Republicans on the Westchester Board of Legislators are calling on the board’s majority Democrats and the county executive to work out a compromise in the fight over family costs in the subsidized child care program that has the two sides in court.
The administration of County Executive Rob Astorino sought to raise the parent share of child care costs from 20 percent of income above the poverty line to 35 percent, arguing it was necessary to plug a budget shortfall in the program. Several Democrats on the board sued and a judge temporarily delayed the change but thousands of families are still in limbo as they await the outcome of the lawsuit.
“I think the people that get the child care are kind of stuck in the middle and I don’t think that’s very fair to them,” said Minority Leader Jim Maisano, R-New Rochelle.
The Republicans are proposing Astorino and Social Services Commissioner Kevin McGuire attend a Committee of the Whole meeting to hash out a settlement to the lawsuit and compromise on a percentage share for parents and a source of additional funding to fill the budget gap. Maisano said Republicans believe the solution is somewhere between a 20 and 35 percent parent share and funding for part of the $2.5 million shortfall in the program projected by DSS.
All seven members of the Republican caucus signed on to the effort.
The meeting will have to take place within the next couple weeks, Maisano said, because the judge’s decision is expected this month. Since it’s largely a political and policy question and not a legal matter, he said, leaving the decision to a judge is an abdication of the responsibilities of the Legislature and executive.
“This is not a decision for a judge,” Maisano said.
The child care lawsuit is one of several legal disputes between the branches of government in Westchester.
Here is the statement from the Republicans:
Republican County Legislators Call for Compromise on Child Care Litigation and Funding
The Republican members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators are calling on both sides of the pending litigation between four Democrat County Legislators, as plaintiffs, and the Westchester County Executive and Social Service Commissioner, along with the New York State Commissioner for Office of Children and Families, as defendants, to immediately begin meeting to work out a compromise to settle this lawsuit. The Republican Legislators have asked Chairman Ken Jenkins to schedule a Committee of the Whole Meeting and to invite the County Executive and Social Services Commissioner to conduct a discussion on ways to compromise and settle the litigation. The case is currently before Judge Robert Neary, who is expected to make a decision in July. The Republican Legislators also request that the Committee of the Whole discuss how the county will close an anticipated $2.5 million shortfall for child care funding through the end of the year.
This debate revolves around the contribution percentage for people receiving child care assistance from the county. New York State mandates that the percentage be between 10% and 35%. In 2011, the percentage was 15%. The County Executive requested in the 2012 budget that the contribution be raised to 35%, the level set in about 23 other counties, including all five boroughs of New York City. The Democrat Legislators agreed to raise it from 15% to 20% for the 2012 budget. However, a legal question exists whether the legislators had the authority to set the actual rate. Recently, upon the request of the Social Services Commissioner, New York State approved a raise in the contribution to 35%. The other serious issue involved in this debate is that the Democrat Legislators underfunded the necessary child care lines in the 2012 county budget by $2.5 million. The program will run out of funds as a result prior to the end of this year.
On behalf of the Republican Legislators, Minority Leader Jim Maisano stated, “We were elected to analyze and debate county issues, work in a collegial and professional manner with our legislative colleagues and the County Executive and his administration, and then make decisions, even when the decisions may be complicated and difficult. This child care debate should be resolved by the County Legislators and County Executive – not by a judge. This dispute involves mostly policy and political questions, and not legal questions. When we send policy questions to a judge to make a decision, we are abdicating our legislative and executive responsibilities. The Democrat Legislators have now approved bringing five separate legal actions against the executive branch of our government, and two have been filed, and they are considering bringing 13 other legal actions. The Republican Legislators are outraged by this “government by litigation” and are calling on both branches of our government to work harder at compromising instead of litigating on all issues in dispute.”
Minority Whip Gordon Burrows continued, “This child care contribution debate can best be resolved by compromise. If the County Executive is at 35% and the Democrat Legislators are at 20%, it is very clear that a resolution lies somewhere between those numbers. Those in our county receiving this child care assistance are hard working people doing their best to take care of their families and should not be placed into the middle of this debate. These families need to balance their family budgets and need quick resolution of the contribution rate. During the budget negotiations in December, neither the County Executive nor the Board’s Democrat leadership ever sought the position of the Republican Legislators. We were ready for compromise in December and are still looking for compromise six months later. Now, we are requesting that both branches of government make settlement a priority. It is also a priority that we close the $2.5 million shortfall in the budget. Once again, it is not fair that the families receiving this funding are made to feel like pawns in these political debates. The Republican Legislators have good working relationships with the Republican County Executive and our Democrat colleagues, and we are committed to working with both sides in a serious and bipartisan way to resolve these disputes, as elected officials, to avoid forcing a judge to do it for us.
The position set forth in this press release is supported by all seven Republican County Legislators: Jim Maisano, Gordon Burrows, Bernice Spreckman, John Testa, Sheila Marcotte, David Gelfarb & Michael Smith.