FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 27, 2012
Contact: Tom Staudter | ThomasS@westchesterlegislators.com | 914-995-2819 (office) | 914-815-4462 (cell)
Westchester Legislators Discover Astorino’s Budget Mistakes Result in $29 Million Deficit
Department of Social Services Projects $7.9 Million Surplus Even at Current Day Care Spending
White Plains, NY – During his presentation of the 2012 2nd Quarter Forecast today, Westchester County Budget Director Lawrence Soule stated that unfunded salary and benefit costs associated with new contract agreements and a loss of revenue from securitization from the tobacco settlement were key components of a staggering $29.7 million deficit the county is facing.
The 2nd Quarter report was delivered this morning to the Budget & Appropriations (B&A) Committee of the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL). Especially frustrating to the Democratic committee members was that significant portions of this newly discovered deficit were included in the initial budget requests made by the County Department of Corrections and Public Safety. These departmental requests were modified by County Executive Robert P. Astorino’s Proposed 2012 Budget, preventing the BOL from analyzing department requests versus the County Executive’s recommendations. Recently, the departmental requests came to light, thanks to a Freedom of Information inquiry after a BOL subpoena.
“The Astorino Administration broke the law when it withheld the departmental requests from the Board of Legislators during the budget process,” said Legislator Bill Ryan (D-White Plains), a B&A Committee member. “They hid important financial information that would have given us a clear picture of what we would need in 2012. The County Charter requires that the departmental requests be part of the county executive’s proposed budget. Now, the Board of Legislators—and county taxpayers—have been blindsided by eighteen million dollars in added costs, and the Administration stands at fault.”
Concluded Ryan: “The Astorino Administration is running a twenty-nine million dollar deficit, and the next thing we’ll hear is that they have to make massive service cuts to cover the mistakes.”
When the 2012 County Budget was adopted and signed into law, there were no projected deficits and a 0% rise in the tax levy. Not only was the $18 million in salary and benefit costs not included in the budget presented to the BOL, but the Administration confidently listed $12 million in revenue from tobacco securitization, which the County is not going to receive.
In contrast to the 2nd Quarter Report last year, Soule noted that, net of the tax levy difference, the County was projecting a $6 million deficit—and sounded the alarms significantly enough to cause Moody’s Investors Service to place the County on a negative watch.
Today, though, Soule said there was “no reason to hit the panic button”—even in light of two major financial gaffes by the Budget Director and Administration that are resulting in a $29.7 million deficit, nearly five times larger than last year’s 2nd Quarter forecast.
“The piper will have to be paid,” said Soule today during his report, and acknowledged that he was hoping to identify cuts spending cuts that can be proposed to the BOL.
“This Administration kept us in the dark about the contracts it was negotiating and did not request any added funding for two departments that were going to need it,” said Legislator MaryJane Shimsky (D-Hastings-on-Hudson). “On top of that, it relied on twelve million dollars of non-existent revenue. It’s time for the Administration to quit playing politics and present to Westchester residents a factual and transparent budget.”
One bright spot in the 2nd Quarter forecast is that the Department of Social Services (DSS) is projecting $7.9 million less in expenses and a $2.8 million return to tax levy. This demonstrates that there is more than adequate funding in DSS to retain the parent share at 20% for child care subsidies for low-income working parents.
“Today’s presentation makes it clear that the Administration will try to correct some of its budget deficit by dipping into the Social Services surplus, which is just heartbreaking,” said Legislator Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining), chair of the BOL Government Operations Committee. “Our human infrastructure investments in programs like public health and child care are right for Westchester. These programs should not be a place where we look to fix a structurally unbalanced budget. To put it simply, budgets should not be balanced on the backs of children and hard-working families.”