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New York State Executive Budget Hearing Testimony

Published: 3/19/2010

For More Information Contact:

Michael A. Ellison 486-2103

Testimony from Legislator Dale Borchert
Chairman of Budget, Finance & Personnel Committee
March 19, 2010 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Dutchess County Office Building

Good Morning.

I’d first like to thank Assemblymen Miller and Molinaro for providing the opportunity to speak on the proposed New York State budget. Their dedication to open government in New York State is appreciated, especially during this time of economic uncertainty. 

It is important to recognize from the beginning that New York State has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. Annual State Legislature mandates have resulted in state spending continually outpacing revenues with the taxpayers making up the difference. During our current difficult economic time every level of government must look to rein in expenses so costs aren’t shifted to residents and businesses that always have the option to relocate out-of-state. This County Legislature took action last year, approving a budget that cut budgeted spending from the year before, while absorbing state mandated increases in pension and Medicaid spending. 

It seems to me that the Governor doesn’t understand that taxpayers cannot afford to pay one more dime and carelessly proposes $1 billion in new taxes, fees and surcharges. It was also disappointing to read in his budget message that, instead of dealing with the $3.2 billion shortfall in this year’s budget, he simply rolled that deficit over into next year’s budget, creating a greater than $7 billion shortfall in the future. While he calls for spending controls, his proposed state budget actually projects spending increases over each of the next 3 years. Further, it is disturbing that the Governor’s budget plan fails to include any form of property tax reform such as a tax cap to protect homeowners from skyrocketing taxes. And in fact, with the proposed reductions to school aid associated with this budget, property owners in Dutchess County can expect each school district to greatly increase property taxes in upcoming budgets.

Dutchess County residents are often baffled by special taxes and fees that we are asked to pay.  Of particular concern has been the job-killing MTA mobility tax. With only 2% of Dutchess County residents using the MTA, this particular tax has infuriated businesses and governments alike.  Now is the time to eliminate this particular burden from the state budget. 

I am reminded regularly by one of my colleagues on the County Legislature that unemployment in Dutchess County alone has climbed over 8%, and every time New York State raises taxes, we drive intelligent, well educated New York workers and businesses to other regions of the Country.  We simply can’t afford to have Albany do business as usual. 

For Dutchess County, our $400 million budget includes $126 million in state mandated programs, including $40 million for Medicaid. With Medicaid being the largest single mandate for the county, I urge state lawmakers to look at ways to reduce this burden such as scaling back on the number of options available to recipients and cracking down on fraud, waste and abuse in the system.

The good news is that sound leadership in Dutchess County government has kept taxes to our residents 23% less per capita that the statewide average. According to our County Executive, Dutchess County ranks the lowest out of all 57 counties in New York State in per capita spending.  It’s time that our state representation follows suit and take on this challenge. 

Still, we have a long way to go to ease the burdens on Dutchess County taxpayers and we hope that a partnership can be developed with our state representatives so that fiscal challenges can be met and overcome before we lose more families and businesses to less expensive places.

There are a handful of sound provisions in the Governor’s budget proposal that are a good first step to government reform, but need to be pushed even further. 

1. The Governor states that by simply rescinding the New York State Wicks Law for School Districts, our schools could appreciate more than $200 million in savings on annual capital costs. The Governor correctly points out that the mandates associated with this law drive up construction costs that are eventually born by state taxpayers. His call to ease and then eliminate the burden of Wicks should be applied to all levels of government in New York State. 

2. The Governor also calls for a 4-year moratorium on new statutory mandates that will result in the growth of unfunded mandates to municipalities and school districts. This moratorium needs to be extended into a review of all state mandates on local government, with the goal of reducing unfunded mandate costs by at least 50% over the next 4 years. Through this process, specific mandates on county government, such as preschool special education, early intervention programs, county jail regulations, Medicaid and pension costs should be examined and reduced. 

I once again thank you for the opportunity to speak on the proposed New York State budget, and hope that you can carry the thoughts and concerns of Dutchess County residents back to Albany.