Cuomo Flunks Out

The governor pushes millions toward needless stadiums and amphitheaters, instead of making education a priority.

Just one of the many maddening things about the ongoing drama over which corner of Onondaga County will be showered with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s benevolence is the very notion that the governor is the one doing the giving. We should remember that the chief executive is not giving us anything: It’s our tax money, bonded money or both that has been in play all along, whether we are talking about a stadium at Kennedy Square or an amphitheater along the western shore of Onondaga Lake.

By the time you read this, we will all know which project the governor has so kindly deigned to support with state money, but all along it has been clear that he will pick what he feels we need, not what we as a community has decided is in our best interest.

Central New Yorkers have on more than one occasion been asked what we need to bolster our economy and strengthen our community. As the 21st century approached, Syracusans gathered at a series of visioning sessions sponsored by FOCUS Greater Syracuse. Thousands of people talked about and prioritized their goals for their community in the new millennium. There were 87 goals discussed. Eighty-seven!

Spoiler alert: Nobody asked for a new stadium.

Second spoiler alert: Nobody asked for an amphitheater by the lake.

In fact, the first 10 goals offered up by FOCUS had to do with one thing: education.

In November 2013, Center State CEO, a voice of our business community, issued an ambitious Agenda for Economic Opportunity. The result of a two-year-long study, the report made note of the challenges and weaknesses facing our region in the post-industrial era. It identified opportunities for the future, most of them revolving around what they referred to as “the knowledge economy”: positioning us to take advantage of our educational institutions to attract and build high-tech companies and their well-paying jobs. It talked about exports and entrepreneurship and government streamlining and collaboration with the private sector.

No mention of a stadium downtown, nor of an amphitheater by the lake.

Six years ago, an unprecedented agreement was forged among county, city, university, school district and labor leaders who decided to accept an invitation from Say Yes to Education to offer its program of college scholarships and student supports to Syracuse on a district wide basis. This wasn’t seen as just an educational venture, but as a game-changing economic development tool that could revive our suffering schools, attract young families to our city, provide employers with a well-trained work force and reverse the population decline that depletes our spirit, strains our neighborhoods and drains our municipal tax coffers.

Not once did the players involved in Say Yes indicate that they needed a downtown stadium to complete their mission. Nor did they express a longing for an amphitheater on the lake.

Does no one in Albany listen to us? Can the governor’s ears be so deafened by “Hail to the Chief” that he can’t hear what this community has been shouting for years? We have road maps and plans aplenty; what we need are partners who will listen to us, and leaders who will keep their eye on the ball (City of Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner seems to be the only one able to resist the siren song of the governor’s millions).

If Cuomo believes that the state can find $200 million, or $30 million, to spend in Syracuse, let him spend it where we have agreed the greatest needs lie. Based on what I’ve heard, that would be in education. It would take just about $12 million to fully fund the endowment for Say Yes scholarships in perpetuity. That would mean that every graduate of a Syracuse City School District high school who could qualify for admission to a SUNY college would have a tuition guarantee (in addition to the many who would qualify for tuition waivers at private schools). That would be money very well spent.

Instead of listening to any one of these long-standing community efforts to prioritize what we need, the governor has taken it upon himself to decide what it best for us. Sadly, local and county officials seem to think we have no alternative but to accept whatever Albany offers, for better or for worse.

Keep your stadium. Keep your amphitheater. Give us what we need to educate our children, and just watch the city they will build. When we have revived our city and our schools according to our own designs, we’ll build our own damned stadium, thank you very much.

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