After adding spending to Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino’s proposed budget Monday, Democrats on the Board of Legislators made cuts Thursday in anticipation of a final vote today. The cuts targeted what the board considers Astorino’s political appointees, leaving the possibility that Astorino will veto the entire budget. Astorino called Thursday for individual Democrats to peel off from their caucus and come to a compromise and a press conference is set for 1 p.m. so stay tuned. Here’s a story on the cuts and below are the statements from both sides:
First, the Democrats on the Board of Legislators:
Democratic BOL Leaders Fault Republican Budget Plan for Putting Political Pork First
White Plains, NY – The Democratic leaders of the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) strongly rebuked and faulted the Republican caucus of the BOL today for their 2013 Budget plan, which maintains the cuts in child care subsidies and neighborhood health centers proposed by County Executive Rob Astorino while laying off over 100 experienced County employees in favor of dozens of political hirelings.
The Democratic BOL leaders issued their criticism soon after presenting the modifications today to Astorino’s budget, which re-prioritized spending to reflect fiscal responsibility and prudent taxpayer savings. To balance the 2013 County Budget, the BOL Dems identified 57 jobs as political patronage to be cut and will use $13 million from the fund balance to pay court-ordered tax certioraris, respectively.
“We have made a number of smart and responsible decisions to create the best budget possible, one that benefits all of Westchester,” said Legislator Judy Myers (D-Larchmont), chair of the Budget & Appropriations Committee. “Our Republican colleagues, however, are intent on weakening vital services for our neediest residents and obviously have no qualms about terminating experienced County employees. Their mean-spirited, reckless budget plans does not bode well for Westchester’s future and will hurt our residents both short- and long-term.”
About $4.3 million of revenue deletions are due to losses in state and federal aid in the County’s Department of Social Services (DSS). The bulk of the revenue deletes, $13.5 million, are due to the BOL Dem decision to use fund balance to pay for the tax certioraris instead of bonding for them.
“Most of the Democratic caucus recognized immediately that the County Executive’s proposal to borrow to pay for tax certioraris was a bad decision,” said BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers). “Every financial analyst around knows this is how municipalities embark on the road to fiscal ruin—by increasing costs while kicking the can down the road.”
What really protects the County’s AAA bond rating, said Jenkins, is fiscal prudence, like using fund balance instead of creating larger costs with borrowing (which got Nassau and Suffolk counties in trouble), while keeping taxes down and maintaining a healthy tax base.
“The argument against modest fund balance use—that it imperils the AAA rating—is a smokescreen for reckless budget cuts,” remarked Jenkins.
Funding for programs like subsidized child care, youth services and neighborhood health centers that save multiples of dollar amounts in future mandated costs were all cut from the Republican budget plan.
While the BOL Republicans suggest restoring some public safety jobs, most of the job cuts—DSS case workers, Planning Department and Public Works professionals, probation and corrections officers—proposed by Astorino will stand in their budget plan.
Meanwhile, every single one of the 57 political patronage jobs that the Democratic majority hoped to cut, thus saving taxpayers over $5.4 million, are to be saved in the Republican plan.
“Taxpayers in Westchester should be outraged,” said BOL Vice Chair Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon). “The Republicans are happy to let Astorino’s political hires make an average of $97,000 a year while showing hard-working County employees the door.”
A whole slew of investments in public health programs, affordable housing and senior services are gutted in the Republican plan, while the family share for child care subsidies will increase to 27%. BOL Dems were successful in keeping the family share at 20% this year, and Astorino wants to skyrocket the cost to 35%, which child care experts say is unaffordable for low-income workers making about $30,000 a year.
“I find it hard to believe that the Republicans are ready to sacrifice the well-being of Westchester residents and duplicate the cruel budget policies of County Executive Astorino,” said BOL Majority Leader Pete Harckham (D-Katonah). “It’s as if the hundreds and hundreds of residents who spoke so eloquently at our three budget hearings about budget priorities that are right for Westchester never even opened their mouths. We still are delivering a zero tax increase while providing a budget that is more appropriate for all of Westchester.”
Next, the administration:
ASTORINO CALLS DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP OF BOARD OF LEGISLATORS “IRRESPONSIBLE” FOR BUDGET PROPOSALS
Says additions and deletions to 2013 spending plan would jeopardize county finances
County Executive Robert P. Astorino today sharply criticized the proposed changes to his budget advocated by the Democratic leadership of the Board of Legislators, saying the plan is “irresponsible” and would be a disaster for the county’s fiscal health.
“What the Democratic leadership has come up with is the worst of all worlds,” Astorino said. “Not only does it put the county’s triple A bond ratings at risk, but it also jeopardizes services, including those that provide a safety net for our most needy. The legislators pushing it are irresponsible.”
On Nov. 14, Astorino released his proposed spending plan for 2013, which did not increase the county tax levy, protected the county’s reserve fund and preserved essential services. The Democratic-controlled Board of Legislators released a list of proposed additions to the budget earlier this week and released a list of proposed deletions today.
After the additions and deletions from the Board of Legislators, these are among the specifics Astorino faulted:
• Taking $11 million from the county’s fund balance, despite indications from the bond rating agencies that this could jeopardize the county’s top rating;
• Eliminating two deputy commissioners of social services from the county’s largest department;
• Under funding by $900,000 the county’s paratransit program, which runs alternative transit services for the disabled;
• Removing $1.7 million in salaries for the Department of Correction, which will lead to increased costs in overtime;
• Short-changing Medicaid by $4.1 million;
• Under funding by $1 million the expenses relating to tax certioraris (court-order tax refunds);
• Overstating revenues by about $2 million for such things as parks, mortgage tax and civil service exams.
“These proposals by the Democrats will handcuff the ability of the county to function,” said Astorino. “My hope is that a bipartisan coalition can come together and work with me to pass a budget that is in the best interests of the county and avoids a doomsday scenario.”
Photo: County Executive Rob Astorino