Counties, Many Facing Own Deficits, Call on State

With the Governor and members of the New York State Legislature poised to address a growing state budget deficit, county leaders renew their call on lawmakers to make smart, long term choices to reduce spending at the state level, understanding the plight facing all local governments and New York State property taxpayers.“We have the highest property taxes in the nation, growing unemployment, increasing demand for public services and we are losing people and businesses to other parts of the country that offer better economic opportunities,” said NYSAC President Thomas J. Santulli, Chemung County Executive. “We must use this economic crisis to make the hard decisions that need to be made to turn this ship of state in the right direction.”Counties are calling on state lawmakers to make judicious cuts in spending that will have long term, systemic benefits to the economic foundation of New York.“We need to scale back on our spending, and not shift more of the state’s burden to localities and their property taxpayers—that was a failed practice that we need to put into the past once and for all,” said Santulli. “The current State and local fiscal crisis highlights the need for government at all levels to reduce spending and transition budgets to the new economic reality,” said Santulli.With the recession driving declining county sales tax receipts, forcing an increased demand for public services, New York’s counties are faced with a double whammy: mid-year 2009 deficits and declining revenue projections for 2010.“Counties have no capacity to simply shoulder more of the State’s fiscal burden,” said Broome County Executive Barbara Fiala, president of the New York State County Executives Association. “As the State Legislature convenes to take up the Governor’s Deficit Reduction Plan, counties can relate to the difficult decisions that our lawmakers have to make. We are making those tough decisions at our level of government. Everything must be on the table,” said Fiala.Counties find themselves being squeezed by low sales tax receipts, deflating property values, high employee costs, growing unemployment numbers, population declines and lagging state reimbursement for the state programs and services mandated at the county level.“It is important to emphasize that counties are not looking for more State money. We are instead focused on restructuring and eliminating unnecessary State spending and make a clear distinction between cuts and cost shifts,” said NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario.Cost shifting is a change in reimbursement for state mandated programs and requires county governments through their taxpayers to provide the same level of state services, just with less state reimbursement.Governor Paterson’s proposed DRP advances painful spending reductions across the board, but it has, in large part, carved out state mandated programs delivered by counties—a plan supported by county leaders from across the state.“We need to accept the need for spending reductions to close the current and future state budget deficits, and we are committed to working with the Governor and State Legislature to ensure that our mutual goals of closing the State deficit, maintaining critical services and protecting the property taxpayers are achieved,” said Santulli.

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