Support Budget with Reservations and Ready to Vote to Sustain Vetoes to Improve Budget
White Plains, NY — The Republican members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators issued a report on 2011 County Budget announcing support for the 2% property tax reduction, while citing reservations about the flawed and rushed budget process, and that they are prepared to support vetoes to the budget by the County Executive that will make it more fiscally responsible. In the Minority Report (See Below), the Republican legislators cited detailed flaws in the budget itself and the process to approve it, and said the budget process was at odds with good and open government, when the additions and deletions to the budget for both expenditures and revenues were decided in the secrecy of closed door meetings of the Democratic caucus, with the public, press and Republican legislators shut out, as well as the Budget Director, Commissioners and County Attorney, and only shown to the Republican legislators just before votes were taken. Minority Leader Jim Maisano (New Rochelle) stated, “We have major concerns about the accuracy of the modifications to the budget. It is unclear if these numbers will provide us with enough money to run the County in 2011. The budget was clearly rushed, and the Republican legislators were denied a full and fair opportunity to review the additions and deletions prior to being forced to take votes on them. The Republican legislators will support vetoes to the budget that will ensure it is balanced and fiscally sound.”
Some of the flaws in budget cited in the Minority Report include:
1) $1,075,000 for “Albany style member items” added to undesignated miscellaneous lines;
2) $500,000 to create an unnecessary law department for the Board of Legislators;
3) $2.3 million in inflated Sales Tax revenue;4) $3.5 million taken from the 2010 fund balance; and
5) Restoration of the administration of the Section 8 housing subsidy program, which is currently being transferred to non-profits.
“The taxpayers of Westchester do not support slush funds for County Legislators,” said Minority Whip Gordon A. Burrows, (R-Yonkers). “We worked diligently to oppose all wasteful spending in the budget and are still shocked that the Democrats insisted on adding back much of the spending that the County Executive had cut in his proposed budget.” The Republican legislators say the budget process now continues to the veto phase, and they will vote in support of vetoes by the County Executive of the questionable revenues and spending in the budget.
The Legislators are slated to meet again on December 23 to review vetoes. County law requires an approved budget no later than December 27. The other Republican members supporting the Minority Report are John G. Testa, (Peekskill), Bernice Spreckman (Yonkers), and Sheila Marcotte (Eastchester).
Minority Report on 2011 Westchester County Budget from the Republican Members of the Board of Legislators
The Republican members of the Board of Legislators will vote in support of the 2011 County Budget with reservations. Most importantly, despite voting in support of the budget, we reserve our right to fully review any vetoes by the County Executive and vote to sustain the vetoes necessary to ensure the passage of a fiscally sound 2011 County Budget. Our goal throughout the budget process was to reduce County property taxes, reduce spending to downsize the size and scope of this government, protect essential services and retain the County’s AAA bond rating. We maintain that the budget proposed by the County Executive fully met these goals.
We also believe that after the additions and deletions of the Democratic Majority of the Board of Legislators that the budget still comes close to meeting our goals, although we are concerned about many of these additions and deletions – causing us to vote in support of the budget with reservations and keep open our option to support vetoes.
This is why we believe that the budget process does not end with the budget vote and that vetoes by the County Executive are an important part of this process to ensure that the 2011 County Budget is fiscally responsible. In particular, we are deeply concerned that the Democratic legislators have drafted and approved additions and deletions to the County Executive’s proposed budget with very little, if any, input from the administration.
As admitted on the public record by the Budget and Appropriations Chair and staff, the additions and deletions were not even discussed with the Budget Director, County Attorney or affected Commissioners. Therefore, the 2011 budget process was deeply flawed and the modified budget of the Board of Legislators did not have the necessary vetting and due diligence. A key example of the flawed budget process was the moving up of the date of the vote from December 13 to December 10 (despite the fact that the budget vote was scheduled for December 13 for the entire year). Those extra three days could have been utilized by all legislators for further review of the modified budget and to work with the administration for input on the additions and deletions, and further, this extended review could have eliminated the need for some of the expected vetoes.
