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‘There was insufficient attention to the needs of state and local government:’ New Rochelle, NY Mayor on first round of stimulus

Yahoo FInance’s Kristin Myers and the Mayor of New Rochelle, NY Noam Bramson, discuss the need for a new round of stimulus.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Part of the stimulus negotiations was how much money would be allocated to state and local governments, who have seen their budgets depleted. But small cities-- those are ones with less than 500,000 people-- were left out in the cold from the last stimulus bill. And now hopes for another bill might have disappeared.

So let's bring on New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson. Thank you so much for joining us, mayor. You heard the president put an abrupt end to stimulus negotiations yesterday. I'm sure many government officials like yourself might have been hoping and waiting for a new stimulus package in the coming days.

I'm wondering what your reaction is to that latest announcement from the president. And how will the lack of stimulus, especially as we do targeted stimulus to help out the airlines, which is not going to be helping the city of New Rochelle, how is that going to impact your city and other, quote, "small cities" that have less than 500,000 residents?

NOAM BRAMSON: Well, it's very concerning. Our city, like every city, has been hit hard financially by COVID. We've seen multiple revenue sources dry up. And that has serious implications on multiple levels. It affects our taxpayers. It affects our ability to deliver critical services related to public safety, related to the cleanliness and condition of our community, related to our infrastructure.

And it has long-term financial implications as well, as we draw down our fund balance. I think one thing we learn from the effort to recover from the last recession is that there was insufficient attention to the needs of state and local government. And therefore, weakness in public employment dragged down the economy as a whole.

So why on earth would we want to repeat that same mistake? We made clear, just in the earlier segment and in the Fed chairman's comments yesterday, that the danger is not going too big. The danger is going too small. This is a holistic problem that's affecting the whole of our economy. And we need a comprehensive approach.

So a piecemeal solution that affects one industry or another, although that may be necessary, is entirely insufficient. And so for the president, who should be leading all of us together to a better place, to instead retreat from his obligation to really engage and produce a comprehensive package that can assist all the people who are hurting, including state and local government, it's enormously depressing.

KRISTIN MYERS: Mayor, you know, the 500,000, I'm not sure what the calculation was for that number. It seems fairly arbitrary, at least to me. But I'm wondering if you can put in context for those at home that are saying, well, listen, smaller cities that don't have too many residents, they don't actually need too much stimulus. Yes, they might be hard hit. They might be hurt. The bigger cities are going to need the funds.

However, looking at those coronavirus case counts-- New Rochelle, for anyone that doesn't know, right outside of New York City. A lot of folks that work in New York City live in New Rochelle. Some folks actually that work at Yahoo Finance live in New Rochelle, are residents of your city. I'm wondering if you could put this in context for us.

I know you were just talking about, you know, New Rochelle being economically hard hit. But really put into perspective what hard hit really truly means, especially as New Rochelle has been incredibly hard hit by the coronavirus, just in terms of case counts alone.

NOAM BRAMSON: So you're absolutely right. The 500,000 cut-off is entirely arbitrary. We're a community of about 80,000. That's a significant size. We have an annual budget of more than $150 million.

And we've seen multiple revenue sources dry up. Our sales tax is going through the floor, receipts related to permit revenue, parking revenue. State aid is being constricted because of the state's financial condition.

You put all that together, and it reflects millions of dollars in our budget that had naturally been anticipated and are not materializing in 2020. And that is true, again, of every community in America. I don't care whether you're a blue city, a red city, a purple city, a polka dot city. We're all impacted by these larger economic trends.

And you're also correct that if there is something distinct about New Rochelle, it's that the crisis hit here earlier than it did elsewhere. We were, for a while, the epicenter of the outbreak on the east coast.

And therefore, aspects of our economy had to shut down earlier. And so we've been dealing with this on a more prolonged basis. So we feel the need for assistance even more urgently as a consequence of that.

KRISTIN MYERS: How does New Rochelle plan, as you are mentioning several revenue streams dry up, how does New Rochelle plan to make up any gaps in budgets going forward? Are you guys planning, or will cutbacks be necessitated?

NOAM BRAMSON: Well, we are already going through the process of prioritizing our capital infrastructure needs, making clear that some things that, under other circumstances, we might deem essential will have to be canceled or deferred. We're going through our budget with a fine tooth comb, as we must, to determine which expenditures can be eliminated.

We are drawing down our fund balance to a degree that, under other circumstances, we would regard as unwise because it has the capacity of extending fiscal pressures beyond 2021 into 2022. But we do so with the hope that the federal government will rise to the occasion and do what it must to assist communities like ours.

So all of these steps are in play right now. And let's remember what it is that local government funds. It's police officers. It's firefighters. It's teachers. It's the essential services that all of us have been applauding throughout the course of the year that all of us recognize are absolutely essential to a healthy, functioning society, precisely the people who most deserve support right now and are being abandoned by the president.

KRISTIN MYERS: Mayor, I don't have too much time left with you. But as I had mentioned earlier, New Rochelle being just north of the city, New York City right now is experiencing a surge in cases arising, those positivity rates.

Wondering if you're seeing that as well in New Rochelle, and if you're wondering that some of those lockdowns that Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, and also Governor Cuomo have announced around particular zip codes, if you're worried that some of those lockdowns might start to impact New Rochelle as well.

NOAM BRAMSON: Well, fortunately, our numbers of COVID cases are way down from the peak in the spring. But we have seen a modest increase in the last few weeks, which we are monitoring very carefully. As of yet, there is not the sort of clear pattern that would raise alarm bells or would necessitate a lockdown. But we know that we're not out of the woods, and we won't be until after a vaccine is widely available.

And so continued vigilance is going to be essential, as well as humility as we try to look ahead to the future. We know there are many things about the way this will unfold that cannot be predicted. And so individual behavior, acting responsibly, modeling responsible behavior for others when you're in a leadership position, all of those things are essential to controlling the public health crisis and to making sure that we get our economy back on track as well.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Branson, thank you so much for joining us today.

NOAM BRAMSON: Thank you.