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This is How Bi-partisan Compromise Works

County Executive Rob Astorino and the bi-partisan coalition of legislators who voted Friday to approve the 2013 budget tell the story of how they achieved a responsible compromise.

 

Last Friday the 10 of us – a bi-partisan majority of the Board of Legislators joined by County Executive Rob Astorino – came together to approve a $1.7 billion budget for 2013 that we all firmly believe promotes and protects the best interests of Westchester residents.

It is not a perfect budget. They never are. There is never enough money to pay for every request. But it is a sound budget, both fiscally and socially. It does not raise the county tax levy. It safeguards the county’s AAA credit ratings. It funds the delivery of essential services in our Public Safety, Health, Parks, Social Services, Veterans, Public Works, Transportation and other county departments. And, it maintains a strong safety net for our neediest residents.

How this budget was arrived at tells the story of how responsible compromises are achieved.

Last year, the County Executive and the Board of Legislators – Republicans and Democrats – all agreed to two goalposts around which budget negotiations would be framed: no increase in the $548 million county property tax levy and no further raiding of the county’s emergency reserves.  

The reasons were obvious. As the county with the highest property taxes in the United States, it was clear that taxpayers in Westchester had reached a limit. It was also clear that the reserves had to be shored up. Moody’s, the ratings agency, had told the county its AAA credit rating was at risk if it continued to drain emergency reserves to pay day-to-day operating expenses. Losing the AAA rating would in effect become a long-term tax increase because it would make it more expensive for the county to pay its bills for years to come.

Working within the two goalposts, a 2012 budget was fashioned.  

Last month, the county executive proposed a 2013 budget that again stayed within the bi-partisan framework. And like the year before, he said that everything between the goalposts was negotiable. In other words, the legislators had $1.7 billion to work with, an amount equal to about $1,800 for every county resident.

But last week an impasse was created when a majority of the board’s Democrats said they planned to raid the reserves instead of making tough but necessary decisions on spending.

It was then that the team behind the coalition budget was formed: two Democrats and seven Republicans on the board partnering with the county executive. In a classic example of give-and-take, the coalition split the difference between the initial proposals by the county executive and the counter proposals supported by BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins and a majority of Democrats.

Highlights of the compromise include:

  • Subsidized day care will be funded with a 27% parent share, instead of the 35% initially proposed by the county executive but above the 20% proposed by the Democratic majority.
  • Public safety, emergency services, probation, and the DA’s office will receive additional funding. Parks will see the restoration of four positions, including three curators, and the Department of Public Works will see the return of 5 engineering positions. In all, the coalition budget restores 30 positions (25 filled and 5 vacant).
  • ArtsWestchester will receive $1.25 million and Cornell Cooperative will receive $800,000. In both cases, more than initially proposed but less than what the majority of Democrats had sought.
  • Balancing the budget will still require more than 100 layoffs. Most, if not all, of those layoffs could have been averted had the CSEA, the county’s largest union, agreed to a new contract that included employee health care contributions just like almost everyone else pays. But unlike three other county unions, the leadership of the CSEA refused to make a deal.

 

When it came time to vote on Friday, all of the rules were followed in passing the budget. It is important to remember that it doesn’t matter which party legislators belong to when they cast their votes. Conscience guides their individual votes and majority rule dictates the outcome for our democracy.

The coalition budget demonstrates how it is possible to stick to principles and still move to middle ground. Changes were made but the goal posts remained in place. No one side got everything, but all sides contributed to the solution. That’s real compromise and good government for the residents of Westchester County.

By County Executive Robert P. Astorino and the coalition of seven Republicans and two Democrats who voted Friday to approve the 2013 budget:

John Testa (R-Peekskill)

Michael Smith (R-Greenburgh)

Michael Kaplowitz (D-Somers)

David Gelfarb (R-Rye Brook)

Sheila Marcotte (R-Tuckahoe)

Jim Maisano (R-New Rochelle)

Bernice Spreckman (R-Yonkers)

Gordon Burrows (R-Yonkers)

Virginia Perez (D-Yonkers)

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

bruiser December 14, 2012 at 06:46 PM
jo what about churches? should they pay
SPK December 14, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Jeff Meyer, if joining a union is such a good deal for workers, then why do unions need the force of law to compell people to join involuntarily. Kind of reminds me of ObamaCare and its 1000+ waivers already granted to friends of BHO and Nancy Pelosi. Right to Work fixes this abuse of forcing people to join something in order to work. Michigan workers will quickly benefit as employers choose to come to Michigan for first time in decades.
Bob Zahm December 14, 2012 at 06:55 PM
SPK - unions are afraid of right to work legislation because it weakens there ability to strong arm workers into paying protection money. they will position the requirement that all employees pay union wages as a way of avoiding given some a free ride at the expense of other greater group. There should and will be a drop in union protection [ur, dues] payments which will hopefully force the unions to re-focus on what workers want and get out of playing poltics, investing retirement funds to support pet gov't projects, etc.
Jasper Black December 14, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Where unions exist it is because a majority of the workers affected have voted to have one. Once established, a union represents ALL workers in a workplace, including those who voted against union representation. What RTW laws do is force the union to represent free riders, workers who get the benefits of union representation without paying for them. In most cases, understandably, workers will choose not to pay union dues if they can get the benefits without paying. Because of this reality, the union will eventually become ineffective as its financial resources dry up for lack of dues-paying members. This is the real aim of RTW laws - to strangle unions financially by forcing them to provide their benefits for free. It isn't about individual freedom. If an individual is so philosophically opposed to unions, then he/she has the freedom not to take, or to resign, a job which involves joining one. RTW laws do undercut the rights of the workers in a workplace who want a union to have one, rights guaranteed by the Wagner Act, by making it financially impossible for that union to operate effectively. One other point - the Fifties and Sixties were the greatest periods of economic growth in the 20th century in the United States. They were also the periods of greatest union membership. If there is a conclusion to be drawn, it is that unions promote economic growth, not inhibit it.
The Entertainer December 15, 2012 at 02:08 AM
The tragic events that unfolded today in Newtown Ct. have left me with nothing more to say other than God bless those children and their families! My heart goes out to the entire community, take the time to hug your loved ones, not just today.......Everyday!

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