[UPDATE] County Budget Deal Reached after Lawmakers Jostle Over Cuts

Democrats in the Westchester County Board of Legislatures have identified 57 "political patronage jobs" that should be cut to help safe other jobs and programs in the 2013 Westchester County budget.

UPDATE (4:30 p.m., Friday): A bipartisan coalition of Westchester County Board of Legislature members approved a new budget deal today, and County Executive Robert P. Astorino has signed the package that he has called a "responsible compromise."


Board of Legislature Democrats and Republican Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino are continuing their back-and-forth over jobs and program cuts they hope will balance the county's $1.7 billion 2013 budget.

The Westchester County Board of Legislators, which has a Democrat majority, presented several modifications to Astorino's proposed budget Thursday. The changes include the use of $13 million from the county's fund balance to fund tax certioraris and the elimination of 57 county jobs Democrats say exist through "political patronage".

Astorino, meanwhile called the Democrats' proposal "irresponsible", because he believes borrowing from the county's fund balance puts Westchester's AAA credit rating in jeopardy.

“What the Democratic leadership has come up with is the worst of all worlds,” Astorino said in a statement. “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."

Astorino's proposed budget doesn't increase the tax levy on Westchester County residents and doesn't chip away at county reserves. But the plan calls for the elimination of 189 county jobs—126 through layoffs—while bonding $13 million to pay for the court-mandated tax certioraris.

Democrats say borrowing creates even more problems than using the fund balance. BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins (D) said bonding money for the tax certioraris equates to "kicking the can down the road".

“Most of the Democratic caucus recognized immediately that the County Executive’s proposal to borrow to pay for tax certioraris was a bad decision,” Jenkins said in a statement.

The proposal from Democrats would restore the 126 jobs eliminated in Astorino's plan, but would eliminate 57 other positions Democrats say belong to Astorino's political aids.

Astorino's budget also cuts spending to public health programs, affordable housing and childcare programs. The minimum family share for the county's childcare programs would jump from 20 percent to 35 percent under the plan.

The county executive has defended the change in childcare contributions by saying the 35 percent is consistent with New York City and 20 other counties in the state. Democrats say the amount will be too much for families struggling to get by.

“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,” BOL Majority Leader Pete Harckham (D) said in a statement. “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."

Democrats say their plan also prevents an increase on the tax levy while saving parks department and union jobs. Their spending plan would also soften the increase in minimum childcare payments for county programs. 

But Astorino said Thursday the Democrats' plan short-changes Medicaid by $4.1 million and overstates revenue from parks, mortgage tax and civil service exams by about $2 million.

“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.”

Bob Zahm December 08, 2012 at 01:13 AM
Borrowing money to pay for tax certs and for pension contributions may allow taxes to stay flat, but it is as good as promising either a tax increase in the future OR a use of reserves. The money that's to be borrowed is not "free" and it's not real revenue. So, to say that the County's AAA rating is undamaged because reserves were not used is simple minded and implies that credit raters don't look at outstanding debt. Bad choices all around.


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