits and impacted industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality.
"The funding may also be used to assist governments in providing services and making investment in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure," NYSAC said.
In all, county governments would receive nearly $4 billion from the package, while small cities, villages and towns would get $825 million collectively. A total of $358 million is to be funneled to the state's broadband program.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo had lobbied Congress to allow his state government to distribute the funds. But Schumer sided with associations representing the municipal governments, ensuring they get the money directly from the federal Treasury without having to wait for Albany to distribute the funds.
SCHUMER’S TOP PRIORITY
Localities, Schumer said, would be free to use the money for essential services, keeping frontline workers on the job and offsetting revenue lost to the pandemic.
The powerful senator said getting direct relief for local governments was "my top priority." The House of Representatives is expected to approve the $1.9 trillion package Tuesday.
In Albany over the weekend, Cuomo said the $12.6 billion that will flow to state coffers provides significant relief. However, he said proposed tax increases remain on the bargaining table in negotiations aimed at completing a state budget by March 31.
The federal assistance will not be recurring, Cuomo emphasized, likening it to a "sugar high" that, like other budgetary "one shots," will eventually wane.
The new funding headed to flow New York looms as a potential wrinkle in state budget negotiations.
NOT AN EXCUSE
Groups representing mayors and town governments have been urging state leaders to restore proposed cuts in aid to municipalities and terminate the state's practice of intercepting local sales tax revenue to fund the state's spending obligations.
In a letter to all four state legislative leader Monday, Peter Baynes, director of the state Conference of Mayors, urged that they refrain from using the federal money "as an excuse to reduce state aid to our municipalities."
Senate GOP Leader Rob Ortt, R-Niagara County, immediately signaled he is siding with struggling local governments in the budget debate.
"The governor’s budget will drive up local taxes in communities all across New York," Ortt said. "The governor is clearly trying to balance the budget on the backs of our local governments, and it’s our local taxpayers who will get stuck paying the bill."
The relief going to local governments, said E.J. McMahon, senior fellow at the Empire Center for Public Policy, is so generous that "some of them are bound to misspend it." He cautioned they should be judicious in how they earmark money so "they won't spend it like there's no tomorrow."
The overall sum allotted for state and local governments, as well as public school districts, is "incredible" and is sufficient to relieve the state of its fiscal stress without the need for any take hike in the looming budget talks, McMahon said.
While the stimulus money bails New York out of its immediate financial challenges, McMahon said Cuomo is expected to remain as the most powerful figure in the Albany budget discussions.
But with the governor facing investigations into sexual harassment allegations and questions about the accuracy of nursing home death data during the pandemic, Cuomo may become less focused on long-range impacts from spending decisions if he concludes he is a lame duck, McMahon said. Cuomo's term ends Dec. 31, 2022.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org