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Schroeder testifies at state senate hearing on local governments
Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder and deputy Comptroller Anne Forti-Sciarrino testified at a New York State Senate hearing in City Hall on fiscally stressed municipalities. Below is a transcript of Schroeder's testimony:
It is a challenging time for municipalities across New York State. Rising pension and health care costs coupled with a lack of revenue growth have made balancing municipal budgets more difficult than ever. Fortunately, Governor Cuomo and Comptroller DiNapoli have shown a great deal of leadership in helping municipalities meet these challenges.
In January, Comptroller DiNapoli implemented the Fiscal Stress Monitoring system, a tool designed to clearly identify those local governments that are moving towards, or are already in, fiscal stress. While Buffalo has not yet received its grade, analysts on my staff have examined the criteria and have assured me that the City falls into the best possible category, “Not in Fiscal Stress.”
Other municipalities, however, are not as fortunate. Once Comptroller DiNapoli’s monitoring system identifies the local governments that are in fiscal distress, Governor Cuomo has set up system that provides these municipalities with solutions that are tailored to their unique needs and problems.
Governor Cuomo’s Financial Restructuring Board will help distressed municipalities develop, on a case-by-case basis, a customized reorganization plan designed to improve their fiscal condition. There is up to $80 million in state funding to assist local governments in implementing their plans, but only if they follow the restructuring board’s recommendations, which could include multi-year financial planning, functional consolidation, mergers, shared services, fewer elected officials, and other cost-cutting measures. The restructuring board would also provide an alternative to the binding arbitration process and could render an expedited arbitration ruling within 9 months.
These state programs will go a long way to protect the financial security of local governments across New York. But it is not the state alone that is responsible for keeping municipalities solvent. Each city, county, town, and village in the Empire State must do everything in their power to provide a functioning and fiscally stable government for its citizens.
That is exactly what we are doing in Buffalo. In my first year in office, I drafted an amendment to the City Charter that requires an annual four-year financial plan. Long-term fiscal planning is one of the cornerstones of sound fiscal management, and this measure, which was approved by the Common Council and Mayor, ensures that Buffalo will always have an eye on the future when planning its finances. I am also working with the council on legislation that would protect the City’s “Rainy Day Fund,” to ensure that funds set aside for emergencies would be used appropriately.
As the chief fiscal officer of the Buffalo, I have refinanced the City’s old debt on six separate occasions, saving taxpayers more than $62 million in interest costs. The interest rates we are paying, on both our refinanced debt and our new borrowing, are the lowest in the City’s history.
Wall Street has taken notice of our improved fiscal management and revitalized economy. Buffalo has received “Straight A” bond ratings from the three major credit rating agencies, including an “A+” from Fitch Ratings, an “A” from Standard & Poor’s, and an “A1” from Moody’s Investor Services, who upgraded our rating last year.
There are many obstacles ahead for Buffalo, but we are confident that with our efforts to protect the city’s finances, combined with the leadership provided at the state level, there is no challenge we cannot meet.
© 2001-2011 City of Buffalo
Photos by Angel Art LTP, compliments of the Greater Buffalo Convention and Visitors Bureau. Additional photos by Adrian Roselli, compliments of Algonquin Studios