The County Executive’s Corner: State budget: Not enough for Rockland

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The County Executive’s Corner

State budget: Not enough for Rockland

This year’s state budget has some – but not enough – good news for Rockland.

The $155 billion fiscal agreement lowers personal income tax rates, which keeps more money in the hands of people who earn it and helps our economy.

And it finally ended a fiscal trick known as GAP Elimination Adjustment that reduced school aid, which means more money for districts in Rockland.

It also stops Rockland toll revenue from subsidizing the Erie Canal and other upstate waterways.

But the budget deal crafted in Albany could have done so much more.

It could have helped the children of East Ramapo. It could have ended unfunded mandates or improved revenue-sharing. It could have removed the Medicaid burden from the backs of county taxpayers.

Addressing in the budget those issues that I have advocated for would have gone a long way toward our goal of righting Rockland’s financial ship, attracting good jobs and businesses and maintaining a high quality of life in our county.
Even though the state budget once again does not take on these crucial issues does not mean that I will stop fighting for what’s right for the people of Rockland.

I will never miss an opportunity to show my support for oversight for the East Ramapo school district or my opposition to unfunded mandates that reach into the pockets of Rockland taxpayers.

Look at Medicaid, for example, which is the biggest financial challenge facing Rockland.

This new budget keeps the Medicaid cap in place, but does nothing to change the basic problem: New York is the only state in the nation that forces county taxpayers to pick up the Medicaid tab, even though counties have no control over the costs.

Here in Rockland, the equivalent of 65 percent of our property tax levy goes to pay for Medicaid. This unsustainable approach must be changed.

This year’s budget shows that the legislature and governor can make important changes.

The new budget ends the GAP Elimination adjustment, which was put into effect at the depth of the recession to plug the state shortfall. But at the same time, it reduced state aid to our schools, putting more of a burden on Rockland taxpayers who already pay a hefty school bill.

We’re glad to see it go

The legislature and governor took another important step in the new budget toward righting an old policy that shortchanged the Lower Hudson Valley.

The budget stops financing the canals in upstate New York with toll money spent by commuters going over the Tappan Zee Bridge. I’ve been advocating for years for this change.

Here’s what happened – the state Canal Corporation was under the New State Thruway Authority, which meant that the Erie, Champlain, Oswego and Cayuga-Seneca canals shared in revenue from tolls paid by downstate commuters.

This budget finally separates the two and makes the Canal Corporation part of the state Power Authority, which will stop financing the canal system with your toll dollars.

That’s great news for Rockland commuters.

I also commend the governor for recognizing the seriousness of the heroin epidemic that is killing our young people. The budget includes $25 million for substance abuse support and services for treatment, recovery, and prevention of heroin and opiate use and addiction disorders.

These changes are good for Rockland taxpayers, but they simply don’t go far enough.

Together with our Rockland legislators in Albany, we will keep fighting for what’s right for our county.

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