How about them apples?
Edwin D. Reilly, Jr.
For the Sunday Gazette
I love Bob
Cudmore’s stories about
Nero, the fictional upstate mill town whose industries have moved
think the real-life analogy works better for places like Amsterdam,
Mechanicville than it does for Schenectady. A good part of our industry
south” only figuratively—Alco doesn’t exist anymore—but there is no
that our fair city, financially at least, is in critical condition.
Stratton’s efforts to right the ship will have to be truly Herculean
Ed Dague told us one night, former-Governor Malcolm Wilson taught him
pronounce as “Hur-kyoo’-le-an”).
just about everything possible to cut expenses to the bone—the city’s
capita spending is comparable to those of the much more prosperous
towns—the mayor’s attention has turned to increasing revenues. And
city is close to its statutory limit on property taxes, that revenue
from some other source. One of the lesser-known labors of Hercules
Apollo was to gather certain “golden apples” even though he wasn’t even
the location of the garden where they grew. So one place the mayor has
looking for the apples we need is the State’s revenue sharing program.
thing the mayor noted was the glaring per capita disparity between the
unrestricted state aid granted to cities of comparable size. Both Utica
Schenectady, the example he gave, each have a population of about
Utica receives $10.3 million per year and Schenectady only $5.7
with only 49,000 people, gets $8 million. What is going on here?
is a misnomer to label this state aid “per capita” (per head) because
population is only one of several factors used in the formula used to
it. That formula, a blend of population, tax effort, need, and up to
factors, is embodied in Section 54 of the state finance law. Directly
to the generally accepted principle that fair legislation should be
understandable, that section contains more than 18,000 words. Since
that is 20
times the size of an average op ed piece, I would be hard pressed to
within my word limit.
the state stubbornly refuses to use the most recent population figures.
Allotments today are based on a mix of head counts from the 1970 and
censuses. Using 2000 data would not necessarily hurt either Schenectady
Utica because the populations of all upstate cities have declined
formulaic aid can be “supplemented.” $4.7 million of Utica’s aid and
million of Troy’s, but only $1.3 million of Schenectady’s is called “Supplemental Municipal Aid.” A chunk of
change as large as Troy’s would go a long way to solving Schenectady’s
structural deficit. Could it be that Troy has a powerful state senator
perhaps most important, Section 54 also says that the state must share
percent of all tax revenues with its constituent municipalities. But
Legislature can do, the Legislature can legally disregard. It does this
passing budget clauses that begin with the noisome word
Roughly, this is a synonym for “we didn’t really mean it,” and so much
promised aid has now been “notwithstood” that revenue sharing has
less than two percent of state tax revenue. The NY State Conference of
and Municipal Officials (NYCOM) has advocated that the state
amended to require adherence to the 8% level, but chances of that
time to be of help are exceedingly poor.
there anything in the offing that could force the state to deal more
with its municipalities? Yes. What it has done by using old data for
sharing is similar, though not identical, to the “hold harmless”
that so messed up school aid formulas that the courts have ruled that
formula must be reformed so as to help the poorer districts. Perhaps
court action will help the poorer municipalities.
apparently declining revenue-sharing importance of raw population, I
looking at the relative populations of Schenectady, Utica, and my
of Troy over the last 100 years. As an interesting piece of trivia, I
the population of Troy in 1900, when it was the 62nd
largest city in
the country, was exactly the same as that of
Utica now: 60,651. At that time, Utica, the nation’s 66th
largest city, already had 56, 383 people. Schenectady had only 31,682.
By 1910, when
started to purr, Schenectady had reached 72, 826 and was on the verge
catching Utica at 74, 419. Our peak seems to have been 1930, though our
was still short of Utica’s 101,740, still the country’s 89th
city. By 1950, we did catch up, with both at about 92,000. The parity
continued to this day when both now have about 61,000 residents, but
third less than their peak values. Troy has declined more slowly, but
population is now down to about 49,000.
turned out, Hercules didn’t find the golden apples by himself.
grateful to Hercules for saving him from a punishment imposed by Zeus,
Atlas to fetch the apples while Hercules relieved him of his job of
the world, supposedly forever. But when Atlas returned with them,
tricked him into taking the world back long enough for him to make off
The moral of the
story is that we
should ask Senator Atlas to come over here so that Mayor Stratton can
him “How about them apples?”
Edwin D. Reilly, Jr. lives in Niskayuna and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Gazette opinion page.