Rochester underfunded in state tax stream; Lawmakers call for correction

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The City of Rochester has been chronically underfunded from a significant stream of state taxes to western New York cities, according to state lawmakers, who hope to remedy what they see as a sizeable inequity.

Research and a report from state Sen. Samra Brouk, D-Rochester, say that the "funding disparity must be corrected in the upcoming state budget — a city of 211,000 people can no longer afford a per capita funding stream well below its counterparts."

In the report, Brouk points to Rochester's high rates of violence and child poverty, saying that the need for equitable resources with Buffalo and Syracuse is evident. With budget negotiations on the immediate horizon, state lawmakers who represent Rochester hope they can make a compelling case for more money.

Here is a look at where they say the shortfall is:

Where do lawmakers say the city been shortchanged?

Samra Brouk
Samra Brouk

Cities other than Rochester have been greater beneficiaries from a program called Aid and Incentives for Municipalities, or AIM, according to Brouk and fellow lawmakers. This is an unrestricted funding stream that began in 2006.

While the money is spread across municipalities, "AIM funding goes mainly to cities, especially the 'Big 4cities' of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers, which together received $429.5 million in (state fiscal tear) 2022," according to a comptroller's report from 2022.

"Adjusting for inflation, AIM funding has declined in value from the early allocations," the comptroller's report said. There has not been a "consistently applied formula that adjusts for the fiscal needs of municipalities," according to the comptroller.

What do the numbers show about Rochester?

According to Brouk's report, Rochester trails Buffalo and Syracuse, as well as other cities, with AIM funding on a per capita basis.

"The $417.00 per capita funding rate for Rochester, is lower than the $482.00 per capita rate Syracuse sees — a city containing 50,000 less residents than Rochester," Brouk's report states. "At the very least, rates for Rochester need to be on par with our upstate counterparts. New York must address the rate differences, giving Rochester an additional $13 million (to match Syracuse) to $34 million (to match Buffalo) in annual AIM funding."

In an interview, Brouk said she thinks "right now we have the right people in place" to successfully lobby for the funding.

The state should also provide an additional one-time sum of $130 million to counter a decade of underfunding, Brouk said. In the interview, Brouk said that "getting money from the state is not easy" but she thinks a concerted push could help.

Are there impacts of underfunding?

This can always be a point of contention — what can taxpayers' money resolve — but Brouk's report maintains that Rochester's violence and poverty would be impacted with more equitable AIM funding and programs built or expanded.

"In 2021, Rochester saw 232 shootings, and 53 fatalities," the report states. "Comparing this to the other upstate cities — none see numbers this high, nor when adjusted for a per-capita basis — none see a greater level of violence. Buffalo, a city of considerably more people, saw fewer shootings and fatalities than Rochester. Likewise, Albany and Syracuse, both smaller in population than Rochester, saw fewer shootings and fatalities on a per capita basis."

In a statement, Mayor Malik Evans said, "Rochester is home to three of the five poorest zip codes in N.Y. State, and State AIM equity would go a long way toward reducing crime and poverty, and increasing economic opportunity and access to education in our city."

Why the underfunding?

Asked why Rochester has apparently been underfunded on a per capita basis with AIM, Brouk said, "I cannot speak to what happened before I was in this position."

There have been claims in years past that internecine fighting within Rochester's delegation, especially among Democrats themselves, has been a hindrance when it comes to ensuring a fair share of tax revenue. Whether or not that hurdle has been overcome could well be demonstrated by the success — or lack of — with the push for AIM funding.

This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Samra Brouk report highlights inadequate state funding for Rochester