Below and attached is an op-ed submission from Westchester Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins in regard to the 2013 Budget for your kind consideration.
If you have any questions, please let me know.
All the best,
Westchester County Board of Legislators
(914) 995-2819 office
Op-Ed / BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins
Principled Leadership during the Budget Process
Budgets are all about priorities. Protect the people, safeguard the environment and help create prosperity: these are the simple principles that guide me and many of my colleagues on the Board of Legislators while making decisions, both big and small, during the process of finalizing a budget for Westchester County. I also rely on a system of values that put honesty, fairness and kindness at the foundation of these priorities and decisions.
In the ultra-conservative world of Tea Party extremists, though, there does not seem to be much room for compromise or even working together for the greater good.
The Board of Legislators leadership met with the Astorino Administration prior to release of the Proposed 2013 Budget. The Administration was disappointed by the discussion, and the position of the Democratic leadership, which was clear: Let’s see your budget proposal. The Board only can start working on the budget after seeing what the County Executive proposes.
The prior two budgets had bi-partisan support and were adopted 16-1, the one “nay” belonging to (now retired) Democrat Marty Rogowsky, who opposed the County’s borrowing for operating costs. In terms of process, the Board worked together on the budget, and 2011 voted unanimously to override the County Executive’s line vetoes and protect jobs and services.
As with the last two budget cycles, County Executive Astorino’s Proposed 2013 Budget was consistent with his Tea Party philosophy, and the Democratic opposition to the cuts in Astorino’s budget was equally consistent along the lines with the above-mentioned principles and values.
For Democratic caucus members, it was not acceptable to eliminate funding for programs and services that hundreds and hundreds of residents at three recent public hearings stated were right for Westchester, like child care subsidies, neighborhood health centers, youth initiatives, emergency readiness and nature conservation.
In response to the County Executive’s Proposed Budget, the Democratic caucus of the Board of Legislators toiled to craft a better 2013 budget. Our priorities dictated that we save the jobs of experienced County professionals who are needed to deliver services, and that we restore vital programs and services slated to be cut, including some that save lives plus higher mandated costs down the road.
And instead of Astorino’s reckless borrowing to pay for operating costs, the Board’s Democratic caucus budget plan would utilize $11 million of the $137 million fund balance—no different, than the Astorino Administration’s recently disclosed use of $8 million of fund balance this year to pay for salary increases he neglected to budget for in 2012.
More priorities: Investments in child care subsidies with the parent share remaining at 20% and services that protect our families and quality of life were not negotiable. The Administration’s priorities seem more concerned about the use of fund balance and protecting over 50 patronage positions.
As votes on the Budget neared, I let the Astorino Administration know that the Board of Legislators’ fiscal staff was ready to meet to discuss the fiscal details of the Democratic caucus budget plan. The Administration replied that additional clarification or discussion of fiscal assumptions in the Democratic caucus budget were unnecessary.
The next morning the Board of Legislators’ leadership team met with the Administration.
According to the Astorino Administration, out of a $1.7 billion dollar proposed budget, the two plans were $15 million dollars apart. Hardly an insurmountable difference! The core issues that divided the two sides were how to fund tax certioraris and reconciling budget assumptions. The feedback from the Administration at this point was telling: They did not want to appear to have “caved in.” I remarked that it will look as if both sides compromised.
I made several proposals to vote down the County Executive’s Proposed Budget to allow for additional time for negotiations and adjustments, with the possibility of a tax levy increase (suggested by the Republican legislators) to cover the costs of tax certioraris. Additionally, there would be a cooling off period for continued contract negotiations. In the end, all of the proposals were rebuffed.
Since then, we have learned that Legislators Kaplowitz and Perez had committed to supporting Astorino’s budget the day before final modifications to the budget had been presented—prior to any the Board of Legislators leadership meetings or any negotiations.
All of the legislators are now aware of the sizable concessions proposed by CSEA union negotiators to the Astorino Administration in October, including health care contributions, a two year 0% salary increase and a four-day furlough.
And as for “lowering” the parent share for subsidized child care, it is being raised now anyway to a family budget-busting 35% on January 1, 2013.
With actual data for October and November now on-hand for some of the County’s Department of Social Services programs, and the fact that CSEA presented the Administration with cost-saving concessions during contract negotiations in October, the County Legislators who supported the Astorino-led budget have an impetus to correct the procedural errors in their voting and, if they truly care for their constituents, to do what is right for Westchester.
Ken Jenkins is Chairman of the Westchester County Board of Legislators and resides in Yonkers.