Approval of the County Budget should never be rushed as it was this year. The budget process was also flawed because all of the decisions relating to the additions and deletions to the County Executive’s proposed budget were made in the secrecy of the Democratic caucus – where the public, press and Republican legislators were excluded. The additions and deletions decided in those private caucus meetings were presented to the Republican legislators just prior to the actual votes on the changes in the Budget and Appropriations Committee (for the additions, only 20 minutes prior to the actual vote), and we were denied the necessary time to do our due diligence, conduct a proper review of the changes and suggest additional modifications. The Republican caucus is not supportive of the approximately $43 million in expenditure additions to the budget that were approved on “Adds Day.” (The Republican legislators voted in opposition to the budget additions).
We also remain concerned about the validity of the revenue additions and deletions that were approved by the Budget and Appropriations Committee. Once again, we do not believe that the additions and deletions of the Democratic Majority should have been approved until they were fully vetted and reviewed by the administration. It was critical for the legislators to be briefed by the Budget Director, Commissioners and their staff before taking any votes on the budget they presented. Additionally, we are concerned about the transfer of funds from trust accounts to the operating budget and maintain that the County Attorney should have reviewed any potential legal issues with these transfers prior to approval. We appreciate that after the Republican legislators strongly objected to the taking of $10 million from the 2010 fund balance for the 2011 County Budget (an action the legislators were warned against by the County’s auditors and accountants), that this amount was reduced to $3.5 million. However, we still maintain that the $3.5 million should not have been taken from the 2010 fund balance. We also suggested that $1,075,000 be eliminated from the Miscellaneous section of the budget.
This spending is listed under anonymous and undedicated funding lines cited as Community Service, Youth and Education, Economic Development, Advocacy and Environmental Protection and were all added to the budget by the Democratic legislators. It is our experience that these budget lines have been used in the past in the form of Albany-like “member items” (better known as “pork”) by the majority legislators and distributed without any fair, open or competitive review process. The Republican legislators all voted to block this wasteful spending at the Budget and Appropriations Committee, as every Democratic legislator on the committee voted for it.
The Republican legislators also voted in that committee to block the irresponsible spending of $500,000 to create a “law department” for the Board of Legislators and believe this “law department” will cause a conflict with the County Attorney’s office, may violate the County Charter and lead to unnecessary litigation. We have other objections to the additions and deletions to the budget and wish to highlight three:
1) $7.2 million was deleted from the Corrections Department. This money was included to cover potential salary increases during 2011. Despite inaccurate answers to our questions in the Budget and Appropriations Committee, we believe the facts indicate that the two unions for Corrections Officers have a contractual right to binding arbitration, which could be decided outside the approval of the County Executive and Board of Legislators.
If a binding arbitration results in an award with raises for the officers in 2011, we will not have enough money in the County Budget to pay for the raises. This is also true for the $2.5 million that was deleted from the Public Safety Department, and we would have a similar problem if our County police officers receive a raise through binding arbitration in 2011.
2) The County Executive made the right decision to transfer the administration of the Section 8 housing subsidy program to non-profits, this transfer has already been worked out with the State of New York and the transfer has been mostly completed. The addition of money to the budget by the Democratic legislators to continue the County’s operation of the Section 8 program is bad policy, an improper intrusion into the executive branch’s powers and fiscally irresponsible.
3) The addition of $2.3 million for additional sales tax as a revenue in the County Budget is inflated and not based on any respectable economic forecast. Based on the foregoing, the Republican legislators will support the 2011 County Budget with its 2% property tax levy reduction with reservations, and we look forward to supporting vetoes by the County Executive that will address our concerns reflected by this report, which will ensure that the taxpayers of Westchester have a more fiscally responsible 2011 County Budget.
Dated: December 10. 2010
SOURCE: County Legislators Jim Maisano (Minority Leader), Gordon Burrows (Minority Whip), Bernice Spreckman, John Testa & Sheila Marcotte