BY DYLAN SKRILOFF
Legislators must go back to the drawing board as State Senator David Carlucci has officially rebuffed a proposal from the Rockland County Legislature to raise the Rockland portion of the sales tax in order to reduce the county’s deficit.
According to state Senate rules in order for an increase to be passed in a county sales tax it must be approved by the Senate Finance Committee, generally after being proposed by the senator of the local district.
Since the senator of the local district, Carlucci, is opposed to the tax hike, there is now virtually zero chance of it being passed.
Carlucci said, “After lengthy discussions with Rockland County officials, representatives from the governor’s office, the state comptroller’s office, and the Finance Committees in the both the Senate and Assembly, I have decided not to support the sales tax increase at this time because there is little evidence that it would solve Rockland County’s fiscal crisis.
“At the state level we have worked with the governor to close a $13.5 billion dollar budget gap while cutting taxes…To support a sales tax increase at this time, with the economy still in recovery, would be a step backwards on progress we have made.”
Earlier this year county officials as well as Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence, representing local towns, made an appearance before the Senate Finance Committee requesting the special rate increase. It wasn’t until months later, however, that Carlucci came out as opposed to the increase.
The county legislators who had passed the plan said it was necessary to save Summit Park Hospital, which employs several hundred county workers. The legislature proposed floating an $80 or so million bond – whatever the exact amount of the deficit was ruled to be – which would be paid back over 10 years by the sales tax.
Carlucci noted that in spite of the sales tax hike, the county still could not even guarantee that it would remedy the situation at Summit Park Hospital in Pomona. The hospital draws approximately $10 million in red ink out of the county budget annually, according to recent analyses.
“The Summit Park nursing home has been losing tens of millions of dollars and continues draining money out of the county budget,” Carlucci said. “A financial review from an outside agency has been ongoing and its results have still not been made public. The county has not been able to assure my colleagues and I that increasing the sales tax would in any way ensure that the nursing home would stay open, as well as guarantee both jobs and residents would be protected.”
Carlucci also noted, “There also remains nearly $18 million in this year’s budget in unrealized labor concessions. These concessions, if not agreed upon, would unbalance Rockland’s budget and add an additional $17.5 million on top of the county’s current deficit.”
While sales tax has gone up in the Hudson Valley region, that good news has not been shared with Rockland County, which is a half million behind sales tax projections so far this year.
County Legislator Jay Hood Jr. (D-Haverstraw) supported the sales tax hike and said he is disappointed in Carlucci’s decision.
“I am disappointed that none of our state leaders will move forward with our deficit reduction plan except Ellen Jaffe and for that I commend her courage. It takes courage to raise revenues at this time, as it will likewise take courage to make the devastating cuts that will be coming down. I will await a plan from the county executive’s office. We now have no choice but to most likely cut every non-mandated service to try to balance the budget,” Hood said.
“We in the majority were trying to avoid such cuts because we know how many thousands of families will be affected and the impact it will have on our local economy. I have a feeling after the boom is lowered some leaders will look back and say ‘I should have supported the small increases the County requested,’” Hood continued.
“I am ready to take this in a new direction but make no mistake it will be a bloodbath and I am sorry in advance for the devastating affect it will have on the people who need our help the most,” he concluded.
Ron Levine, spokesman for County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef said it’s now time to look at Plan B. He would not be specific but said that obviously entails reduction in staff and reduction of programs and services.
Prior to the legislature’s proposal for increased taxes, Vanderhoef had presented an austerity budget that called for the immediate sale of Summit Park as well as massive cuts in many other programs.
Legislators had criticized Vanderhoef because they said the timetable for achieving the sale was unachievable and so in effect his entire budget was a turkey.
It seems that the sale of the hospital to some private or public/private entity is now inevitable.
Levine said the county could not confirm any particular timetable at this point for what happens next. He said, “In this week we’ll probably talk with legislators and get plan B ready.”
Levine noted the county executive had been concerned about “state legislators not wanting to vote for [the tax] due to this being an election year.”
The proposed sales tax hike was for 0.375% annually and was to sunset after a decade.
Carlucci also had noted in recent statements to the media that there was an unwillingness in the GOP-led Senate to pass a sales tax increase for Rockland. That unwillingness may have also stretched up to the governor’s mansion, some have hinted.
In the Assembly, Ellen Jaffee had submitted a bill requesting the tax increase, but her fellow Democrat Kenneth Zebrowski did not co-sponsor it.