I'm sure that Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren would not turn her back on any increase in state aid for the city. But the $12.4 million included in the State Assembly's budget resolution doesn't do anything to help the city in the long term. Or to resolve the inequities in the distribution of aid to upstate cities.
For one thing, the State Senate's budget resolution doesn't include any additional aid for Rochester. And while a spokesperson for Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle seems hopeful that some kind of funding boost would be included in the final budget, he doesn't sound at all certain.
Secondly, the $12.4 million, or whatever amount the city ends up getting, is a one-time bump. Warren and the city's budget personnel could use the money to help close the coming year's budget gap, which currently stands at about $28 million. But you can't hire police officers with that money, for example, or start a new program. Because what do you do next year if the money's not there?
"You can't project future budgets based on that," says Morelle spokesperson Sean Hart. "And that's a real issue for all upstate cities, and Rochester especially."
Rochester has made a hobby of lobbying Albany for more aid. Mayors, the business community, the media, and everyone else has tried to make the case, pointing out that Rochester gets the lowest aid per capita of the major upstate cities, while being required to give its school district more. Albany, so far, has been unmoved.
Here's the thing, though. The aid is not distributed based on any kind of formula or model. Once upon a time, Rochester was better off than most other upstate cities, so when Albany started handing out this aid, we got less. And despite changing fortunes, that approach hasn't been adjusted.
"Come 30, 40 years later you look at that, and there's a higher need in Rochester than there is, say, in Syracuse or Albany or some of these other cities that are getting more money than Rochester," Hart says.
Why is it so difficult to change something so completely arbitrary? Hart doesn't know.
"We're asking the same question," he says. "I don't think there's a clear answer."
More money for Rochester, of course, would probably also mean less money for somebody else. And that takes courage that seems to be sorely lacking in many of our elected representatives.
UPDATE (March 17, 9:30 a.m.):
Christine Christopher, spokesperson for Mayor Lovely Warren, sent over the following statement:
"...We are very, very appreciative for the allocation and thank our Assembly delegation for their commitment to Rochester. The Mayor is heading back to Albany on Tuesday to talk with the Governor and the Senate to strongly encourage them to maintain this newly allocated increased amount as the minimum AIM aid support for Rochester in the upcoming budget."