An Analysis: J. Ryan McMahon Delivers his 1.4 Billion Dollar Trickle-Down Budget to the Legislature


Vernon Williams representing the 16th District describes budget as “a slap in the face”

Small Tax Decrease, Investments in Lacrosse Facility and Aquarium

Social Services to rely on Sales Tax Revenue

Double Down on Trickle Down Economics, Inclusive Growth?

Onondaga County Executive J. Ryan McMahon delivered his 2022 budget proposal. Before the ink could dry on the printed document, opposition to the budget has already surfaced. What I’ve penned is an analysis of that budget.

J. Ryan McMahon II County Executive

Mr. McMahon offered a bold budget that invests in a variety of things from Sports Fields to Early Childhood Education. As with any fiscal matter, the devil is in the details of the 2022 Onondaga County Budget.

The 1.4-billion-dollar budget has several things that tend to be non-controversial, a small tax cut, broadband Internet, Main Street Program that delivers 1.25 million to the South Avenue Business District. However, as you read details of the budget there are some glaring omissions especially as it relates to addressing our crushing poverty in the county seat, Syracuse. The growing blighted areas in our suburbs; housing and business decay is not restricted to the city of Syracuse.

Paltry amounts of money are designated for anything that deals with the poor. This brings up images of a poor child in the musical, Oliver! Begging for an extra spoon full of porridge, “can I have some more please?”

In a statement, Vernon Williams, Jr.  representing the 16th County Legislative District said, “The 1.4 billion dollar budget proposed by the County Executive  falls short of the needs of the people in the 16th District. I would like to see more investment into the poorest neighborhood that I represent. I realize 1.6 million is in the budget for the Southside Corridor but out of 1.4 billion is”

In light of the American Rescue Plan there was an expectation that there would be more than municipal crumbs tossed at our looming poverty statistics. An analysis of the budget has shown that the emphasis is on investing in entities that will provide future jobs. That’s why we’re seeing an Aquarium and Sports Facility, these projects that will cost millions of dollars and have been hoisted to the top of the list, these projects are in line for immediate funding based on the budget.

Based on a review of the purpose of these funds as designated by the Federal Government, social services in Onondaga County have been shorted millions of dollars in American Rescue Plan relief money. How can we justify the spending on amenities while parts of Onondaga County resemble some of this areas worst blighted neighborhoods?

In his opening statement the County Executive referred to this budget as one that contains “inclusive growth”. This analysis shows that this hackneyed phrase “inclusive growth” has been overused; this budget does not appear to be “inclusive”.

Social Services budget contains no significant increase

In the area of Social Services, “2Gen” approach will invest $750,000 to build family well-being by intentionally and simultaneously working with children and the adults in their lives. In addition to commitment to the Veteran’s Home Repair Program. “Talking is Teaching” campaign, Imagination Library and universal assessments through “Help Me Grow”, we are also making a significant investment in quality childcare in the 2022 budget. That “significant investment” contained no dollar figures.

The message to the community appears to be, We are making investments that will eventually give us the needed funds for social uplift, until then we are placing our bets entirely on these multi-million-dollar initiatives generating enough tax revenue to fund some of our most pressing needs. Which means, instead of using our American Rescue Plan funds to address the impact of Covid-19 we are placing our bets on amenities. These amenities will then provide the much-needed long term tax revenue for services that are desperately needed, now.

These solutions are no different from the long discredited, famously coined phrase, “Trickle-down economics”. If you are poor or work in programs related to the poor the scant funding is akin to a sprinkle of rain on a raging forest fire.

Ryan McMahon Delivers Onondaga County Budget – Highlights

“With your partnership, in 2020 and 2021 we made difficult, but necessary decisions. These decisions, in addition to American Rescue Funds, will allow us to fund our vision and put our County on a path to inclusive growth. I am able to proudly stand before you today to present a balanced budget for 2022. Not only is our 2022 budget balanced, it makes historic investments, cuts property taxes, and invests in our base operations shoring up departments. So let’s get into the numbers – this budget, all funds, is one point four billion dollars.”

I am able to proudly stand before you today to present a balanced budget for 2022. Not only is our 2022 budget balanced, it makes historic investments, cuts property taxes, and invests in our base operations shoring up departments.

So let’s get into the numbers – this budget, all funds, 1.4 billion dollars.

60-million-dollar surplus –When looking at how this current 2021 fiscal year will end, our team in Management and Budget is projecting nine percent growth in sales tax and a surplus of nearly sixty million dollars. The budget presented to you today responsibly projects 2% growth in sales tax for 2022.

Tax Cut – Decline from $5.82 per thousand to $4.93 –This budget proposes a new tax rate of $4.93 per thousand, a decline of six cents per thousand. For context, when I started in County government, the tax rate was $5.82 per thousand. If the proposed tax cut is approved by this Legislature, it will represent an over 15% decline in the property tax rate since 2011.

This budget also proposes keeping the sewer unit charge flat at $452 and our team at WEP is continuing to work diligently towards our ultimate goal of sewer consolidation.

