The following is the full text of a press release issued today by the Westchester County Board of Legislators on the 2013 budget. In it, Westchester Democratic leaders concede the budget they call “flawed” and “dangerous” will likely remain because Republicans have the votes on their side.
Photo: Westchester County Legislators, from left, Gordon Burrows, Ken Jenkins, Peter Harckham and James Maisano in 2011. Melissa Elian/The Journal News
White Plains, NY – Two Democratic leaders of the Westchester County Board of Legislators maintained today that the 2013 County Budget presumably passed by legislators aligned with County Executive Rob Astorino is procedurally flawed, and additionally warn there are tremendous negative implications for county residents and business owners if it stands.
“We have looked at the budget document closely and reviewed the manner in which it was supposedly passed by our colleagues on the Board, and our conclusion is that the result is flawed because of potentially disqualifying procedures during its enactment,” said BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers). “Important questions will need to be answered before County leaders can unequivocally say that they have reached a satisfactory and final conclusion in the budget process.”
Jenkins acknowledged that if the budget process were to be procedurally “cleaned up,” the outcome would still be the same, with the Republican-led, Astorino-fed budget being approved. Nonetheless, Jenkins called on BOL Minority Leader Jim Maisano (R-New Rochelle) to meet with him as soon as possible to work on legally approving the budget.
“Still, this budget is not right for Westchester, and it sets forth a number of dangerous precedents for the county’s residents and business owners,” added Jenkins. The Democratic caucus intended to send the County Executive’s budget back to the BOL’s Budget & Appropriations Committee to make modifications based on discussions between the BOL leadership and the Astorino Administration, as the two sides were only $15 million apart on a $1.7 billion budget.
Chief among these “dangerous precedents” is the decision to finance operating costs with bonding and the funding cuts in the neighborhood health centers, child care subsidies, youth services and senior nutrition programs.
“Residents will be put at risk by these cuts—this is what the experienced professionals in the safety net sectors told the Board of Legislators time and again during the public hearings on the budget,” said BOL Majority Leader Pete Harckham (D-Katonah). “Trying to save a few dollars when lives are at stake is bad policy.”
Also, the elimination of funding in the Republican-led, Astorino-fed budget for safety net jobs and programs means drastically reduced services that “will end up costing County taxpayers much, much more in the long run—anyone knows that,” said Harckham. “This Tea Party-type approach to cutting safety net services will make it even harder for our low-income workers to remain on the job and our seniors to grey in place.”
The budget additions and deletions proposed by the BOL Democratic caucus would have resulted in the same zero percent increase in the County tax levy as the Republican-led budget—and an even more fiscally responsible plan for 2013 by not borrowing for tax certioraris and pension costs.
“Every financial analyst around knows that borrowing for annual operating costs is how municipalities race to fiscal ruin,” said Jenkins. “What really protects the County’s triple A bond rating is fiscal prudence, like smart spending and cost cutting to keep taxes down while maintaining a healthy tax base.”
The argument against the BOL’s suggested use of $11 million from the fund balance—that it imperils the County’s AAA bond rating—is a smokescreen for reckless budget cuts, said Jenkins, who noted that the Astorino Administration already used millions from the fund balance this year to pay a pension bill and has notified the BOL that it will need an additional $8.8 million from the fund balance by the end of December to “even out” the 2012 books. Further debate would have to the identification of additional revenue sources.
“All in all, the Republican legislators’ budget, which actually emanated from the County Executive’s office, is no real improvement on what the County Executive first proposed,” said Harckham. “It’s still cruel, still fiscally irresponsible and chock full of political pork. Any budget that approves retaining over fifty political patronage jobs and funding slots for forty more political pals at the expense of over a hundred hard-working experienced professionals should not be tolerated by the people of Westchester. The County Executive and his partners on the Board of Legislators need to explain why political pork is more necessary than the well-being of our residents. So far, that argument is missing.”