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Letter: Republicans' 2013 Budget Wrong for Westchester

Westchester Board of Legislators Majority Leader Peter Harckham (D-Katonah) calls the county budget passed Dec. 10 "a budget only the Tea Party could love."
Westchester Board of Legislators Majority Leader Peter Harckham (D-Katonah) calls the county budget passed Dec. 10 "a budget only the Tea Party could love." Photo Credit: Contributed

KATONAH, N.Y.--Westchester Board of Legislators Majority Leader Peter Harckham (D-Katonah) sent this letter to The Daily Voice giving his take on the 2013 county budget, which was passed by the legislature on Dec. 10:

While much attention has been focused on the political theater of the absurd surrounding the “passage” of the so-called Republican 2013 “Budget” for Westchester County, relatively little light has been shed on what a fiscally irresponsible and painful spending plan it is for the people of Westchester. Simply put, it borrows too much, cuts too deeply and funds too much patronage. In short, this is a budget only the Tea Party could love. The Republican plan borrows $48 million for operating expenses, $37 million for pension costs and $11 million for tax certioraris. Every municipal financial analyst will tell you that borrowing for annual operating expenses is the path to financial disaster. This is on top of the $9 million that the Astorino administration will raid from fund balance this year to close their 2012 deficit. These reckless moves may imperil the county’s AAA credit rating. Additionally, the Republican plan fires over one hundred experienced county professionals who make Westchester safer and implement safety net services, yet it retains and funds over 40 empty positions and funds 57 patronage jobs that do nothing to enhance the safety and well being of Westchester residents and businesses. Deep cuts are made to the Department of Probation, the Department of Emergency Services and the Department of Public Safety. Engineers who inspect the safety of our roads and bridges are slashed as well as Department of Social Services workers. Both of these sets of employees are funded through the capital budget or charged back to grants. There is relatively little savings to the operating budget for dismissing this critical staff. The Republican plan makes steep cuts to services and not-for-profit agencies that save taxpayers money in the long run. County funding is eliminated (and so are the state matching dollars) for neighborhood health centers that focus on preventative care, keep people out of emergency rooms for primary care, and provide a variety of state mandated county services. The parent share for low-income daycare slots is drastically increased and funds for Title XX day care slashed. These programs keep low-income families working and contributing to Westchester’s economy. As a result of these ill-advised cuts, caseloads will rise on more costly mandated services. Funds are also slashed for foreclosure and eviction prevention, services for the developmentally disabled, senior nutrition, soup kitchens, domestic violence prevention and many more critical services. Conversely, the Democratic budget approved by Board of Legislators’ Budget & Appropriations Committee contained the same zero percent tax increase and the exact same spending level as the Republican budget. The Democrats' plan, however, reduced borrowing and saved jobs and programs vital to the public safety, health and well-being of Westchester residents by eliminating patronage and vacant budget lines.

With this more fiscally sound alternative budget available for approval, you can only wonder why nine legislators would force through such a regressive budget with three more weeks to go to pass a budget as mandated by the County Charter. While the county executive and some of my board colleagues may be congratulating themselves and taking a victory lap for their Tea Party budget, the real losers are the residents and businesses of WestchesterFI, who will pay more and face more risks in the long run.