Since my first day in office, I’ve been working to return Rockland County to fiscal responsibility. Without decisive action, the County’s severe budget problems will persist, threatening economic recovery, job growth and our quality of life. The people elected me to fix our money problems. Unfortunately, it’s become clear that a number of our legislators wish to continue the status quo – spending too much and using the same financial gimmicks that pushed us deep into debt. The Legislature’s budget unveiled this week powerfully demonstrates how out of touch it really is with the rest of Rockland County.
The decision by the Budget and Finance Committee to amend the Deficit Financing Act was shortsighted at best. By reducing by $5 million the amount to pay down our $138 million deficit – and, not maintaining cuts to the Sheriff’s Office and contract agencies – the Legislature only perpetuates our debt. Simply put, changing the law is politically expedient. It relieves the Legislature from making hard choices. It’s the easy way out.
In these difficult economic times, this government must do what families and businesses across New York have been doing – separate wants from needs, identify priorities and reduce spending. Clearly, many in the Legislature haven’t gotten the memo.
Sheriff Lou Falco didn’t get the memo either. During Tuesday night’s committee meeting, he proudly announced the discovery of $380,000 in savings he hopes will offset the proposed departmental restructuring. Now $380,000 is not a small sum of money. It’s outrageous that Falco squirreled away thousands of dollars during a difficult budget process. If revealed to our Director of Finance and County Auditor, this “found money” would have reduced the number of proposed layoffs by four. Instead, Falco chose political gamesmanship, creating even greater angst among his own deputies and their families. This move was a callous act, which will certainly erode the trust in his leadership.
I have repeatedly described my proposed 2015 spending plan as a tough budget for tough times – one that would put us on the path to erase the county’s inherited deficit and provide a strong and stable foundation to meet future needs. Making government more efficient and doing more with less remains my priority. We can no longer spend money we don’t have.
Now is the time to restructure this organization. We simply cannot incur additional costs. Our lifelines are subject to being cut because some legislators are unwilling to “dredge” and make deep cuts. In other words, the three rating agencies will not look kindly upon us without further cost reductions. A downgrade could cost up to $45 million in additional borrowing costs over the next decade – the equivalent of a 4.5% tax hike each year.
I’m encouraged that the Legislature – at the very least – acknowledged that the taxpayers of Rockland County have given too much. They took my lead to hold to the state’s two-percent tax cap. But, their “spending path” will undoubtedly send us down the road to the past… where we spent too much and borrowed too much.
Years of basing the budget on politics is a bad practice that’s driven this county to the brink of bankruptcy. I was elected to change this. And, Lord know, I’ve tried… building a budget that is based on fact and data, supported by the state comptroller, the rating agencies, and even the legislature’s own financial auditor. It’s unfortunate some in the Legislature are intent on sending us over the cliff. Know that I will not be deterred in service to all of you.