While the state economy is making progress, the South Bronx and other parts of New York City won’t see a thaw in the “deep economic freeze” anytime soon. That was the core point made by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli at the South Bronx Leadership Forum, hosted on April 28 by the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp. or SoBRO. “Unfortunately, this year’s State Budget won’t help matters,” remarked DiNapoli, New York’s chief fiscal officer since February 2007. “On the positive side,” DiNapoli said, the budget “is balanced and on-time for the first time in years, and it doesn’t rely heavily on new taxes. That said, you can’t make $10 billion in cuts without pain.”
Held at the SoBRO Center in Mott Haven in front of a packed house of community leaders, nonprofit executives and local residents, the forum gave the Bronx audience a first-hand glimpse of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s new Executive Budget which was passed by Albany to mixed reaction from various quarters. Among the budget’s key provisions is the slashing of more than $10 billion in spending, which will not be painless. “Those cuts will be felt in the South Bronx and in communities across the state,” DiNapoli acknowledged.
According to the state’s budget watchdog, $2.3 billion in cuts to Medicaid will have implications for jobs and the purchase of durable medical equipment. Those cuts will impact the bottom lines of hospitals and nursing homes throughout the state. Education will also be hit hard, with $1.3 billion in cuts for public schools.
DiNapoli affirmed that failure in public schools “isn’t an option,” and that the nonprofits such as SoBRO have filled the gaps through education programs that help “thousands of at-risk students succeed in middle and high school, and giving them a chance for college or a career.” The challenge is to sustain the role of public school classrooms as the road to good jobs and better economic opportunities while making better spending decisions. “It’s more critical than ever to make sure that every state dollar – at every agency and every public authority – is spent wisely,” DiNapoli cautioned.
A key ingredient to economic progress is transportation infrastructure. The state comptroller pointed to the current use of tax dollars to build modern roads, bridges, tunnels, subways and trains as “inefficient.” A Transportation Infrastructure Report put out by his office in November 2010 found that New York State has spent $63 billion on capital projects over the last 10 years, “yet 40 percent of our roads and bridges are still substandard or obsolete – a number that’s twice the national average.”
But all is not doom and gloom with the state budget. New York continues to invest strategically to create new businesses and jobs. According to DiNapoli, the New York Business Development Corporation (NYBDC), a state investment vehicle, partners with the Small Business Administration (SBA) to make loans to local businesses for working capital, equipment or real property. “Last fall,” said DiNapoli, “I directed a new allocation of $100 million to NYBDC, bringing the Fund’s total allocation in NYBDC to $400 million.” NYBDC has made 892 loans totaling $264 million to small businesses across the state.
In response to the Census, which reflects increasing numbers of women and minorities in business, the NYBDC Program has a goal of making 25 percent of its loans to Minority and Women-owned enterprises. “I’m happy to report that the program has exceeded that goal, at 33 percent,” DiNapoli added.
In balancing social needs with budget priorities, the role of community-based nonprofits in fueling economic growth cannot be overemphasized, the state’s chief fiscal officer said in closing. That applies in the South Bronx as it does in Oneida, Long Island, Niagara and other corners of the state. “For almost 40 years, SOBRO has focused on removing the causes of economic and social problems here in the South Bronx. But there’s more work to do.”