Sports Tourism – brand new multi-sports athletic facility to support the growing sports tourism market. This twenty-five million dollar investment will consist of approximately 10 full-sized multisport, synthetic turf fields including one championship field and one year-round bubble structure – all with lights.

We commissioned an independent, professional market analysis and the results are exciting.

By year four, our community is projected to have over half a million visitors, occupying nearly 31,000 hotel room nights and generating thirty-four million dollars in economic impact. The demand for this type of facility is real and it is strong.

Hopkins Road Park Lacrosse Facility 

15 million Broad Band – unserved and underserved in Onondaga County- fifteen million dollars for the implementation of broadband infrastructure and services to meet the needs of the unserved and underserved in Onondaga County. Working with the Central New York Regional Planning Board, we have identified approximately 218 service gap miles. If approved by the Legislature, our team will issue an RFP to solicit proposals from qualified companies to design, engineer and construct the network.

Main Street Program-1.25 million to the West Onondaga Street / South Ave Business District in the City of Syracuse.

Veteran’s Home Repair- Modeled after the “Shape-Up” program administered by our Community Development department, we have proposed spending one million dollars to assist qualifying veterans with home repairs.

Aquarium Project- In this budget, we are seeking thirty-five million dollars to construct an aquarium at the Inner Harbor of Syracuse. I will come back to this body for an additional $50 million of 2021 surplus funds in 2022. As usual, we did our homework to make sure this project was viable. We solicited a professional, independent market analysis and the results were nothing short of astounding.

By year three, this eighty thousand square feet, 600,000 gallon facility is estimated to draw 490,000 visitors to our community and generate nearly fifty two million dollars in economic impact. Not to mention the revitalization and investment it will spur at our Inner Harbor neighborhood.

Onondaga County Aquarium 

Social Services –Back in March, we announced a much needed $5.5 million expansion of our children’s mental health work in schools. Few can argue that isolation and social/emotional trauma has been particularly acute among our schoolchildren during the pandemic.

we now have over 200 professionals dedicated to the social and emotional health of our children working right in school buildings alongside teachers and other school personnel. We funded this investment through the American Rescue Plan.

“Talking is Teaching” campaign, Imagination Library and universal assessments through “Help Me Grow”, we are also making a significant investment in quality childcare in the 2022 budget.

The 2022 budget maintains our continued investment in early childhood. As part of our PIE strategy, we have discussed the necessity of breaking the cycle of poverty among successive generations. Through the work of DSS: Economic Security and our community partners, we began piloting a comprehensive program in 2020. It was put on hold due to the pandemic, but we are ready to reinvigorate it for 2022.

2Gen –The “2Gen” approach will invest $750,000 to build family well-being by intentionally and simultaneously working with children and the adults in their lives.

The expected results are:

-healthy parents with family-supporting jobs;

-healthy children meeting developmental milestones; and

-better connected individuals able to participate in civic and family life.

-Our unique approach addresses the needs of mothers, their children, and the non-custodial fathers, through five domains:

Education Success and Early Childhood Development;

-Postsecondary & Employment Pathways;

-Building Economic Assets;

-Building Social Capital; and

-Health and Well-being

Breaking this cycle of poverty is crucial to the well-being of our families and we must be intentional about it. Restoring dignity and the sense of self-worth goes hand-in-hand with economic independence and child well-being.

Labor Shortage –It is also worth noting, that Onondaga County has not escaped the struggle of many employers when it comes to finding employees. As of literally this morning, we currently have approximately 120 positions that we need filled. They range from positions in our Human Services Departments to Public Safety and Public Works.

Sales Tax Revenue – Now you have all heard me say countless times that we run County government on sales tax. And we rely on strong sales tax revenue to properly fund the aforementioned programs and more.

But what does that really mean? It means that as elected leaders, we must make investments in industries that will actually GENERATE that sales tax.

Mental Health clinics in our schools is the right thing to do. And we have invested heavily in this vital service. But mental health clinics do not generate the sales tax we need to ensure they are properly funded. So how do we pay for it?

How do we pay for this? 

We pay for it by investing in the sports and tourism industry which does generate sales tax.

Lifting people out of poverty is a moral responsibility of County government. But that, too, does not generate sales tax to ensure that the proper resources are available to our not-for-profit partners. So how do we pay for it?

We pay for it by investing in an iconic, transformational aquarium that will drive economic development and sales tax.

We need employees to make sure roads get plowed in the winter, our seniors have access to community services or that we can properly respond to a hundred year pandemic. So how do we pay for it?

By investing in things like our burgeoning film industry which generates that important sales tax

The issue of kindergarten readiness requires continuous investment in our youngest residents, but it requires resources. So how do we pay for it?

We pay for it by investing in our Main Streets and business corridors which produces sales tax and paychecks!

We cannot look at these things individually, they are absolutely linked. None of what we do is “stand alone” – we can’t do the things we need to do unless we can generate the revenue to pay for them