County Legislature overrides all line item vetoes, finalizes 2015 budget

20141215_202151[1]By Michael Riconda

NEW CITY – The County Legislature convened on December 15 to conclude its formal budget process, overriding a series of line item vetoes by a wide margin and effectively dissipating the last round of cuts proposed by County Executive Ed Day and almost all proposed cuts overall.

The override, a comprehensive vote against all the line item vetoes, prevented cuts to the Sheriff’s Department, select “entertainment” nonprofits and school and library nonprofits which Day argued could be funded by school and library taxes. Day argued that if included, the cuts would have slashed the budget by over $673,000 and allowed the county to further reduce its property tax levy to 1.3 percent.

The vote itself split along identical lines as the original legislative approval of the budget, passing 15-2. The sole votes against the override were made by Legislators Joseph Meyers and Christopher Carey, the latter of whom had previously attempted to bring a vote on what he characterized as a compromise budget which would have reduced the deficit allocation to $7 million per year.

Instead, the Legislature approved a separate resolution to reduce annual deficit financing from $10 million to $4 million at their last meeting, though it allocated $5 million for the 2015 budget. Their $772 million budget also preserves all filled positions initially cut by the County Executive and restores funding for all nonprofits.

The budget process was particularly contentious this year, owing largely to Day’s initial plan to slash all funding to nonprofit contract agencies and 111 county jobs, including 37 deputies with the Sheriff’s Department and positions in the Summit Park Hospital’s laundry and security divisions.

The restoration of the funds and positions boosted expenses by $3.3 million and $6.8 million respectively, but were picked up by the Legislature with the deficit allocation reduction and cuts to new and unfilled positions and salary increases. In the end, the property tax cap increase was kept within the state limit, remaining just below two percent for a $20 increase for homes priced at the county’s assessed average.

In a final technical dispute over the budget, the Legislature opted to vote once for the entirety of the veto, including any line items therein. According to Legislative Chairman Alden Wolfe, the actual veto approval seemed to reject the entirety of the legislative budget, but also specified the line items, a seeming contradiction the body opted to resolve by holding one comprehensive vote.

“We want to make absolutely sure that tonight when we vote on the county executive’s vetose, we are overriding every one of those vetoes,” Wolfe said.

Though there was little support for the County Executive’s budget, there was slightly more support for a line-by-line override process as opposed to a singular rejection of all vetoes. Meyers proposed a division of the question into 12 questions, one for each veto message Day sent to the Legislature.

Meyers gathered support from Legislators Patrick Moroney, Douglas Jobson and Christopher Carey, but still faced an overwhelming rejection of the question by a 13-4 majority. Speaking on the matter, Meyers argued the intent to present the vetoes as separate items was clear and that the Legislature largely seemed intent on bypassing this intent.

“Is this a strategy not to vote on the line item vetoes?” Meyers asked.

Nonetheless, the vetoes were categorically rejected, a decision favored by most legislators. Legislator Jay Hood stated the vetoes were “a disingenuous act to look good politically” and argued that while it was presented as fiscally sound on its face, it produced no real savings because it would have passed the buck down to municipalities, schools and library districts.

Legislator Michael Grant argued the budget process had become fraught with inconsistency, confusion and unnecessary drama. Grant also scorned Day for pointing to alleged inconsistencies in the legislative budget while presenting vetoes Grant said lacked substantial improvements.

“There’s nothing that he submitted to us, in terms of his vetoes, that makes it a better budget,” Grant said. “There’s nothing in his vetoes that we should consider tonight.”

Wolfe also commented on the combative tone he felt had been established during the process, specifically commentary made by Day on a recent radio program which characterized the budget standoff as only the first of multiple contests.

“I can’t, for the life of me, understand this pugilistic attitude toward government,” Wolfe said. “Why does he choose to fight over everything?”

Day responded to the override with a reaffirmation of his position that the cuts would have kept Rockland from another default and would have set the county on firm fiscal ground.

“My original proposal made the hard decisions on spending, while following the law, but, the Democratic-controlled Legislature voted to amend its own Deficit Financing Act to continue the status quo and avoid the same hard decisions I faced,” Day wrote in a statement made on Monday night.

Speaking to the Rockland County Times, Day also said the decision to reject the line items in favor of a single vote constituted “legislative cowardice” and argued the Legislature had violated its own parliamentary procedures by acting on 12 separate veto messages in one stroke.