October 17, 2022

MEHLER | Budget as a Moral Statement

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Although he was not the first person to argue that a budget reveals one’s values, President Joe Biden has widely quoted his father, saying during his presentation of Congress’s 2023 budget, “don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” Every October, the Ithaca Common Council dives into its budget process and decides our tax rates, which departments receive funding, the allocation of federal money and more. My role as a city councilman representing Collegetown and West Campus allows me to directly contribute and vote in the budget. But the influence constituents and students have on the budget cannot be understated. As the process is only halfway through, I encourage all Cornellians to take a look, form an opinion and tell the city what you want to see.

Students’ first thought might be “well, I live on campus or rent off-campus so therefore, I don’t pay taxes.”  Firstly, any student renting off-campus pays taxes. You may not be the homeowner looking at the exact math between assessed value and tax levied, but the property tax translates directly into the cost of your rent. Additionally, every time you eat in Collegetown, go to Wegmans or purchase anything within city limits, you pay sales tax as well. For students on campus, you may be tax-exempt on property tax due to Cornell’s nonprofit status, but the vast majority of students will not live on campus all four years; the tax rate in 2023 will impact the tax rate in 2024 and so on — eventually, your rent will change depending on the tax rate.

Tax rates aside, students may say “but all my services come from Cornell, why should I care how much a city department is funded?” While it is true that many services are provided directly by Cornell, the University acts in partnership with the city for most of those services. When you call 911 on North Campus, West Campus or Collegetown, CUPD and IPD are working together when the line of jurisdiction is murky. Furthermore, if you call 911 because of a false fire alarm or actual fire, there is no Cornell Fire Department; you will be seeing a contracted IFD instead. Drinking water, wastewater treatment, roads, bridges and other infrastructure needs almost entirely come from the city. If they do not come from the city and Cornell wants to entirely own a project, they will still require permits, zoning approval or other permission from the city; this efficiency and feasibility depends on internal city funding.

In short, every Cornellian is impacted by what the City of Ithaca does this budget season. While prelim and paper season certainly fills up students’ schedules, this is the only time where your rent, what roads are refurbished and what passion projects you wish to see in Ithaca can be heard and potentially acted upon.

Personally, the projects I care most about have been included in the budget, including a rebuilding of the Stewart Ave. bridge, Collegetown beautification and the funding for a homelessness outreach coordinator. Of course, I am interested in many other aspects of the budget and will advocate for different things as voting approaches, but my top priorities are not identical to every other councilmember and student. This is the opportunity to tell the city what your morals are and what you want to see prioritized. The City of Ithaca has shown you its proposed budget and where its values lie, where do you think our values should be? Come tell us.

Patrick J. Mehler is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at [email protected]. The Mehl-Man Delivers runs every other Monday this semester.