While this year's state budget contained some mandate relief, some local governments say it just wasn't enough. Several cities across New York are extremely close to bankruptcy and they are running out of options. Our Nick Reisman has more.
NEW YORK STATE -- Local governments across New York are facing new fiscal strains due to the growth of public pensions and health care costs. Once fixed with one-shots and budgetary gimmicks, their problems have become a warning for other municipalities teetering on the edge.
“The question that I think we all have to face is how we're going to pay for the benefits that we promised public employees, how we're going to pay for the kind of health care system that we've created. Those are the two big question and we have to figure those out,” said former Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch.
Richard Ravitch, a former lieutenant governor under David Paterson and expert on public financing, has taken on the role of helping two financially troubled cities, Syracuse and Yonkers. Though in one is in Central New York and other borders New York City, both face similar problems.
Ravitch said, “They're really not unique. That not unique in New York State, they're not unique in the United States.”
Issues are rising all over the state. Suffolk County has declared a fiscal emergency over its pension costs. The debt rating of Rockland County and Utica has been downgraded. In Syracuse, city officials are wrestling with a $16 million deficit that's expected to chew up most of a $20 million reserve fund. The problem in Yonkers is even more daunting: A $90 million deficit out of a billion dollar budget. The state has provided some aid, but it's not enough.
“I don't think if you approach it honestly and approach it comprehensively, it's too late. But there are realities and the reality is Yonkers has a deficit even with the state aid” State Senator Andrea Stewart Cousins said.
The blame is spread around. Local governments have relied on a series of one-time revenue raisers to cover pension costs. Local government officials, meanwhile, point to state laws that tie their hands.
“There's unsustainable employee contracts which is the largest piece of a municipal budget by far,” said Peter Baynes, Conference of Mayors Executive Director.
Lawmakers did pass a pension overhaul measure that took effect this month. It's estimated to save $79 billion over a generation, but that's little relief for local governments right now. Ravitch says a grand deal has been struck and sacrifices made on all levels similar to the resolution of the New York City fiscal crisis of the 1970s.
“Everybody did with less, paid more taxes, deferred the repayment of debt, society came together,” Ravitch said.