As Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan stated, “You are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” In the past few months, I have read articles, websites or chatted with people offering bizarre, misleading and inaccurate “opinions” about the 2013 Westchester County Budget. Since I was in the middle of it, here are some facts.
In December I voted on my 15th Westchester County Budget, and it was certainly the most unusual. The 2013 County Budget vote was held on December 7, 2012. As the Minority Leader of the Board of Legislators (BOL) and a member of the leadership team, I pushed very hard for weeks to convince Democrat and Republican legislators to compromise and pass a bipartisan, consensus budget. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, elected officials on all sides continued spending too much time engaged in political brinkmanship.
The good news is that in the days leading up to the vote, I was able to bring together a majority bipartisan coalition of 9 of the 17 County Legislators (7 Republicans and 2 Democrats) to agree on a financially sound County Budget. This budget achieved my three priorities: 1) no property tax increase; 2) protect essential services; and 3) preserve the County’s AAA bond rating. Please note that the rating agencies informed the County that our AAA credit rating was at risk if we continued to drain reserves from our fund balance, so we fully protected our reserve funds in the 2013 County Budget because losing the AAA rating would be very costly to the County for years to come.
To fully protect essential services, our bipartisan coalition restored about $5 million to the proposed budget to save jobs and important programs. As I have throughout my career, I convinced my colleagues to increase funds for public safety, which preserved jobs for police officers, correction officers, probation officers and emergency services personnel. I also successfully restored funding for domestic violence programs, legal services for the poor and senior citizens, attorneys for immigrants, human trafficking prevention, small business initiatives, arts program, and Cornell Cooperative Extension. I am especially pleased to report that the parental share for families receiving child care assistance was reduced in the budget, which is something I strongly advocated for throughout 2012, and this settled a hotly contested issue for our government. Throughout my career, I have always been a strong supporter for our County Parks, and I also took the lead in saving the jobs of nature curators at our parks.
No budget is perfect, but our bipartisan compromise budget found a middle ground between the Republican County Executive and other Democrat Legislators. Constituents tell me all the time that elected officials need to stop the partisan gridlock and start compromising and working together, and I am happy to report that is exactly what we did for the 2013 County Budget. Most importantly, our budget held the line on county property taxes for the third consecutive year.
The unusual part of this budget occurred at the December 7 meeting, when BOL leaders realized they lost the majority and attempted to improperly block the budget vote of the bipartisan majority coalition through illegal maneuvers. I forcefully objected to these tactics, and 8 legislators then stormed out of the chambers when they were unsuccessful at thwarting democracy. I was immediately appointed temporary Chairman to run the meeting by the remaining majority present on the floor – who responsibly remained in their seats – and we then passed a fiscally sound and bipartisan budget that was signed by County Executive Astorino a few hours later. I greatly enjoyed my one day as BOL Chairman and carefully ran the meeting to ensure we passed a fully legal budget.
Later this year when we begin work on the 2014 County Budget, my priorities remain exactly the same – I will strongly advocate for bipartisanship, compromise, collegiality and a fiscally responsible budget that does not raise county property taxes, protects essential services and maintains our AAA bond rating.