September 16, 2013

Andrew Cuomo's Sense of Humor

Earlier this summer, our Sonova Governor Andrew Cuomo, working with legislative leaders, got approval to create the Financial Board for Restructuring for Local Governments, announcing that:
Localities across the state are facing a growing financial crisis of soaring retirement costs while their populations stagnate and property values drop.The only options for struggling municipalities cannot be bankruptcy or being subject to a financial control board. This legislation would create a Financial Restructuring Board for fiscally distressed cities to turn to in difficult times. By helping localities to make tough decisions and manage their finances now, the State as a whole will benefit in the long term because we simply cannot afford to kick the can down the road any longer.
The Board includes 10 members, including four state government bigwigs (the State's Budget Director, Comptroller, Attorney General, Secretary of State) and six others appointed by the Sonova:
Of these six appointees, one will be recommended by the Temporary President of the Senate, and one will be recommended by the Speaker of the Assembly. At least one of the Governor’s appointees will have significant municipal financial and restructuring experience.  
Cuomo's relationship with Syracuse's current mayor, Stephanie Miner, is somewhat strained. Miner, who co-chairs the state Democratic Committee, has made no secret of her disagreements with Cuomo on the state's role in helping cities, specifically Cuomo's proposal allowing cities to spread their pension payments out over several years, something Miner considered kicking the can down the road.  

She also disagrees with a key provision of the legislation that created the new Restructuring Board, the part dealing with arbitration on municipal contracts.  The way the law was worded keeps certain contract talks out of the new arbitration process -- including the current 'at impasse' negotiations with the Syracuse firefighters.Why is that important?
Before calling an impasse, Local 280 of the International Association of Fire Fighters had asked the city for 6 percent raises for two years, plus no increase in health-care contributions, according to personnel director Robert Stamey. Firefighters now pay $45 a month for individual health insurance and $75 for family coverage.
That's quite a break for the union; in the new process, the Board must consider a city's finances and ability to pay for the contract as the major components in their decision. It's hard to imagine any upstate New York city being able to sustain this type of contract, or any Board of arbitration agreeing to it.
 
Back to Cuomo -- just last week, he failed to endorse Miner in her primary against Pat Hogan and Alfonso Davis, although she won handily anyway.

So, with that backdrop, now that the time has come to get the new Board up and running, guess who Cuomo tapped for the FRB? None other than Matt Driscoll -  former bar owner and former mayor of Syracuse. Here's the logic behind his appointment, according to the press release issued a couple of days ago:
Matthew J. Driscoll is the President and CEO of the Environmental Facilities Corporation. Prior to his appointment in 2009, Mr. Driscoll was the Mayor of Syracuse where he spearheaded multiple environmental, energy and sustainability initiatives; instituted a performance-based accountability program for city government which saved millions of dollars for city taxpayers; and also helped make the City of Syracuse the first city in the country to offer free college tuition to every student who graduates with a Regents diploma. After serving from 1998-2001 as the President of the Common Council, Mayor Driscoll led comprehensive planning and development of downtown and neighborhood housing development, as well as an action plan for the modernization of the city school buildings.  
Some of the things in Driscoll's resume have been continued or expanded under Miner's administration, including Say Yes and the school modernization plans.  And what about that 'performance-based accountability program' that Driscoll instituted? That's SyraStat, which the city is no longer using. 

In a 2009 article looking at the Driscoll legacy, The Post-Standard noted that the city figured the program saved taxpayers about $50 million over eight years -- no small potatoes there. It's easy to wonder what SyraStat or similar programs would point to as opportunities for our city now, if Mayor Miner went before this board for help. 

Do you think that's what Cuomo is thinking? Or does he just have an odd sense of humor?